Location: Sandia Park, N.M.
Course architect: Ken Dye
Tee — Yardage | Rating / Slope:
Black — 7,562 | 76.0 / 145
Blue — 7,218 | 74.1 / 142
Green — 6,727 | 71.7 / 140
Brown — 6,265 | 69.7 / 132
Gray — 5,755 | 67.0 / 129
Brown – 6,265 | 75.5 / 145
Gray — 5,755 | 72.6 / 139
Saturday morning green fee: $$ ($50 to $99)
Caddie service: No
Walker friendly: No
Fairways: Kentucky bluegrass
Starter: Paa-Ko (“Root of the Cottonwood” in the Tewa language of the Native Americans living in the Rio Grande Valley when the first Spanish settlers arrived) is carved through a hilly piñon and juniper forest. Named the best new course to open in 2000, it still commands a spot in the top 50 public courses 18 years later — a testament to the soundness of its design, shot values and scenic beauty. Conditioning is superb. No two holes are alike. When Finger Dye Spann built a third nine in 2005, the owners named it 19-27 to differentiate it from the original 18. More desert-like, the third nine has three par 3s, three par 4s and three par 5s.
Play because ...: It’s fun and crazy affordable compared to other courses of its caliber. After the round, with little difficulty, you’ll be able to recount each hole and how you played it — the mark of a truly memorable golf course. Paa-Ko is fair, provided the right tees are chosen. Moving up one set of tees is highly recommended for first-timers. Regardless, be sure to grab a camera for the short hike to the back tee on No. 17, which from its 85-foot-high granite spire offers a commanding 360-degree view of the course, the Sandia Mountains and the cumulus-dotted sky.
Takeaway: Few courses this dramatic make each hole seem like it’s the only golf hole in the world. Such is the case at Paa-Ko, where on 14 of the original 18 holes no other hole can be seen — a quality that imparts serenity and focus. It’s walkable, but only barely, due to severe elevation changes and rocky slopes between tee and fairway. Although a bit of a drive, about 30 minutes, from lodging in Albuquerque, Paa-Ko will get a 62-room lodge and 18 cottages as early as 2019, making it the Bandon-esque destination it was intended to be.
Food | Beverage: 9.0
Pro shop: 8.5
Pace of play: 8.5
THE COURSE | Scorecard
Best par 3: No 16 (230 | 175 | 154 | 123 | 104 yards). The farther back you go on this hole, aptly named “Agua Caliente,” the higher the tee shot down to this angled green, guarded by a lake short left and three bunkers right and long. If you’re savvy enough to play the wind right and hit the putting surface, the green is harder to read than a Russian novel. It’s not unheard of that putted balls end up in the water thanks to a Donald Ross-like fall-off on the green’s front-left quadrant.
Best par 4: No. 2 (399 | 385 | 360 | 335 | 315 yards). “Narrow Passage” is an early warning by Paa-Ko’s designer, Ken Dye, against reckless tee box behavior. An arroyo at the end of the 308-yard-long fairway takes driver out of the hands of most long hitters. Fifty yards at its widest and just 25 yards wide short of the arroyo, from the teebox the fairway looks even narrower than it is. For all calibers of players, missing the fairway likely means a lay-up from an awkward side-hill stance and a shot at a scrambling one-putt par.
Best par 5: No. 5 (554 | 542 | 522 | 504 | 487 yards). The tee shot is blind, up a hill to a generous landing area on this dogleg right. That’s where the real work begins. Short hitters play dot to dot, avoiding a deep chasm right and bunkers left. Hubris-fueled long hitters face a choice: fly both the chasm and greenside bunker complex or swallow pride and join their shorter-hitting pals farther down the fairway.