This high-elevation city is so low-key that it doesn't try to sell you on a sexy civic slogan. "The Duke City" is its nickname, in honor of a Spanish nobleman who helped found Albuquerque in 1706. The moniker says nothing about the city's temperate climate, its killer local cuisine (try the Carne Adovada at Garcia's Kitchen and you'll understand) or its high-caliber courses, which spring up like oases across the desertscape. Casinos also beckon, but this isn't Sin City. The pace is leisurely. And though the air is thin, Albuquerque's bargain prices leave you breathing easy. That's another selling point: Your ball and your buck both go a long way.
Poor Bugs Bunny. If only he'd made that left turn at Albuquerque, he might have wound up in this wondrous place. Shaped through the sandstone foothills, roughly 90 minutes from the Albuquerque airport, Black Mesa is a treat for traditionalists: a rough-hewn layout in a raw setting that, though inland, is reminiscent of the finest links. Architect Baxter Spann let nature have its way with his design, interfering only with the softest hand. His artistry is apparent from the first shot (a blind tee ball over a grassy hillock that rewards a golfer's leap of faith). And you sense it all around you as you move through this walker-friendly layout, with its snaggle-tooth bunkers and dirt cart paths, rustic touches that enhance the welcome sense of remove. A second course is in the works at Black Mesa, designed by Tom Doak. It's not outlandish to imagine a high-desert version of Pacific Dunes.
Renovations stretched this top-notch Red Lawrence design to 7,562 yards, but purists will be pleased that the layout retains its classic character. The opening hole, a forgiving par-5 with views of the Albuquerque skyline, lilts gently with the landscape, and from there the course ratchets up its requirements, demanding everything from deft, lofted approaches to bullet-like long irons into par-4s. Its close-to-the-airport location makes it a perfect start or finish to a trip.
Etched along the eastern slope of the Sandia Mountains, this 27-hole facility from architect Ken Dye (no relation to Pete) provides high drama at lofty elevation. Despite occasional bouts of wackiness, the layout offers flat spots where you need them and rollicking entertainment that's hard to get from an ordinary round. Then there are the vistas. The surroundings are stunning, and few sights are more stirring than the mountains as a backdrop for a tee shot that seems to hang forever in the air.
Nothing is quite what it seems at Twin Warriors. The "back" tees are actually third from the back, and the altitude (5,250 feet) doesn't make it that much easier to conquer the length of the layout (6,914 yards). But despite the rugged terrain that you'll face during your round (the course is routed around 20 ancient cultural sites), scoring well is hardly impossible. Wide, flattish fairways and fairly level greens allow resort guests to have plenty of fun.
Stay, Eat, Do
Flat-screen TVs, a swank fitness center and a full-service spa are among the features at the recently renovated Isleta Casino & Resort (877-747-5382, isleta-casino.com; rooms from $109), which sits across the street from the Isleta Eagle Golf Club. Two terrific values that showcase regional eats are Garcia's Kitchen (505-268-0974, garciaskitchen.com) and Los Cuates (505-255-4959, loscuatesrestaurants.com). Sandia Aerial Tramway takes you to a 10,378-foot summit, where top-of-the-world views and two restaurants await. (505-856-7325, sandiapeak.com)
STILL HUNGRY FOR GOLF?
Four more tracks to fill out your menu.
Sandia Golf Club
7,772 yards, par 72