Monday, March 19, 2007

According to Santa Ana Pueblo legend, twin warriors showed tribe members the path to the upper world along the banks of the Rio Grande. Represented by a rainbow bow and lightning arrows, the warriors lead the people in war and protect them in peace. And now they also stand watch over the Pueblo's newest creation: Twin Warriors Golf Club at the also-new Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa. Like its namesakes, the Gary Panks-designed course can prove peaceful and/or fearsome, depending on your game.

Located 20 minutes outside Albuquerque in the shadows of the Sandia Mountains, the adobe-styled Tamaya is the largest resort ever developed on Native American land and -- surprisingly -- the first true destination resort in New Mexico. Three hundred and fifty stylish rooms overlook 500 acres and provide every guest with...well, you do the math. All rooms have sweeping views of the carefully restored bosque, a native cottonwood forest bordering the Rio Grande.

Owned and inspired by the Santa Ana Pueblo, Tamaya -- which means "the place" -- incorporates Indian motifs and accents in everything from cuisine to architecture. A kiva pool, designed after a native ceremonial chamber, an oxbow pool reflecting the shape of the Rio Grande, and plenty of poolside sunshine make for a relaxing après-golf destination -- unless you follow golf with more golf at the 27-hole Santa Ana golf complex next door. But be sure to set aside time to visit what may be the resort's coup de gracias (meaning you'll offer thanks for it): the Tamaya Mist Spa, a 16,000-square-foot facility offering steam, hot water, and 18 private treatment rooms for everything from massages to herbal wraps.

Tamaya's high-desert Twin Warriors Golf Course, opened last May, stretches across grassy knolls and ridges dotted with sage, juniper, and piñon pine, and skirts 20 ancient cultural sites, including sacred Snakehead Butte. Crossing 12 arroyos, the course is capable of some vicious bites. The longest of five sets of tees uncoils to 7,736 yards, though the mile-high altitude (balls travel farther here) will counteract some of the venom.

Panks has created what will surely rank as one of the top courses in New Mexico. He grassed fewer than one quarter of the layout's 400 acres, leaving the rest to wildflowers, native grasses, and natural waste areas. Big, firm greens welcome you like an embrace from a fat uncle, but deep, penal bunkers may punish you for wayward shots by requiring a lateral escape.

From the first hole, you know you're in the hands of a skilled designer. The 563-yard opener demands a forced carry over a dry wash on the second shot. The approach requires another carry over bunkers that are deceptively set back from the green. Number three may be the longest par four you ever play -- a 505-yarder with a narrow fairway and an elevated green mined with sand and grass bunkers. To his credit, Panks used water sparingly, but to dramatic effect: The par-three fourth hole plays over the only lake on the course to a green bordered on the left by a waterfall and cascading stream. The front nine concludes with a par three that plays across a box canyon to a Redan-style green.

The topography on the back nine is even more rugged -- as are a few of the shotmaking requirements. Mesas and buttes fill the golfscape, as do arroyos. The par-five 12th features a rock-lined wash fronting a wide but shallow green. The right side bubbles with grassy knobs and ridges. The 15th, a staunch, 244-yard, par three from the tips, sits beside an 800-year-old cultural site abutting Snakehead Butte. Number 16 drops 100 feet and offers views of a dormant volcano that might just erupt again by the time it will take you to reach the green 645 yards away. Twin Warriors finishes in a tough but comforting manner by routing you past the hotel, where tired warriors can retreat for the twin pleasures of a cold beer and a restorative nap.

The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, 1300 Tuyuna Trail, Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico 87004; 505-867-1234; www.hyatt.com.

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