Black Mesa Golf Club commands attention

By Jay FlemmaDecember 2, 2008, 5:00 pm

black mesa
The par-5 16th at Black Mesa Golf Club

ESPANOLA, N.M. ' Tucked in between the Sangre De Christo Mountains on one side and the Jemez Mountains on the other, there is no question the staggering grandeur of Black Mesa Golf Clubs natural setting commands the players attention. The desolate, wrinkled rose-colored mountains outside of Santa Fe are reminiscent of Turkeys fabled conical rocks of Cappadocia which reach reverently to Heaven. The Black Mesa itself, a tall cylindrical mountain of ash towers over the whole site.
Moreover, while most people think desert courses are just ribbons of fairway framed by saguaro cactus, Black Mesa has far more color and texture than many of its Arizona counterparts: sagebrush and the predominant deciduous cottonwood trees share the canvas with the bright reds of Indian paintbrush, the shimmering gold of chamisa, the noble purple of aster. Apache plume, warbonnet seedhead and many other species of high desert flora offer a deep texture and bright contrast to the desolate pink rock and the green of the Kentucky bluegrass fairways and creeping bentgrass greens.
But owner Eddie Peck and architect Baxter Spann wanted a strategic course with solid design principles as well and, indeed, this course has as much brains as beauty. Peck and Spann sometimes joke that Black Mesa is really Tobacco Road West for it was an impromptu visit by Spann to Mike Strantzs Carolina sandhills masterpiece that inspired Spann to go for broke, design outside the box, and ultimately build one of the three most critically important golf courses to open in our generation (the others are Bandon Dunes and Tobacco Road). (
Spann wrote in an interview with Ran Morrissett:
Just before getting into [planning] the final routing of the
course, I had played Tobacco Road. I was blown away
by the dramatic features there and by some of the chances
Mike Strantz took on the design of that course. I also
knew that many felt that TR was over the top or overly
severe in many places, but to me it was not any more
severe than many of the great places in Ireland or Scotland
that are revered by everyone. There just havent been
enough guys who are willing to risk working on the edge
to create something that breaks away form the routine,
formulaic golf hole design patterns that have become so
prevalent in America. Tobacco Road slapped me in the
face and made me realize what wild and exciting golf holes
can result when conventional wisdom and traditional limits
are abandoned in favor of fresh creativity and vision.

Thankfully, for the game, Peck understood and embraced the same concepts. He allowed Spann a free hand to incorporate just a few blind or semi-blind shots and design heaving, contour-filled greens as the course meanders through, around and sometimes over the dramatic, bleak, jagged pink hills that tower over the high desert floor.
Amazingly, architect Baxter Spann only moved about 200,000 cubic yards of earth to build Black Mesa; and that includes greens, shaping, tee boxes and the practice area. Id say almost half of that was for the practice area chuckles course superintendent Pat Brockwell, the mild-mannered, caterpillar-moustached legend in greenskeeping circles who spent many years at Southern Hills, site of this years PGA Championship. Baxter was here more than 100 days walking the property reminisces Pat with a serene smile. All that time on property was pivotal in coming up with this intricate routing.
Spann accomplished three astounding feats while moving so little earth. First, the courses routing is outstanding: each hole looks completely different from every other, no two consecutive holes run in the same direction and all four par threes play to different points of the compass. Next, except for the twelfth hole, the bunkers are completely organic, with shapes following the existing grade of the terrain and designed as though there were blown out by the wind. Finally, Spann designed open routes to the greens and allowed the fast and firm conditions fostered by sandy soil to promote the ground game as well as the aerial game, providing more options for all skill levels.
Black Mesa is both visually intimidating and demands precision around the greens. ( In an age where the PGA Tour prefers oceanic, flat greens that could masquerade as helicopter landing pads, the adventure on any hole at Black Mesa only begins upon reaching the green; as Tiger Woods would say, they have elephants buried under them.
The character-filled contours are not merely fanciful whims, but echo the great design features of classic courses. The green on the par-3 eighth hole is a modified punchbowl. The kidney-shaped green of the par-4 14th has the same interior movement as the seventh hole at fabled Crystal Downs, the Northern Michigan masterpiece of Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell. Although it looks as though you need to chip the ball over the section of rough in the kidney shapes negative space to get from one end of the green to the other, the contours will actually filter a well planned and struck putt from one part of the green to the other. Finally, the alien-face shape of the par-5 sixteenth green calls to mind the fabled double plateau shape used frequently by architects Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor.
A second course designed by uber-architect Tom Doak is being routed as we go to press. (

Jay Flemma
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 260 nationally ranked public golf courses in 39 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan.
Related Links:
  • Find Tee Times
  • All Courses & Travel
  • Find Golf Packages
  • Getty Images

    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

    Getty Images

    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

    Getty Images

    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

    Getty Images

    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.