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Black Mesa Golf Media Week - Gilligan's Island with Dinosaurs
Forget "release the hounds" or "release the gnats" (if you believe Yankee fans; they think that's what happened against the Cleveland Indians this year). No, Eddie Peck is telling his greenskeeper to release the Velociraptors. Normally the mildest-mannered guy ever, Peck loves laying out the nooses at his grassy gallows of a golf course. He once had a hole location cut off the green in the fringe.
Well to paraphrase Minnesotan Julie . . . er . . . I mean Robert Zimmerman, I'll send you postcards from the hanging, I'm painting the passports brown, the beauty parlor's filled with sailors, the circus is in town. (That's from Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" for those of you scoring at home.)
That's right, this week I help Eddie Peck, John Frew and Kevin Sniffen of the Hamilton Group host the golf media to see one of the public golf wonders of the world - Black Mesa Golf Club in New Mexico.
The analogy to Dylan's dark rock-'n-roll hit is appropriate. Black Mesa versus golf writers is more like Gilligan's Island with dinosaurs: they will get eaten alive; the passports were painted brown or any other color than green for go (the weather and American Airlines caused everyone's six hour trip to because an exhausting nineteen hour ordeal, but we're all alive for the moveable feast); the beauty parlor's filled with sailors (the writers, grizzled bunch that we are have invaded); and yes, the circus is in town.
I remember my last trip to Black Mesa. It was roughly the same season, just on the other side of the calendar. Instead of being 10 weeks away from New Year's, on that occasion we were a mere 10 weeks past New Year's. While winter is now starting, then we were hoping it had just ended. Sadly, March came in like a werewolf - snow howling, ice lashing and wind ripping. It snowed, was sunny, rained and howled wind all in the first nine holes. Then the bitter chill set in and the back was played between shivers.
For its part, Black Mesa is Jurassic Park: it eats the patrons alive. "Big course, big medicine, it will kick your butt," reads the warning in the clubhouse, but it should say "Hic sunt leones" - here there are monsters. Any hole is a razor-sharp taloned, teeth-gnashing creature, whether a Tyrannosaur of a par-5 like the infamous 16th or a smaller carnivorous man-eater of a par-3 like the fourth. Bogey golfers can bunt their way around clinging to their game built on spit, popsicle sticks and duct tape, but woe to any golfer who gets greedy, careless or distracted.
So without any further ado, just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.
October 15th, 19:30
Just like the song says, the weather started getting rough, our tiny plane was tossed; if not for the courage of the fearless flight crew, we would have been stranded in - GASP! - SHREVEPORT! Everyone who left from the greater New York area was routed into Albuquerque through Dallas. Unfortunately, Dallas got slammed with thunderstorms, flash floods and hail stones the size of Srixons.
They could have been the size of Pro-V1s, but I just like saying the word "Srixons." It's almost as fun as saying the word "Sleestaks," but our metaphor for this piece is Gilligan's Island, not "Land of the Lost."
Anyway, those who left LaGuardia on the 6:00 a.m. flight actually were rerouted to lovely Shreveport and had a chance to see this shining city's sights from the tarmac. Those of us on the 6:35 flight just missed scenic Wichita Falls by a whisker. But the storm cleared just in time for us to land at 10:20 and show up at the gate as they cancelled our connecting flight. We then had a pleasant seven-hour layover. In fact, everyone was delayed except Tony Korologos of Salt Lake City (and "Hooked on Golf Blog" fame), who caught his 2:00 p.m. flight and had clear sailing into Albuquerque.
But by 7:00, the sun's warming rays were illuminating the golden irrigation circles and other geometric shapes of the West Texas farmland which lay below like ornate pieces of a geological jigsaw puzzle. As we continued winging West, we crossed over dry river beds in long-forgotten defiles where nothing grows - not even scrub brush - and the only inhabitants are beetles, scorpions and other creatures that scratch their food from the rocks. We suddenly saw the fragrant pine-covered slopes of the brown mountains that herald the welcome news that we had finally crossed into the Land of Enchantment. The mesas, shadowed purple by the setting sun, the russet-colored earth and the craggy tors at once both rugged and serene, soft in color yet forbidding in their desolation, put the "wild" in wilderness.
Albuquerque, nestled at the feet of the mountains, is a mere 50 minutes from Sante Fe, but the two cities are vastly different. While Albuquerque is a modest but affordable urban sprawl, Sante Fe is a contradiction in terms, offering up its Old West flavor as a travel draw. But for locals, real estate prices are almost as unaffordable as New York City. Indeed, many government employees working in the capital actually commute every day from Sante Fe.
But these concerns were far from my mind as our shuttle drew up to the Bishop's Lodge Resort. All I knew was that a Kobe Beef Burger, a glass of iced tea and a soak in the Jacuzzi later, I was fully decompressed and as my head hit the pillow I was out, dreaming of Pro-V1s . . . oops, sorry, Srixons . . . soaring over oceans of sand to a lonely pin silhouetted against nothing but the cloudless New Mexico sky.
To be continued . . .
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.