ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Two American Indian-owned and operated golf courses will host the Professional Golfers’ Association of America 42nd Professional National Championship June 28 through July 1. Airing on the Golf Channel, the event features the top 312 PGA golf professionals at Santa Ana and Twin Warriors golf clubs, both enterprises of, and located on, the Santa Ana Pueblo.
“Having this event return is a real feather in the cap of Santa Ana Pueblo,” said Roger Martinez, PGA director of golf and general manager of the courses. “We can’t afford to buy this kind of front-page advertising, when we’ll be in front of millions of households on television, and on the cover of national golf magazines.
“For PGA pros at courses across the country, this is their championship. These are individuals who teach golf or run the golf courses, or both. The top 20 finishers get to play in the PGA National Championship in August.”
To qualify for the event, which has a $550,000 total purse and a $75,000 prize for first place, some 3,900 golfers played in sectional and regional tournaments around the country. Winners of previous championships can automatically enter.
During the first two rounds of the four-day event, players will alternate between the two courses. The final two rounds will be played on the Twin Warriors course. While all four days of golf will be shown on the Golf Channel, only golfers playing Twin Warriors will be on camera.
PGA Director Mark Tschetschot said choosing New Mexico and Santa Ana’s courses wasn’t a hard decision. “We look at the golf courses first, of course. We want the course to be challenging, and a top venue. Then we look at the attractiveness as a destination for the players. Many bring their families and make a vacation out of it. New Mexico is a beautiful place, and the resort [Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa] is great. We’re happy to return.”
In 2003, Twin Warriors Golf Club served as the sole venue for this event. In 1999, Santa Ana Golf Club hosted the U.S. Golf Association’s women’s championship, as well as the 1999 and 2003 Nike tours. Twin Warriors also hosted the 2002 – 2003 World Senior Golf Championships.
Golf Digest ranked Twin Warriors number 10 among casino golf courses, while Santa Ana Golf Club comes in at 33. “Our courses are always ranked among the top in New Mexico,” Martinez said. “New Mexico is starting to come into its own in golf, and is getting national recognition. It’s only a matter of time before more national events come here and to other courses in the state. This event lends credibility to the courses that can only help.”
The event will rely on 600 volunteers, many of whom, as well as many spectators, will be tribal members who have come to appreciate golf as a sport, and as a way to enhance the image of the pueblo.
According to Martinez, when Santa Ana Golf Club opened in 1990, only three tribal members played golf; now 500 of the 750 members play. “Tribal members play for free. Every summer we hold a junior golf program, too. It’s a sport that’s familiar to the tribe now.”
“The Golf Channel does a good job of going out into the community and showing the history of the facility,” Tschetschot said. “We’re certainly encouraging them to get the message of golf out into the community. They will see players out and about, and TV viewers will see some good stories.”
Santa Ana is a links-style course with areas of native vegetation and eight lakes. There are no elevation changes and few flat spots on greens. This means professionals will be looking to keep the ball above the hole, as the speed of the greens could be a factor. Twin Warriors opened in 2001, and is, by contrast, a desert course with areas of deep native vegetation with 300 feet of elevation change. This makes the course more challenging, with players required to shoot more accurately.
“When we were designing Twin Warriors, we invited the PGA to help. They gave ideas for
staging for galleries and crowds, and helped redesign the bunkers on Hole 8. We also have a set of tees on this course that is only for tour professionals and PGA members,” said Martinez, who added that a handful of PGA professionals play Twin Warriors regularly. Among them is Notay Begay III, Navajo/Pueblo, who was born and raised in Albuquerque.
Established in 1968, the PGA Professional National Championship roster of champions includes past and present tour professionals Sam Snead, Bob Rosburg, Don Massengale, Ed Dougherty, Larry Gilbert and Bruce Fleisher.