Two Great New Courses in New Mexico

By: Steve Habel

There is a whole lot to like about South Central New Mexico and especially the Ruidoso Valley, which consists of, among others, the Lincoln County towns of Ruidoso Downs, Ruidoso and Alto. After all, this area has been the playground of "summer Texans" for years, thanks to its combination of cool weather in the hotter months, ski opportunities in the fall, winter and spring and the draw of mountain living and play.

Here, the Sacramento Mountains rise majestically above the surrounding desert plains and the landscape is dominated by a snow-capped peak, Sierra Blanca, which rises to an altitude of more than 12,000 feet. This is a magical valley where tall pines whisper in the breeze, a rushing stream makes lively music, and silence and isolation are your neighbors and welcome friends.

Now, thanks to the opening of two great private golf courses - Rainmakers and The Outlaw - and their associated high-end communities, the region's leaders feel South-central New Mexico is ready to compete with the West's big boys (read: Colorado, Arizona and Nevada) in the second- and retirement-home markets.

"This is a market that has been ready to take off for a decade," said Jim Lorah, general manager of The Outlaw at Lincoln Hills and its golf course. "Even with the recent economic slowdown across the nation, the anticipation for our level of golf course community has been high and the response to our opening has been great."

The opening of two high-profile golf courses and communities so close together - only about five miles of road separates the two tracks and they nearly abut each other on the mesa upon which the courses lie - might seem like a dangerous prospect. Not so, said Donnie Cude, Rainmakers former director of golf membership. "With Rainmakers, we feel like we offer an option to those golfers that have planes sitting in Dallas or Oklahoma City and want something different - and closer - than what they have had in Colorado or Utah," Cude said. "I feel we have what people want."

Rainmakers' Vistas are its Calling Cards

The Golf Club at Rainmakers is within a golf and recreational community involving more than 1,000 acres adjacent to Lincoln County's renowned Spencer Theater for the Performing Arts, which presents touring Broadway shows, concerts and dance performances. The entire community and the golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II are members of the Audubon International Signature Program, and, accordingly, no effort has been spared to protect the native flora and fauna, to conserve and manage the water resources, and build only the most energy-efficient homes.

Renowned for environmental stewardship, Rainmakers is on the cutting edge of water conservation, using polymers to cool grass temperatures by as much as 12 degrees. Michael O'Brien, Rainmakers' general manager and partner, estimates that the polymers conserve up to 30 percent of typical water consumption on the 1,023-acre development.

The heart of Rainmakers is Jones' 7,101-yard, par-72 track, which opened for play in July 2008. "At Rainmakers, the land spoke with two distinct voices," Jones said. "The amazing scenery called out with distant views of layered juniper and pine-covered hills transitioning to snow-capped mountains, while the golf course site itself whispered softly with the rugged accent of the American desert."

Both voices harmonize in the final design, but don't get caught up in the scenery and ambiance of pristine nature. This is a golf course that demands your attention from first swing to final putt, and anything less will leave you frustrated and wanting. The test begins at the starting hole, a par-5 that plays to a whopping 691 yards from the back tees. There is no downhill shot here, but the hole (which took a driver, a 3-metal and 7-medal from 195 yards to reach the green) was designed to take advantage of a prevailing wind at your back.

You get a little bit of help on the second hole, which is another par-5 but is much more manageable at 515 yards. "No. 2 was originally a par-4, but we decided that - after the first hole - most players would like some redemption," said Jones. "Maybe they can make a birdie on No. 2."

Other memorable holes are the 224-yard, downhill par-3 third, which drops 80 feet from tee to green; the sixth, which is bordered on its left and in green front by a ball-eating 40-foot arroyo; the 10th, a short (374-yard) par-4 that goes down then up and banks sharply from right to left toward the aforementioned and deadly arroyo; the 186-yard, par-3 11th, whose front-right pin placement makes you flirt with the dry creek bed that runs alongside the green; the 203-yard, par-3 15th, which asks for a full carry over the lake that defines the hole and fronts the green; and the reachable 538-yard, par-5 C-shaped finishing hole, a left to right gem that requires two shots over a canyon. There are three par-5s on the front side, which plays to a par of 37. The back side sports three par-3s but all are a challenge.

Jones said he is most proud of the 142-yard 17th, which he described as an island green without the water. The elevated tee box drops severely into a valley green with little room for errant shots. Hit long or right, and the golf ball is lost into a canyon. Hit left and the ball will roll for yards down a hill. Even if it's safe, the second will likely be a blind shot up toward the green. More than anything, what distinguishes the Rainmakers golf course the most is the beauty and diversity of its terrain - meadows of native grasses, Ponderosa, pinon and juniper pines, natural arroyos, dramatic rock outcroppings and a view of Sierra Blanca or the Capitan mountains from 12 holes.

"What I've heard from most of the people is that they want to come back to Rainmakers because it's a challenge," Cude said. "They also remember the golf course, remember specific holes, and that makes them want to come back and play it again."

We hold that sentiment but with a strong caveat: Rainmakers is a track that wears you out, even on a relatively benign and sunny day when the wind was not whipping through the mountain pass. Our advice is to play Rainmakers as much as you can, but be prepared to swallow your pride and lose more than a few golf balls on your journey around Jones' beautiful and relentless course. For more information, visit

Don't Underestimate The Outlaw

The golf course at The Outlaw, which is accessed via a road that takes you past the region's former leader of private golf (Alto Lakes Country Club) and the Kokopelli, an executive 18, doesn't pack the big-name designer or the upper-mesa vistas of Rainmakers. But you would be foolish to underestimate The Outlaw, which - for my trained eye and relatively sound golf game - is every bit the offering of his neighbor to the north and infinitely more playable and fun.

The Outlaw at Lincoln Hills golf course community is located among pine-covered slopes, high-country meadows and rock outcrops some 10 miles northeast of Ruidoso. The property is very diverse with rocky outcroppings, small canyons, hillsides covered with wildflowers and two small lakes. Spread over nearly 500 acres, the property sits at a point more than 7,000 feet above sea level, with striking views of the snowcapped Sierra Blanca and Capitan Mountains.

The course - which enjoyed a soft opening in June - was designed by John LaFoy, who has done the majority of his work in the South. "When I first saw the property that became The Outlaw, I knew we had all the earmarks of a great golf course," LaFoy said. "This is a very golfer-friendly course - if you hit the ball in the correct spot off the tee, you will almost always find that your ball gets to a great spot to hit your next shot."

The Outlaw is styled as a "target" course similar to those found in Arizona. The fairways have strategically placed landing areas with native grasses and natural landscaping spanning the carry area. The uniqueness of the course, given the topography and natural surroundings, is both challenging to advanced golfers and friendly to less-experienced players.

The track stretches 6,881 yards from the tips, with each hole meticulously designed to utilize the natural environment so that every shot asks for your best game. You will not find the multiple 600-yard-plus par-5s like at Rainmakers - at The Outlaw the longest hole is the 555-yard sixth, but the track puts your skills to the test throughout while not beating you over the head.

The Outlaw begins with a hard dogleg-left 376-yard, par-4 that gives you a good idea about how you will need to work your ball at LaFoy's layout. Up ahead on the front nine are the demanding 193-yard, par-3 third (which has a front-right pin placement protected by three bunkers); the right-sweeping 420-yard fourth, which favors a shot over three bunkers right of the fairway; the sublimely tough, aforementioned sixth, which turns hard left off the tee and then narrows before you attack a green guarded by three bunkers in front; and the drivable, sharp-downhill par-4 eighth, perhaps the tightest and most picturesque test on the course.

The back nine starts with the seemingly easy 150-yard par-3 10th - be sure to get your ball to the right level of the three-tiered putting surface. Next is the slight dogleg left 520-yard, par-5 11th, which plays in a valley surrounded on both sides by huge pine trees and guarded by a creek bed on the right. Other holes that grab your attention are the uphill and mounded 356-yard par-4 13th, which sports a 35-yard deep elevated green; the bang-it-and-watch-it-fly 14th, a 430-yard par-4 with Sierra Blanca a focal point far beyond the green; the testy 455-yard, par-4 dogleg right 15th, the longest of the layout's 10 par-4s; and the 430-yard, par-4 finishing hole.

"The great thing about this course is that there are a lot of shots that are either downhill or uphill, but they have a different feel," LaFoy said. "When you are hitting to a fairway that is uphill, the feeling is that is not as severe as your shots when you are standing high and hitting to a spot below you. That creates a lot of confidence in your shots but also makes you pay attention and play the correct club."

The Outlaw makes for a great round of golf and was enjoyable enough without taking away aggressiveness. High marks indeed, and plenty worth of your attention and my recommendation. For additional information, visit

Steve Habel is an Austin, Texas-based journalist and Cybergolf's Southwest Correspondent. Since 1990, he has traveled around the globe covering news, business and sports assignments for various news bureaus, newspapers, magazines and websites. He also contributes to Business District magazine in Austin as managing editor and is the Texas football beat writer and a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated, the Austin-based magazine for University of Texas sports. Habel writes a weekly golf column for The River Cities Tribune in Marble Falls, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Golf Writers' Association.