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|The tee shot on the 510-yard par 4 16th at Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso, Texas, calls for a long draw in between the fairway bunkers. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)|
EL PASO, Texas - The name Butterfield Trail has a nice nostalgic Old West ring to it. And you might even give it a Roy Rogers pause when you see the Western artifacts scattered near the seventh tee at Butterfield Trail Golf Club, recalling what occurred here 150 years ago.
Then again, you might not. While the history of the Trail is somewhat interesting, it pales in comparison to the intriguing holes Tom Fazio created from this flat piece of desert land. From the very first tee shot, you get a feel for this place - big fairways, lots of land movement, unique golf holes.
It's a golf course that El Paso golfers could have only dreamed of a few years ago. In its short history, it has hosted the Conference USA Women's collegiate tournament, and it's on the docket for U.S. Open qualifiers.
Owned by the El Paso International Airport, Butterfield Trail, which opened in 2007, is alone a good reason to visit El Paso. Combine it with some of the best Mexican food in the United States, and a trip to El Paso can be a pretty nice weekend.
El Paso Airport officials decided a few years ago that one way to build up traffic coming to El Paso was to create a golf destination. Eventually, they'd like El Paso to be thought of in the same vein as Scottsdale, Ariz. After all, the weather here is similar to Arizona - hot summers, fairly mild winters and great springs and falls.
They also wanted a big-name architect, so they hired Fazio.
"He had a blank canvas," said Val D'Souza, general manager at Butterfield Trail Golf Club. "And he could do anything he wanted with it."
Indeed, the project didn't include homes or residential neighborhoods. Fazio was free to move as much earth as he wanted on the site that once served as a stopping point for an old stagecoach route.
The original piece of desert land had only 12 feet of elevation change. From the tee on the par-3 17th, there is now more than 55 feet of elevation, and there are few flat lies.
Most of the greens at Butterfield Trail Golf Club are raised, and there are knolls, a few blind shots and scores of bunkering. Some are vast waste bunkers, and they can gobble up a wayward shot at will.
Parts of the course resemble links golf and other parts look like desert golf. Amazingly, it all flows together in two loops around two large lakes.
The El Paso golf market just isn't used to this yet, which is one reason the airport and Kemper Sports are aggressively marketing the course outside of the area.
Before Butterfield Trail, there was only one really good daily fee course, Painted Dunes Golf Course, on the north side of town. El Paso residents still aren't used to paying more than $20 or $25 to play golf, so even though Butterfield is a bargain at $45 during the week for residents, it's still a little rich for many locals.
With that said, the future looks bright for Butterfield Trail. Plans call for a luxury hotel, perhaps 200 rooms plus golf casitas overlooking the lake on the ninth hole. Commercial development, which would include shopping and restaurants north of the property, is also in the works.
As it stands now, though, stay-and-play packages are offered with 11 different local hotels, including four around the airport - the Radisson, Wyndham, Microtel Inn and Suites, and Hawthorne Suites. All four airport hotels, as well as some downtown locations, offer free shuttle service to the course, which is just minutes from the airport.
Butterfield Trail features a large grassed driving range as well as an expansive short game area for chipping and pitching. There's also a large putting green that features the same Dominant Plus bentgrass found on the golf course.
Lessons, both individual and group, are available from the professional staff on the opposite end of the range. The large clubhouse also includes the Salida del Sol Restaurant, where you can get dinner or a quick bite or drink.
Simply put, Butterfield Trail is one of the best public golf courses in Texas. From the bottled water stations on the course to the excellent conditions and scenery, it's right up there with most premium resort golf courses in Arizona, for half the price. And it's certainly a jewel in the Lone Star State.
Ironically, most Texans can't get to it in a reasonable amount of time without flying because it's so far away from most of the other population areas in Texas.
But by air, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Tucson and Denver are all less than two hours away, and you can spend a whole weekend at the course and not get bored. And honestly, Butterfield Trail needs to be played more than once to get the nuances of the course's really good holes, which are many.
The par 3s are particularly strong with No. 10 being one of the most beautiful holes on the course. From the tee, you get a real links feel with the sand dunes and bunkering left of the green.
There are some really long holes and some good short ones. The finishing stretch of 14-18 exemplifies this point.
The 14th is a well-designed short par 5 that can be reached in two. The 15th is a drivable par 4 if you play the proper set of tees, and there are five sets from which to choose. It's 342 from the Iron tees, 243 from the Bronze.
The 16th is a 510-yard par 4, but it plays shorter downwind, of course, and the fairways are firm, so the ball will roll.
You can see most of the golf course from the elevated 17th tee, which overlooks the hole's large green from 233 yards away.
And the par-5 fifth features a wide fairway to encourage you to bust your tee shot and then make a decision. At 566 yards from the tips, it's just short enough that if you hit a big drive, you might think about trying to carry the lake to this well protected green. And if you don't make it, you'll probably want to try it again tomorrow.
July 31, 2009
Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, 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 20 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 @Accidentlgolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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