You think a guy would learn how to beat, or at least figure out, a course after playing it more than a dozen times over the years. But there are some tracks that just seem to be more than a player can handle, and for me the Championship course at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino near Ruidoso in south-central New Mexico is like my white whale.
Call me Ahab – or B(for bogey)-hab. Personally, this course has always been the one that gets away. I like to say I tried and failed to make a dent at this course before it became a must-play, golf-destination property. Heck, when I started playing the Ted Robinson-designed layout the Mescalero Apaches were still looking to secure gaming rights on their reservation just south of Ruidoso, a hot-weather haven for Texans – and others.
Robinson’s parkland design, opened in 1975 as one of the first tribal-owned courses in North America, has an alpine feel to it, mainly because of the towering Ponderosa pines, pinions, cottonwoods and aspens along the fairways. Looming nearby is Sierra Blanca, an 11,973-foot peak that seems so close you can almost touch it.
Set at about 7,200 feet and abutting the Mescalero Apaches’ sacred forest, this course offers a lot to think about. Golfers will find plenty of elevated tee shots and even an island fairway that sits in the middle of the Lake Mescalero, an ice-cold water body teeming with as many trout as wayward balls struck by golfers.
The par-72 venue was recently expanded to 7,206 yards, at which distance it sports a rating of 72.6 and a 132 Slope. But it plays much more difficult than these numbers indicate.
Long & Tight – Both Make Right
With five par-4s stretching 442 yards or longer and all four par-3s at 216 yards or more, players need to be able to hit long and accurate shots to play this course well. But Robinson also mixed in the occasional short par-4 (there’s one on each side) and a reachable par-5 – the 11th plays just 494 yards – to give players a chance to make up a stroke or two if they’re accurate off the tee.
Of the two nines, the front side is noticeably narrower. Typical of this is the 442-yard, par-4 second, which begins at a tee hacked out of woods and then plays through forest to a landing area guarded by two huge pines before turning dead left and winding uphill to a long, narrow green.
The 343-yard third is another tight, uphill two-shotter, with trees stationed in the fairway 150 yards out and again about 100 yards from the three-tiered green. Looking from the tee to the fairway of the 453-yard par-4 seventh, one has to wonder if there’s any chance of hitting his drive like a field goal through two tall pines and past the two bunkers further squeezing this tight dogleg right.
The ninth, a 581-yard par-5, looks from above like a huge boomerang. Here the drive must carry about 275 yards from the back blocks to get beyond a tree at the left elbow of the dogleg-left and have a peek at the long fairway for a decent lay-up.
The back nine moves out from the aforementioned 10th (which plays 354 yards to a sloped, island-like fairway) and seems very “linkish” as it meanders to the course’s furthest point (the tee at No. 15) and then back to the 18th green.
The 494-yard par-5 11th may be the most reachable of the Inn of the Mountain Gods’ three-shotters, but the approach is uphill and pinched by two bunkers at the green front. After the nearly treeless 419-yard 13th, play returns to the woods at the 14th, a reverse “S-shaped,” double-dogleg par-5 carded of 548 testy yards.
The course goes out with a bang players are not likely to forget. The 474-yard par-4 15th heads downhill and turns slightly left before reversing uphill to a putting surface ringed by three bunkers. No. 17, another monster par-4 of 445 yards, also moves downhill and past a lone pine in mid-fairway then back up to the green.
But neither of these holes prepares golfers for the 18th, which requires an all-or-nothing blow of 272 downhill yards at one of the nation’s top par-3 finishers. Here, the player must carry water and tall native grasses. But Robinson allowed for a bailout area short and right, as long as the player is comfortable taking that option in the shadow of the clubhouse and a rapt gallery.
The Championship course at Inn of the Mountain Gods has been ranked one of the nation’s top-35 golf courses by Golfweek magazine, rated No. 23 among the nation’s top-40 casino courses by Golf Digest, and been called “the most underrated golf course in the Southwest” by Travel and Leisure magazine.
The Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino is one of the finest and most fun golf destinations in New Mexico. It is replete with a soaring 273-room hotel, a 38,000-square-foot casino and all the amenities. Those who want a little something different can head to nearby Ruidoso, which offers restaurants, shops, bistros and a thoroughbred-quarter horse racetrack.