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.
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

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    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

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    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.