2004: America's Best - Paa-Ko Ridge value a New Mexico staple

Sandia Park, N.M.

If the folks running the Golf 20/20 initiative really want to promote the game in the United States, maybe they could move New Mexico closer to where more people live. Until then, players will have to trek to the Land of Enchantment to experience the best state for quality, affordable public golf. It would be a worthwhile venture, made all the more intriguing by a visit to the state’s highest-rated course, Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club.

New Mexico long has been noted for having four fine university courses open for public play. More than a decade ago, it also got a top-notch municipal layout up in the remote Four Corners area – Pinon Hills Golf Club – that turned heads throughout the Southwest. Then in 2000, the designer of that layout, Ken Dye, debuted Paa-Ko Ridge on the slopes of the Sandia Mountains. Now he’s completing a nine-hole addition to the facility.

The daily-fee course is the centerpiece of a 1,500-acre, low-density real estate development. Paa-Ko Ridge sits at 6,500 feet above sea level, just below the Sandia Peak Ski Area. The setting is 20 miles northeast of downtown Albuquerque and 45 miles south of Santa Fe, and offers dramatic long views of the Sandia Mountains and Cibola National Forest.

The course books 30,000 rounds annually in a nine-month season and is closed from December to February. The course’s location affords moderate temperatures in mid-summer and makes a day here extremely comfortable.

It’s also challenging, since the land offers dramatic natural slopes. Dye, based in Houston and no relation to Pete Dye, says the biggest challenge at Paa-Ko Ridge was creating solid holes on ground with 300 feet of elevation change. His solution was to limit any uphill hole to a 5 percent slope, while capping any downhill slopes to 10 percent. It turns out it’s not necessary to play as much uphill as down; smart designers know to save some steep climbs for the transitional ground between a green and the next tee.

The idea was to work with – rather than against – native landforms. Earth disturbance was minimal during construction – only 100,000 cubic yards were moved. There are some forced carries over watercourses or arroyos, but plenty of alternative paths plus generous layup areas. It also helps having lots of variety, with the par-72 course playing from 5,702 yards up to 7,562.

That sounds like a lot, but golfers enjoy an 11 percent turbo boost because of the altitude (approximately 1.7 percent per 1,000 feet), so a 450-yard par 4 plays like 400 yards at sea level. That giddiness you feel out here isn’t just because of the reduced oxygen supply, however. It’s also because the course plays solidly and offers launch-pad views of the mountains and arid foothills.

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