Golfing at high altitude

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Taos Country Club sits at 7,000 feet in elevation, Valle Escondido Golf Club at 8,500 feet and Angel Fire Country Club at 8,400. Most visitors come to Northern New Mexico from much lower elevations — many from sea level. So everyone has to make adjustments for teeing it up at these elevations from club selection, clothing and conditioning. Here’s some tips:

Ball flight

All golfers seek a consistent ball flight and a predictable distance for each club. But golfing at altitude demands a recalibration of distance. The 10 percent rule generally holds true, meaning your ball will fly 10 percent more than at lower elevations. So, if you normally hit a 7-iron for 150 yards, you will find it going as much as 165 yards in Northern New Mexico. 

Also, PGA pros note that if you hit a high ball flight, it’s more difficult to determine distance as the thinner air provides less drag on the ball. Any adjustments you can make to lower your ball flight will improve your ability to judge distances. The more you play up here, the better you will get at determining how far your ball will fly. Check at the pro shop for local advise on distance adjustments.

Weather/dress

When it comes to predicting the weather in Northern New Mexico, there’s one thing that’s consistent: change. No matter what time of year, the weather will undoubtedly shift throughout the day. Typically, we have cool, calm mornings. Expect to wear a sweater or windbreaker to start, and dress in layers that will come off one by one as the temps rise as the sun gets higher in the sky.

As the sun warms the air and the ground, things begin to happen. Expect the wind to kick up about midday and, usually, persist until sundown. Prevailing direction is south and southwest, although it will swing more toward the northwest on occasions.

And, except in the fall, thunderstorms will likely start building around noon. They typically dump their moisture in hard but short bursts, accompanied by barks of thunder and bolts of lightning. Seek cover in shelters along the course as thunderstorms threaten or, if no structures are around, find a low spot and hunker down. Avoid high ground, bodies of water, isolated large trees or metal objects (put golf clubs in your bag and keep your distance during lightning). If in the trees, seek shelter in a low area under as thick a grove of small trees as you can find. 

Conditioning

There’s less oxygen up here so your lungs have to work harder. That means you will get out of breath quicker than usual, especially if you are walking. It’s difficult to train for high elevation exercise without being there. So, plan to pause more often and catch your breath. And, expect to feel out of sorts for a couple of days before your body adjusts to these conditions.

It’s also drier up here in the high desert. All the courses in Northern New Mexico provide water stations along the way, but it’s important to bring a water bottle or two. Regul larly take a drink to keep your body hydrated. Lack of water and oxygen depletion can result in light headedness. Be aware of that and take a seat. No macho response necessary here; it’s the climate and altitude that’s in control.

And, at the 19th hole by the clubhouse, expect that post-round beer or cocktail to kick in a bit stronger than usual. While it will help exaggerate your tales of triumphs on the course, you should drink some water and spend some time after drinks before getting behind the wheel.

The courses

Taos Country Club (taoscountryclub.com) ranges from 5,336 to 7,300 in yardage. This par-72 layout’s Bermuda fairways route their way through low sagebrush. Frequent sand traps guard the undulating Bent grass greens. Designed by Jep Wille and open since 1993, the Taos loop makes you hit most of your clubs … and hit ‘em straight.

The front and back nine present differing challenges. The opening holes head downhill until the No. 4 tee, the lowest point on the course. Get ready for an uphill walk (or drive) all the way to the No. 7 green — the highest point on the course — before heading back down toward the clubhouse to finish the front nine. The back nine descends to the No. 10 green, then climbs up to the “back-back nine” for the No. 14 through No. 17 holes. A birdiefriendly finishing hole provides a good reason to come back. The Terrace serves drinks, craft beers, snacks and gourmet dishes. Next door is a full-service pro shop, and the expansive patio affords stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Río Grande watershed. 

At Angel Fire Resort (angelfireresort.com), the meeting of mountain and meadow produces 18 holes as varied as any. With yardage from 4,868 to 6,645, the bluegrass fairways wind through tall stands of ponderosa pine and across rich, wet bottomland. Plenty of elevated tee boxes, blind shots and leave-the-driver-in-the-bag shots — plus, your Seve Ballesteros ingenuity will help. 

Opened since 1961, the Lebus & Paul Ortiz-designed layout stays in the trees for the front nine. The backnine takes in a few more forested holes before emerging into the low meadows. The course crosses the Cienguilla Creek for the first time on No. 13, and the meandering stream keeps golfers on their toes for the next four holes. No. 18 climbs back up the hill to the clubhouse, where two eateries, bar, pro shop and locker rooms await.

Valle Escondido (taosgolf.org) golf course is a throwback (no carts). Owned and operated by the Valle Escondido Homeowners Association, this nine-holer sprawls across mountain pastures and cattailed wetlands, and around inconveniently situated ponderosa pines to postage-stamp greens. Fairways tend toward the “natural state,” so clean-and-place is acceptable at all times. The first three holes stay on top, but the bottom falls out with par-5 No. 4. An elevated tee with menacing pines overlooks a bifurcated fairway. After that, the course winds among log cabins and mountain homes, and finishes off with a leg-burning, lung-busting hump up to the No. 9 hole. The humble clubhouse serves as a community hangout with cold beer, cocktails and bar food.

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