Nicknamed the “Duke City” for a Spanish royal of the 18th century, Albuquerque perches at 5,314 feet on a mountainous plain in New Mexico’s high desert. Its blue-sky summers rarely blister — summer temperatures average 90 degrees compared with Phoenix’s 103 — and fragrant chamiso and pines make a better backdrop than cactus. Plus, you can play quality golf on bentgrass any time of year. The city can’t match the 50-plus courses in Scottsdale, Arizona, to the southwest, but in a short stay you’ll get all the variety and challenge you can handle for (shhh!) about a third of the price.
Isleta Eagle Golf Course (888-293-9146; www.isletaeagle.com; greens fees: $26-$50): A 27-hole links-style layout five minutes south of the airport, Isleta Eagle is one of four outstanding tribe-owned courses near Albuquerque. What appears to be a gentle stroll past tall mounds, four ponds and the tranquil Rio Grande can turn rugged in bluegrass rough. The standout Mesa-Lakes combo — Arroyo is the third nine — stretches to 7,572 yards from the tips. All three nines are walkable and offer fine views of the Rio Grande Valley and surrounding peaks.
University of New Mexico Championship Golf Course (505-277-4546; www.unm.edu/~golf; greens fees: $17-$67): Rolling, pine-strewn “UNM South,” as it is known in these parts, traverses gullies and ridges and plays to 7,272 yards at full length. After a decade of stiff local competition that pushed UNM South down a notch or two, new management has restored this Robert Lawrence design to its rightful place among the area’s top courses.
Twin Warriors Golf Club (505-771-6155; www.twinwarriorsgolf.com; greens fees: $80-$125): Fifteen minutes north of Albuquerque you’ll find two stellar tracks on the Santa Ana pueblo. Architect Gary Panks wove the 400-acre Twin Warriors (adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa) around 20 ancient cultural sites, an extinct volcano, lava flows and, on the 7th hole, an old rail line. Enjoy views of regal cottonwoods along the Rio Grande and massive Sandia Peak looming over every hole. Pricey but invigorating, Twin Warriors is stout from the three deepest sets of tees (6,914 to 7,736 yards) but forgiving from the resort markers, which add up to a manageable 6,485.
Santa Ana Golf Club (505-867-9464; www.santaanagolf.com; greens fees: $18-$55): Twin Warriors’s 27-hole sister course wraps around eight lakes and several troublesome arroyos. Bounded by mountains on three sides, Santa Ana’s Cheena, Star and Tamaya nines wind through desert terrain, subtle mounding and native grasses. The course has hosted Nationwide Tour events and was the boyhood track of PGA Tour pro Notah Begay III.
Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course (505-465-2239; www.golfnewmexico.com/pages/courses/cochiti.html; greens fees: $29-$52): Halfway to Santa Fe, near fields of native beans and squash, you’ll find this memorable course built by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Tucked deep into the red-rock foothills of the Jemez Mountains, Pueblo de Cochiti is tight, strategic and almost zoological in its devotion to nature. A clubhouse sign reads Don’t feed the coyote pups on holes 13 and 14. A $3.2 million renovation by Jones in 2000 made Cochiti .a local favorite.
Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club (866-898-5987; www.paakoridge.com; greens fees: $48-$79): Drive 10 miles east of Albuquerque and tee off at Paa-Ko Ridge. First-timers coming off the 18th green rave about the sheer drama of Paa-Ko. Designer Ken Dye, who built Pinon Hills in Farmington, New Mexico — a word-of-mouth sensation in the 1990s — crafted 18 captivating holes here in 1999. His handiwork rambles through ponderosa pines and pinons at more than 6,500 feet, affording 50-mile vistas of five mountain ranges. Lodging
The golfer-friendliest hacienda here is the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa (505-867-1234; www.tamaya.hyatt.com) on the Santa Ana pueblo, alongside the Twin Warriors and Santa Ana courses. With three pools, a two-story water slide, two restaurants, a large casino and bowling alley, as well as horseback riding and plenty of shopping, the Hyatt is ideal for families and non-playing travelers. Albuquerque also boasts several excellent B&Bs, including a quiet spot downtown called Casas de Suenos (505-247-4560) and the historic Victorian Bottger-Koch Mansion (505-243-3639) in Old Town. Dining
Towering over the teeming Mexican-food throng is El Pinto (505-898-1771) in north Albuquerque, a 40-year-old, 18,000-square-foot carnival in a rustic setting. Each year, owners Jim and John Thomas roast more than 350 tons of famed Hatch, New Mexico, chile, the stuff that has wowed Mick Jagger and generations of Duke City locals. Other favorites include 66 Diner (505-247-1421) for hearty grub on famed Route 66; Bien Shur (505-796-7788), which serves fine seafood and native dishes on the Sandia Pueblo; Artichoke Cafe (505-243-0200), a casual mix of American, French and Italian cuisine; Il Vicino (505-266-7855), with its tasty pizza in a hip college neighborhood; and Prairie Star (505-867-3327) for superb Southwestern cuisine at Santa Ana Golf Club.
October’s nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (888-422-7277) is the largest event of its kind. Want to go up, up and away? Rainbow Ryders (505-823-1111) is a 20-year-old ballooning outfit that offers adventures for about $150 per person (prices go up during the festival). Albuquerque Biological Park (505-764-6200) features a stellar aquarium with lots of sharks and giant green eels as thick as paint cans. Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway (505-856-7325) offers a jaw-dropping view of spectacular desert scenery from almost two miles above the city, with a surprisingly good restaurant, High Finance (505-243-9742), at the summit. For more attractions, contact the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-733-9918 or www.abqcvb.org.