Sonoma Ranch Golf Club: A daily-fee gem in the New Mexico desert

Sonoma Ranch Golf Club in Las Cruces stands out in the New Mexico desert

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - In the heart of the Mesilla Valley appears a large patch of vibrant green, less than a one-hour drive from El Paso, Texas, in southern New Mexico, set against the backdrop of the Organ Mountains.

Sonoma Ranch Golf Club, a daily fee facility, offers championship-level golf with plenty of hazards, undulating, large bentgrass greens and lush bluegrass fairways to divide the mesquite- and brush-covered desert.

Designed by Cal Olson, who has crafted golf courses from Singapore to Canada, the first new public golf course in Las Cruces in more than a half-century when it opened in 2000, Sonoma Ranch pretty much covers the gamut of a good daily-fee experience. It features a nice clubhouse, good practice facilities, large bar and grill and quality golf layout.

The southern New Mexico desert, of course, arrived before the golf.

The landscape of Sonoma Ranch Golf Club

Sonoma Ranch Golf Club isn't typical target-style desert golf. If you stray far enough, you can certainly find the rocks and cacti. But for the most part, it's nothing but green grass if you stay straight.

Still, there's no mistaking these surroundings. The mountains break up the sunrise and sunset colors, while the surrounding terrain provides homes for jackrabbits, doves, coyotes and other desert wildlife, seen quite frequently on the golf course.

As for the golf course itself, it includes plenty of interesting and challenging holes - perhaps the best of which serve as the final tests on front and back nines. The ninth, a 456-yard par 4, often plays into the wind around a large lake. Getting there in two, from the appropriate tees, takes two well executed shots.

Sonoma Ranch Golf Club's par-5 18th, another handful at 583 yards, requires three shots for most players to reach the green. And a pond that fronts an oblong green, where pin placements can make a one- or two-club difference, demands a precise approach shot.

The golf course also offers several good short holes. No. 1, for example, plays downhill, and even at 348 yards, strong players can challenge the green from the tee. The 13th, well bunkered and 337 yards, also ranks as a good risk-reward, short par 4.

Sonoma Ranch also features excellent practice facilities with a large, grass range, practice bunkers, short-game area and practice putting greens. Lessons are available from the professional staff.

Sonoma Ranch Golf Club: The verdict

You can easily spend twice in the Arizona desert, but New Mexico provides a sampling of golf courses that would hold their own with many of the premium daily-fee golf courses in Scottsdale.

At Sonoma Ranch Golf Club, you'll find lush fairways, terrific greens and picturesque views of the nearby mountains. As challenging as you want to make it with five sets of tees, the golf course stretches to more than 7,000 yards. Homes, set back at a distance, don't interfere with the playability of the golf course or its views.

And the large clubhouse, with its well-stocked golf shop and inviting Sunset Grill, is first rate. A deck on the back, perfect for a late-afternoon drink or brew, also makes for a great place to watch finishing groups on the 18th hole. If you eat at the grill, try the flat enchiladas with red sauce, for which the Land of Enchantment is known. Gringos used to Tex-Mex might find the enchiladas a little spicy, but the flavor is exquisite.

Lodging and dining in Las Cruces

As you might expect, Las Cruces showcases plenty of great Mexican food, including La Posta de Mesilla, a local institution.

Sonoma Ranch Golf Club offers stay-and-play packages in conjunction with several hotels – the Staybridge Suites, Best Western Mesilla Valley Inn, La Quinta and the Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces, which exudes local flavor.

The Encanto is an old, Spanish-style hotel that features a beautifully tiled lobby, fountain, fine dining and 203 elegantly appointed rooms.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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Sonoma Ranch Golf Club in Las Cruces stands out in the New Mexico desert