Brauer Redesigning New Mexico Highlands University Course

By: Mark Leslie

Following New Mexico state Legislature approval, New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) is proceeding with a reconstruction of its nine-hole golf course, and has engaged one of the country’s finest course architects to perform the surgery.

The university has given Jeffrey D. Brauer a mandate to turn the 50-year-old course into a challenging track that will attract native New Mexicans as well as vacationing “Snow Birds.” Among Brauer’s latest projects, The Quarry at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, Minn., was named the Best New Upscale Public Course in America for 2004 by Golf Digest; The Wilderness at Fortune Bay in Tower, Minn., was named this spring among The Top 10 You Can Play by GOLF Magazine; and The Legacy Golf Club in Norwalk, Iowa, was named among the Top 10 Best New Public Golf Courses for 2003 by Golf Digest.

Renamed Gene Torres Golf Course in honor of the university’s recently deceased golf pro, the new course is one of two related projects at New Mexico Highlands. The school also received legislative approval, and financing, to resurrect a long-dormant plan to develop a 200-home community on the 165-acre property around the golf course. The development was begun in the early 1950s but never materialized, according to NMHU Director of Development George DuFour.

“The university and community need to work together as one,” said DuFour. “We have some good challenges up ahead, but need a good golf course.”

DuFour credited the legislative approval to hard work within the university community, spearheaded by new President Manny Argon, a 30-year state senator from Las Vegas who used his influence to push the measure through the Legislature and past Gov. Bill Richardson.

Brauer intends to provide a quality golf course and adds that the town, and the property, are not lacking for character. A railroad aficionado, Brauer pointed out that Las Vegas is an historic railroad town and still boasts a roundhouse that facilitated many a Santa Fe Railroad run in the 1800s. At the golf course, the clubhouse is a log home originally built between 1936 and 1942 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, a federal relief program to provide jobs during the recovery period of the Great Depression.

“Las Vegas is in the mountains and there are good views around the course,” Brauer said from his Arlington, Texas, headquarters. “The property contains both flat flood plain and upper hills, and we will use both, along with existing tree lines, to provide some exciting golf.”

Brauer is designing a traditional, Donald Ross-style layout. Ross, perhaps the best-known American golf course architect in history, predated the era of earth-moving equipment and is famous for using a site’s topography to its fullest potential.

“We’ve asked Jeff to provide us with a golf course that is going to be a challenge to play,” said DuFour. “We understand that because we are in the high-plain desert and face water restrictions, it will be a challenge. But we’re sure he will provide a fine product where there is now a pretty pitiful one.”

Brauer is no stranger to such tests. He recently undertook a complete redesign of the Creek Course at Indian Creek Golf Course in Carrollton, Texas, and turned it into the 7th-best among Golf Digest’s Best New Affordable Golf Courses for 2004.

Brauer said the contractor, who will be chosen through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process, should be selected in October.

DuFour said that because the clubhouse is an historic building, no exterior changes can be made, but improvements will be made to “dress up” the interior and make it compatible to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

Las Vegas has a population of approximately 20,000 and sits on I-25 outside Santa Fe. “When the Snow Birds come down from the North and East they stop here,” DuFour said. “Now they will have a place to play golf and spend money within the community. We are in a very good position. Over the next five to seven years we will sell off the housing lots, and there will be our community for golfers.”

Brauer and his firm, GolfScapes, have designed 48 golf courses and remodeled more than 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., is rated among the best affordable public courses in the United States, while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best-new course winner, and his Cowboys Golf Club in Dallas was the first NFL-themed course and was named Best New Course in Zagat’s Survey. Also, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State University, which is ranked the best public course in Kansas and is the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee.

(For details about Jeff Brauer’s design philosophy, see the Brauer’s Book section of Cybergolf.)