Sandia Resort & Casino, Santa Ana Star Casino and Isleta Resort Casino are all great choices for fun on the links and at the tables in Albuquerque
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (Jan. 17, 2019) – The area of New Mexico in and around Albuquerque is famous for its picturesque combination of mountain and desert, a wonderful climate in which you can play golf year-round, and its friendly residents, who quickly become welcoming hosts.
The region should also be considered one of America’s top golf destinations, with a dozen world-class courses within a 90-minute drive from its easy-in-easy-out international airport.
A subset of those wonderful golf facilities is three courses that are a part of casino resorts, all with challenging routings amidst high-desert surroundings.
Three of the area’s courses – Sandia Golf Club, Santa Ana Golf Club, and Isleta Golf Club illustrate that the oft-envisioned delicate balance of golf and nature can be a boon to all interests. All three are among the top tracks in the state and fit in great with a trip to the Land of Enchantment.
Any discussion about golf and gambling in Albuquerque begins with the Sandia Resort & Casino just north of the city.
The open and inviting golf course, routed by architect Scott Miller, is a blast to tackle, featuring many elevated tee shots and rolling fairways that push the wayward shot back into play.
In the years since Sandia Golf Club was developed by the Pueblo of Sandia, the track as become a constant in the industry rankings of Best Casino courses and has been a fixture on the list of top courses you can play in the Land of Enchantment.
Even though it’s carded at 7,772 yards from its back set of four tees and is the longest course in New Mexico, it’s no gamble to have fun if one tees it up from the correct set of tee boxes.
Miller and the Pueblo felt it was important to create a track where players were given adequate area to play golf, placing a premium or reward for a well-executed shot instead an indifferently executed one. The result is a golf course that will be relatively easy to play but difficult to score on, offering a challenging test of or even the best players while not inflicting a beating on high-handicappers.
But man or woman cannot live by golf alone. Sandia’s world-class resort features 228 luxurious, oversized guest rooms including more than 30 suites. Every guest room and suite offer views of the Albuquerque skyline or the rugged wildness of the Sandia Mountains.
The resort also includes over 35,000-square feet of “state of the art” entertainment, meeting and convention space that can accommodate groups up to 3,000, and a 12,000-square foot spa. There is also a plethora of dining options, including a 410-seat signature buffet, a steakhouse and Bien Shur, a rooftop gourmet restaurant with an indoor/outdoor entertainment lounge sporting wonderful views.
Part of the appeal of Sandia is the fact that one can visit there and never have to leave because there is a little bit of everything on the property. Believe me, having fun here is the closest to a sure thing that you’ll find anywhere.
Up the road about 20 minutes north of Sandia is Santa Ana Golf Club, which is on the same property as the Santa Ana Star Casino and just down the road from the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa.
Its three nine-hole golf courses, called Tamaya, Cheena, and Star, can also be combined to play as a trio of 18-hole, par-72 combinations, the hardest of which is likely the Cheena/Star combo, which is carded at 7,145 yards and sports a rating of 73.0 and a slope of 135 from its back set of four tees.
Designed by Ken Killian and opened for play in 1990, Santa Ana is much more of a links-style layout than what you’ll play at Sandia, using subtle mounding bordered by native grasses and eight crystal-blue lakes to inspire and challenge players.
The course borders the Rio Grande River and also features some of the most consistently quick and difficult greens in the region. With the wind whipping off the nearby mountains getting free rein here due to of the lay of the land, accuracy and course management are essential for success.
Because of the tests on the putting surfaces, the strategy for Santa Ana is specific; you have to be really watchful of where you end up on the green, because that can determine whether you have a chance to make a birdie, or whether you’re having to hope for a two-putt.
The Tamaya nine’s toughest holes are its long par-4s, as No. 3 weighs in at 473 yards and the seventh plays at 460 yards and left to right around four huge bunkers in the landing area. Then there’s its three-shot holes, the 600-yard third and the 599-yard fifth, both of which move left, then right, then left again before reaching the green.
The final two holes can make or break your round on the Cheena nine. At 633 yards and uphill on the approach, the par-5 eighth usually plays into the wind as well. But pick up a lost stroke (or two) at the 534-yard par-5 ninth – just make sure you avoid the water at front and left of the green.
The tougher Star nine demands several blind tee shots to fairways hidden by desert scrub. Star’s real challenges are on the 401-yard par-4 third (played uphill and into the wind) and its pair of par-5s – the 594-yard sixth and the 538-yard ninth.
Santa Ana Star Casino was the first Native American casino to operate in New Mexico, opening its doors in 1993. Growing from only 64 slot machines, “The Star” features more than 1,400 machines independently certified as the “Loosest Slots in New Mexico” by Strictly Slots magazine. Video poker games, 25 table games, and live-action poker are also available daily.
The Star is also home to three full-scale restaurants. The Feast Buffet offers fresh food and live-action food stations; Sadie’s at The Star features staple New Mexican dishes from the world renowned Sadie’s of New Mexico restaurant; and Mesa Grille serves up its famous $2 Star Burger along with other grill favorites.
In the south confines of Albuquerque, Isleta Golf Club, one of the Southwest’s premiere destinations for our great game, is nestled at the edge of the spectacular Bosque along the river banks of the Rio Grande.
Variety is the draw at Isleta, designed by Bill Phillips and opened for play in 1996. The facility offers golfers three nine-hole courses that can be played in three 18-hole combinations, all perched on the Pueblo of Isleta’s vast reservation just 15 minutes south of the airport.
The courses, which are located along the Rio Grande River, feature typical desert conditions with panoramic views from their tee boxes. The greens are medium-sized and have contour, and the fairways are also undulating, which leads some challenging uneven lies, with natural roughs on the borders.
The tracks are named after their primary topographic feature – Lakes, Arroyo and Mesa, an each has a different character.
Of the three combinations, the toughest is Mesa-Lakes, which carries a rating of 74.7 and a slope of 128. Lakes-Arroyo is rated at 72.7 and sloped at 125 and Arroyo-Lakes has been rated at 72.4 and sloped at 124. In any grouping, a round at Isleta is both challenging and satisfying, all just minutes away from all the action at Isleta Resort & Casino.
Rising like a glass tower over the desert, Isleta Resort & Casino reaffirms the romantic perception of the American Southwest, as a sublime landscape with spectacular vistas and geological wonders. It’s a place where the perfect blend of old world hospitality and modern conveniences are woven together seamlessly and into the fabric of daily life.
Cool running waters have lured weary travelers to Isleta for thousands of years so it should come as no surprise we offer both indoor and outdoor deluxe pool accommodations to our guests.
With more than 1,800 slots primed with more thrills and bills than any other casino in the Southwest and a choice of more than 25 table games, if pushing dice to the pass line in craps or betting a dime on Blackjack is your game, odds are you’ll have a good time at Isleta. From high limit to bingo to 18 (or even 27) holes on the golf course, the sky is the limit when it comes to fun at here – and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
Editor’s note: This feature was originally published in Texas Golf Insider magazine, for whom this author also contributes.