LC Bulletin: NMSU course nears anniversary

June 15, 2012. Retrieved online June 18, 2012 from Charlie Blanchard, Las Cruces Bulletin

University’s golf course built almost 50 years ago

The New Mexico State University Golf Course ranks as one of the finest semi-public golf venues in all of New Mexico. Located just north of the intersection of Interstates 10 and 25, the 18-hole NMSU course is framed by the majestic Organ Mountains to the east and the Mesilla Valley to the west. The land that the golf course was built on what was once rolling, hilly, scrub desert, dotted by mesquite, creosote bushes and cactus, and home to rattlesnakes, coyotes, rabbits and myriad of other wildlife.

The course was designed by Floyd Farley, of Oklahoma City, and opened on Dec. 1, 1962. Prior to 1962, there was a crude three “hole” golf tract with grass on the campus acreage where the Ag Building parking lot is on Espina Street near University Avenue. Golf instruction classes took place there.

Herb Wimberly, the first Aggie golf pro at the golf course, remembers the planning and construction of the big course quite well.

He recalls that in October 1962 he won the New Mexico Open (his second) at Far Hills in Albuquerque.

“Then I jumped in my car and drove to Las Cruces and went to work,” he said.

The initial influence for the golf course, strangely enough, was a nine-hole course at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, which university big-wigs admired at the time. Five years later, the final stamp of approval was given by then NMSU President Roger Corbett, but not without controversy.

“Looking back, there were a lot of folks who questioned the expenditure of money and the water usage,” Wimberly said.

He also recalled that some Las Cruces Country Club members didn’t like another golf course opening up, as they thought one course in town was plenty.

On the day it opened, the University golf course was on 200 acres of land owned by the college. Wimberly remembers that Dec. 1, was a cloudy, rainy day, but a big crowd of people turned out for the festivities and to look at the brand new $300,000 expenditure, paid for by a 30-year revenue bond.

“University Avenue was all dirt road east of Locust,” Wimberly remembered. “It rained so hard that cars got stuck in ditches and water run-offs and had to be pulled out.”

The official program from that inaugural day described the new golf course as follows: “Set against the rugged and inspiring Organ Mountains, (it) has unique features all golfers will appreciate.”

When it opened, the New Mexico State University Golf Course was extremely affordable. Weekday greens fees were $1.50 for 18 holes; students paid 75 cents. Weekends were $2.50 for everyone. Students could get a membership for unlimited golf for $6 a month with an activity pass. You could get six golf lessons from the pro for a total of $12.

That was 50 years ago, but the golf course is affordable today by anybody’s standard. For example, the weekday fee for 18 holes is $25 and the cart fee (per rider) is $12. The weekend sundown rate for 18 holes is only $15.25, not including the cart.

Over the years, the NMSU Golf Course has played host to three NCAA National Golf Championships, many men’s and women’s NCAA regionals and conference tournaments and numerous U.S. Golf Association qualifiers.

The varsity golf programs have blossomed for six decades. Aggie men’s golf alumni include current PGA Tour player and former PGA Champion Rich Beem, along with Champion Tour players Tom Byrum and Bart Bryant, all of whom played for Wimberly when he was the NMSU golf coach. Both the Aggie men’s and women’s golf programs are truly top-class for college golf, and both are winners of dozens of conference championships. Both teams contend for a berth in the NCAA National Championship almost every year.

The NMSU Golf Course is currently enjoying its 50th anniversary. During those 50 years there have been mostly minor changes and improvements, but not like in the past eight years.

NMSU Golf Course

NMSU Golf Course. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Vukelich)

In October 2004, an architecturally magnificent new clubhouse was opened on the highest elevation of the property, due south of the old clubhouse. The old double-wide cramped clubhouse was situated on University Avenue, just opposite the Memorial Medical Center campus. It was intimate and cozy but woefully inadequate for the golf teams, the golfing public and the merchandise. The new clubhouse is 15,000 square feet and is complete with a full service restaurant and bar. The pro shop is now roomy and fully stocked. The Aggie golf teams have an up-to-date facility at their disposal, while there is meeting space for the PGA-sanctioned Professional Golf Management program, which has a reputation as one of the finest anywhere.

Plus, the new clubhouse has a large banquet room, suitable for large outings and meetings. In just the past few years there have been major changes and reconfiguration with the golf course itself. Many of the sand bunkers have been improved and repositioned slightly, while several new fairway bunkers have appeared. In the last 10 years there are new fairway bunkers on holes four, eight, nine, 12 and 15. The new bunkers are designed to make the driving a little tighter off the tee, especially for the long hitters.

Owing to superior equipment, fitness and talent, the skilled players today are hitting the ball significantly farther than they did in the1960s through the ’90s. I personally have been witness to this phenomenon since moving to Las Cruces in 1988 and playing the course since that time. I have also worked on and off with the golf teams and have seen the player improvement first hand.

These days almost every golf course has been challenged to expand the total yardage because of the distance players are hitting.

Head golf professional and former Aggie golfer, Dan Koesters, realized the need for more yardage at NMSU and lengthened holes two, four, six, seven, nine, 15 and 18. The new distance from the tips is a formidable 7,204 yards, compared to the original 7,078.

Koesters said he plans to move several more back tees to force the yardage to in excess of 7,400 yards. The forward-most tees are 5,495 yards. Four sets of tees are positioned to accommodate every skill level. The tees are cleverly called Aggie (the tips), Championship, Masters and Roadrunner (forward).

Within the past three years, there is a somewhat different look to many of the holes due to the golf course “tree management program” and pruning of several dozen trees.

Read the Las Cruces Bulletin article

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership who works with PGA professionals and young golfers to enhance their performance. He partners with coach Herb Wimberly as the principal instructors at Performance Golf Schools. Contact Blanchard at drblanchard@lascrucesbulletin.com.


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