Boasting New Mexico’s most coveted tee times, Las Campanas also qualifies as one of the Southwest’s most desirable enclaves
After 12 years of visiting Santa Fe, I finally arrived at Las Campanas, the ultra-exclusive 4,700- acre community 10 miles west of the historic Plaza. It was dinnertime, and just outside the development’s gates, my wife and I joined some Campanians—including Las Campanas Food & Beverage Director Peter O’Brien, whom I remembered fondly from his days at Montrose’s Cornerstone Club—for a memorable repast at Arroyo Vino Restaurant. Starting with roasted shishito and padrón peppers served with Manchego cheese, we segued into prosciutto-wrapped sweetbreads, a stuffed bone-in pork chop and Tuscan Chicken Roulade. We complemented it all with an arroyo—as in stream, not ditch—of vino.
By meal’s end, the multihued Santa Fe sunset had dissolved into the inky pitch of a new-moon night. One of our new friends ushered us through the security gates, leaving us at the driveway to the casita. Our phone flashlights led us through a mini-gauntlet of doors, gates, courtyards and garages to what we hoped to be our casita—and not one containing a sleeping family. We punched in a code and entered the impeccably appointed dwelling.
I’d always known it was hard to get on at Las Campanas. But getting in? Definitely user error on our parts, but I seriously doubt Jack Nicklaus had these issues.
That’s right. The Golden Bear, we’d heard, had bedded down in the same casita a few months before we’d arrived. He’d come to consult on some modifications to the Sunrise and Sunset courses, which he had originally completed in 1993 and 2000.
Golf Digest now ranks, respectively, Sunset and Sunrise as the Nos. 1 and 3 courses in New Mexico. Sunrise hosted last year’s Trans-Mississippi Four-Ball Championship and both courses regularly welcome USGA Qualifying events. The club this year also expects to announce it will be hosting a 2017 USGA Championship.
Both layouts are impeccable and distinct, with spectacular views. As their names suggest, Sunrise routes east of the 46,000-square-foot clubhouse, towards the Sangre de Cristo Range; Sunset heads west towards the Jemez Mountains.
PGA Director of Golf Jason Epstein says members prefer the Sunrise’s rolling fairways and sweeping bunkers to the more undulant Sunset with its forced carries. Both tip out at more than 7,500 yards, with Sunrise clocking in at 7,626.
(Being a rhythm player, I kept tempo on the 19-acre practice range and throughout my rounds by humming a version of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof: “Is this the little pond I carried?/Is this little ball I played?”)
Successfully cutting some of Sunrise’s numerous doglegs can shrink the course to a degree, but prepare to take your medicine amid the junipers and piñons just off the fairway. The left-bending 446-yard third ranks as the course’s toughest hole, with bunkers bordering the elbow and fronting an elevated green that requires an all-carry approach. A split fairway adds decision to the 423-yard ninth, while 12 is a beast of a parthree— 247 heroic yards over water with a little bailout area to the right. Fifteen takes you 654 yards downhill through trees, bunkers and water towards a heavily guarded green.
With the exception of the fiddly 172-yard par-3 third, Sunset’s first five holes (three par 4s and one par 5) average 500 yards. Before taking on another of the many forced carries on the breathtaking 432-yard seventh, be sure to stock up on peanut butter-stuffed celery stalks or any of the other complimentary goodies—including lip balm and sunscreen—available in the cottage off the sixth green.
Sunset is also one of those rare par-72 courses with five par 5s and five par 3s. Three of each flavor, including par 4s, appear on the back nine, with the green on the par-5 12th having been relocated last year, reducing the hole’s length from 594 to 552 yards. A big drive can find the green on the downhill 369-yard 14th, but, it can easily find water as well.
Water lurks on both courses, and each closes with stirring, similar-length par 4s along the same fairway-long pond that also flanks the putting surfaces— both of which unfurl just beyond the patio of our plush casita.
WHAT A DISCOVERY!
That casita is one of two made available to prospective members and homebuyers by Las Campanas Realty as part of its Discovery Visit.
It’s a great deal: For $499, you can stay two nights and three days; play a round of golf or experience an hour at the Las Campanas World Class Equestrian Center. You also get to savor a gourmet dinner for two at the club’s Hacienda restaurant, work out on TechnoGym equipment in the fitness center and, of course, take a private tour of the community’s 12 neighborhoods.
Featuring myriad architectural styles—from pueblo to territorial to contemporary to ranch—and additional gated privacy, the neighborhoods comprise about 700 finished homes, with dozens under construction. New and existing homes range from the mid-$400s to north of $4 million. Approximately 1,000 lots remain available. They start at $70,000, and Las Campanas Realty currently includes an Equity Golf Membership with any home site purchased for $100,000 or more. That’s a $40,000 value; the member is responsible for $1,225 in monthly dues.
Residents are not required to join the club; nor is residency required for club membership. The majority of residents, in fact, don’t live there year-round.
Las Campanas’ club and real estate operations became separate entities as a result of the financial crisis. In 2008, after developer Lyle Anderson defaulted on a $1 billion mortgage, the Bank of Scotland took control of Las Campanas and four other high-profile developments. The members bought the club, debt-free, in May, 2010, and now own and operate all the amenities—the golf courses, clubhouse, 90-stable Equestrian Center, seven Classic Clay tennis courts, state-of-the-art spa and fitness center, the indoor saline lap-pool and outdoor resort pool (pictured above).
On the real estate side, in 2012 Dallas-based Cienda Partners bought the majority of the developed lots, as well as the community’s undeveloped areas and a commercial tract that will attract retailers to the development.
“We ended 2014 with 18 closed properties and are on track for three or four more this month,” Las Campanas Realty Sales Director Nancy Zepeda reported in February. “We’ve had really strong activity. The Discovery Visit program has been a huge hit.”
BELLS ARE RINGING
The financial stability of the operation also holds enormous appeal, as does the overall quality of the operation. The clubhouse restaurant, under the supervision of O’Brien, Restaurant Manager Donn Wagner and Executive Chef Andrew Nichols, rivals any eatery in foodie-centric Santa Fe, and also hosts themed Wine Maker and Chef’s Table dinners. Just looking through the extensive fitness, tennis and spa programming put together by Director Todd Shaw’s team is itself a workout.
In addition to two stellar courses, Las Campanas offers members year-round practice facilities in its 2,800-square-foot Golf Performance Center, complete with AboutGolf simulators and fitting services. And how many clubs can boast of a full-on equestrian center with four full-time trainers, a 32,000-square-foot indoor riding hall, 90 stables, 12 horses for hire and enough space for dressage and jumping—and miles and miles of riding trails?
And to think, all this lies just 20 minutes from the quirky, historic, highly cultivated capital city of Santa Fe.
We initially only wanted to play the courses at Las Campanas. But after a weekend in its thrall, we found the entire experience of the place that translates as “The Bells” resonated profoundly for both of us.