Sparkling blue skies, colorful art works and fresh green chiles lure travelers to Taos, so the golf feels like a bonus. And, what a bonus it is!
We had cabin fever when we planned a May golf getaway to Taos, New Mexico. At about 7,000 feet elevation, it’s got great golf appeal from spring into fall — pretty much from when the snow melts until it falls again. But it’s close enough to lower elevations that you could stay here in winter and drive down to golf! And the high desert scenery would drop jaws in the fall.
We drove from Denver, about 4½ hours north of Taos. You could fly into Albuquerque, about 2½ hours’ drive, or Santa Fe, a posh 90 minutes away. New Mexico is not a rich state: Many of the roads so desperately need work, GottaGoGolf recommends you wear a bra for your travels.
But once you’ve arrived, you can take it off. The Taos vibe is casual, mellow and earthy. You’re not going to disco-dance into the wee hours here, though you might get in a happy-hour two-step at the historic Taos Inn. Taos visitors typically soak up the history, explore the outdoors, and shop for art by day. We made sure we took one day off from golf to join them.
Taos has its share of luxury accommodations, and if we weren’t playing golf and could spend more time at our hotel we’d consider the Adobe & Pines Inn, just outside town, or, in town, the El Monte Sagrado. But a few years ago we stopped in Taos for one night, and stayed at the El Pueblo Lodge. It’s family run and squeaky clean, with pool, hot tub and the best breakfast service we’ve ever found included in a hotel stay outside Scotland! Plus, on Saturday evening they cook up green chile for the guests!
We asked for a quiet upstairs king room (no kids and pets running around on our heads), and were given a corner spot in back of the property. The room — well, I’d call it a suite, it was so big — had a loveseat and fireplace, a fridge, and a deck with two chairs where we could enjoy our green chile with our tequila. All this at an affordable price.
Next time we might spend some time at Ojo Caliente, a mineral springs spa resort between Taos and Santa Fe. It had only partially reopened in August 2021 after a 2020 fire did serious damage. But El Pueblo is perfect for exploring Taos: It’s an easy and enjoyable walk past shops and restaurants to the center of this small town.
Black Mesa Golf Club: We had read such rave reviews of Black Mesa, we didn’t hesitate to take the 45-mile drive down Highway 68, cruising past river rafters enjoying the Rio Grande and through tiny towns living off the past, landing in Espanola. Here, your gang might spend a night at the Santa Claran to test your luck at the tables. But it’s at nearby Black Mesa you’ll feel most lucky.
Not that you’re going to score: The greens have such sneaky breaks, we never mastered them. But, at about 5,500 feet elevation, Black Mesa offers views for miles, including a mostly what-you-see-is-what-you-get, “interesting and spectacular” course layout by Baxter Spann. It’s a fantastic course for women, at 5,157 yards from the forward tees with a second option at 5,876 yards, and I can’t wait to play it again.
Bring your own water and drink lots of it, but, keep in mind, there are no restrooms out on the course (no trees either), only at the clubhouse. Aside from that, our biggest disappointment was that the 19th hole was not open on the Saturday we visited. It was a lovely place to linger. Because the course is rather remotely situated, there are occasional rumors about its demise. So, please, visit!
Taos Country Club: Just a short ride from town takes you through one of the nicest neighborhoods in the area to the club that is its recreational heart. It’s not a snooty club, though: Visitors are welcome.
Now you’re back at 7,000 feet, an altitude that can make course maintenance challenging in all but high summer. Jep Wille chose a links-style design, which means there aren’t forced carries from the forward tees. Those are set at a fun 4,480 yards, but other options rate for women at 4,775 yards, 5,336 yards and 5,673 yards. The back tees stretch all the way to 7,302 yards!
We got rained out at the turn, but we really liked the isolated feel of the holes here, each one a world of its own. And the 19th hole has a magnificent terrace we’d love to visit for a weekend brunch.
New Mexico has a distinct flavor, and we enjoyed every meal. At the top of the list, you MUST GO to the Love Apple, which is situated unassumingly on the main road. Get over that: It has the sweetest patio, with climbing roses and other plants surrounding tables sectioned off by white curtains. White string lights and chill jazz sounds accentuate the intimacy. The interior is also quite cozy and pretty. The menu here, just a handful of share plates, ensaladas and main course choices, changes seasonally because everything is locally sourced. Even the sugar and the flour! But, not all the wines, and we chose a Spanish bubbly that was new to us. A memorable meal, with bottle of wine, two entrees (both OMG: pan fried gnocchi in a lick-the-plate sweet carrot butter sauce, and a oaxacan style tamale with red chile mole and finished with a farm fresh egg), a shared appetizer (salads are exquisite) and shared flan (OK, mostly mine) came to only around $100 for the two of us, a good value. Just remember, the Love Apple takes cash only. Thankfully we did not have to wash dishes.
We also enjoyed our meal and margaritas at Azteca, which has a traditional adobe interior and lovely lavender-enclosed patio. But a word of caution on liquor: New Mexico is stingy with its licenses, and an otherwise wonderful restaurant might not even have one! Or, it may be serving margaritas made with wine instead of tequila. We enjoyed our house wine margs at Azteca but generally prefer a tequila base and made a point to look for it after that.
On our last night in town, we wanted to stop for a “final-final” before heading home after dinner. That’s how we ended up in the Treehouse Bar & Lounge, above fancy Lambert’s restaurant. Downstairs was jampacked, because a chilly rain had taken its romantic patio out of the mix for dinner that evening. But upstairs we were seated on a comfy couch, in front of a coffee table that on this night served as the perfect cocktail holder. Options at the Treehouse included the Taos Air (Rye, Aperol, Amaro and lemon juice) and a fab Mexican Negroni (Mezcal, Campari, Vermouth), and we also saw some mouth-watering food coming out of the kitchen.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN TAOS
Harsh history — described in tourism materials as “rich and complex” — abounds in Taos, where Bent Street is named after a governor shot, killed and scalped there in an 1847 revolt by local Hispanics and Pueblo Indians. Places to visit and learn about Taos include the 14th century Taos Pueblo, the 200-year-old Taos Plaza, Kit Carson’s house and grave and the often photographed Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Pick up Historic Taos, a free self-guided walking tour guide available at many hotels, or download it at Visit Taos.
We enjoyed the more recent, 20th century Taos story told by Fechin House and the Taos Art Museum, and would also be interested in a day trip to Los Alamos for its so-called “atomic heritage.” Taos is rich in arts and crafts, and while you’re walking around you can shop here for everything from whimsical designs for your garden to stunning jewelry for your neck, wrist, fingers and ears.
A trip to Taos would not be complete, however, without a stop at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, 650 feet above the river. You can easily walk across the bridge or alongside the gorge and marvel at nature’s own arts and crafts. But don’t try hitting a golf ball across it unless you’ve won a long-drive title: It would take a 425-yard carry.For more information about Taos and to start planning your visit, check out Visit Taos.