When it comes to golf courses, many of those in New Mexico are as good as what are found in Arizona, Texas, and Colorado. New Mexico’s Black Mesa, Outlaw, Paa-Ko Ridge, Sandia, and Twin Warriors are great designs, well maintained, and highly acclaimed. But I found The Golf Club at Rainmakers in Alto (Ruidoso), NM to be a cut above in many respects.
In 2008, Robert Trent Jones II crafted Rainmakers to blend a variety of design elements to fit into the natural setting that only the unique topography and characteristics of the Sacramento Mountain foothills and southern New Mexico can deliver. Featuring a variety of plateaus and corresponding valleys, winding arroyos, unusual rock projections, and intense elevation changes, each of Rainmaker’s features blends perfectly into and is consistent with the dramatic surroundings of the landscape.
Rainmakers’ routing mirrors an extended figure eight with both nines working in a clockwise rotation. Most of the holes rest comfortably within their own environment yet maintain a sense of individualism from previous or approaching holes. The front nine seems to be the more difficult and requires a much greater focus to manage the highly contoured fairways, gripping elevation changes, and treacherous arroyos. The back nine provides an opportunity to score better yet still provides thought provoking decisions and stunning views of the panoramic setting.
Front Nine Highlights
Playing to par 37 with three par 5 holes, it’s somewhat unusual to open a course with two par 5s, but Jones has cleverly done so by shunning a sharp drop off that separates both fairways. The dog-legged 1st hole is as magnificent a starting hole as I have encountered and sets the tone for the entire round while the somewhat shorter 2nd offers a chance to score if you avoid the pot bunker lurking some 40 yards short of the green.
The scenery is dramatic and it’s the par three 3rd hole that introduces the abundant elevation changes that amplify throughout the course. This is where you’ll want to bring out the camera.
The 4th hole is about as good a hole as you’ll find. It plays as a sharp dog-leg right over an arroyo to a well-guarded and elevated green. Danger lurks if the pin favors the right side of the green.
#6 is the top rated hole on the course. An arroyo lies in wait for you to make a mistake along the entire fairway and green. But generally speaking, Rainmakers’ fairways are wide and will serve as your ally especially on this difficult hole where you’ll need all the help you can get as you negotiate to a well-protected, tricky, and undulating green. Bogey here is nothing to fret about.
Birdies on the front nine are hard to come by but the 8th hole, the third par 5, gives you the best chance to score if you’ll favor the right side.
Managing the Back Nine
This somewhat easier back nine journeys up to the plateau and should give you a better chance to score if you’ll concentrate on proper club selection and course management.
Still, you won’t find a more inviting yet dangerous par 3 than Rainmakers’ 11th hole. A mere 169 yards from the blue tees, it incorporates a world of trouble everywhere unless you take an extra club and use the hilly backdrop as a safeguard. Did I mention the swirling wind is quite predominant at times?
Just when you thought you had the course under control, the 13th hole brings you back to reality. It’s another par 4 that requires an accurate drive to avoid the bunkers and give you a clear shot to an interesting green that slopes uphill front to back. But be careful as they didn’t rate this as the hardest hole on the back for no reason.
The 15th hole par 3 serves up a well-guarded green with water fronting the entire right side and bunkers guarding the left. The chic pueblo homes back right of the green might provide a mild distraction but it’s not a difficult hole as long as you’re accurate with your irons.
The 18th grand finale par 5 is a wonderful risk/reward hole. From the tee, you have to negotiate a ravine and some well-placed bunkers to realize a well-positioned second shot or possibly go for the green. Even then, the same ravine guards the approach to the green as do two strategically positioned bunkers. Still, if played as designed, par or better is easily attainable.
Rainmakers’ design is very imaginative but it is imperative to choose to play the correct set of tees to fit your handicap. The putting surfaces, collars, chipping areas, and bunkers offer exceptional variety and brilliant playability. The pars 3s deliver a distinct variety of distances and are quite memorable. The par 4s have an equal number of left to right and right to left designs with an assortment of second shots required. But it’s the par 5s that really got my attention. The risk/reward element was characteristic on most of the 5s while the diversity of both second and third shots was exceptional.
Also, not to be ignored, I believe this to be a woman friendly course as there are 5 sets of rated tees. The hazards are still in play from the forward tees and if the yardage is too short for some, playing from the 5300 yard combo tees provides another option for the better players.
Finally, I look at every course from the standpoint of whether or not it is worthy of spending 4 hours on it. In many instances I ask myself if it’s a course that you can walk and enjoy what the environment has to offer. Rainmakers is not a “walking” course. But the scenery, wildlife, variety of trees, and landscape certainly insure that it passes the “walk in the park test”.
John Mooshie, a freelance journalist from Wakulla Springs, Florida,
has an insatiable curiosity for almost
everything and writes on a broad range of golf, travel, and
golf fashions for various magazines, newspapers,
e-zines, and websites. Formerly an ad agency and billboard
copywriter, he switched careers, co-designed
an 18 hole golf course, and now writes reviews on both golf course
resorts and destination spas.. He is
currently conducting research to write biographical sketches about
individuals and businesses that fly
below the radar and will soon publish a golf book promising to cure
the five bad shots in golf.