It can be easy to miss if you're not looking for it, but down along County Road 110 - past Taos Drum and the UNM Klauer Campus - you might have seen some seemingly out-of-place golfers swinging clubs on a fairway behind some sagebrush and chamisa.
That's the golf course at Taos Country Club, and Jacob Herrera, it's general manager for the last two years, says he's looking to place the public course on the map for more and more people in coming years - just as golf sees a surge in popularity in the wake of the pandemic.
He said the club's most recent tournament, the Taos Summer Golf Classic, a four-person team scramble held Saturday (July 17) that saw 100 people plinking balls across the 18-hole course, is the latest push to reinvigorate local excitement for the game.
"The tournament is to invite the whole community out there, and show them that this is their club. A lot of people hear 'country club,' and they're like, 'I can't go there. I'm not welcome there.' But that is not the case with us," Herrera said. "We're 100 percent open to the public. We want the Taos community to know that this space is for them. We have this space for them, and it's basically for everyone in Northern New Mexico. It's a lot of fun to see it grow."
With that spirit in mind, Saturdays' tournament saw a face-off involving 25 teams that wasn't quite as serious as the game gets, at least not for most players who came out to participate. Herrera and the club's resident golf pro, Javier Chavez, who got his start on the Taos Tiger Golf team, said the idea was to hold a tournament that was approachable for a wide range of skill levels.
"As far as the difference between this and what you see on TV ... this isn't what you see there," Chavez said. "They're not really competing, say, directly against each other. They get to play with their friends. It's social. It's fun. There are some good players out here, for sure, but it's mostly Taos people. A few of our seasonal guests, seasonal residents. They come out and play it, too. But it's mostly our membership - the Taos community."
The Classic kicks off with a "shotgun start," in which all teams tee off simultaneously from different holes. Each four-person team drives the ball on each hole, and the team plays the ball hit by the team member with the best drive.
"Then it continues all the way until you get in the hole," Herrera said. "It's real fun for a team format. The difference between this and an individual tournament is pretty substantial. There's a lot less pressure in this. I mean, you're playing with your buddies to win, not against them. You have one score per whole for the team because you all play one ball all the way to the hole. So it's as though one golfer for four people is making up that one score."
By the end of the afternoon, just as a thunderstorm was beginning to darken the course, Bobby Lucero, Dominic Martinez, Jonathan Stuart and Wilks Medley finished with the winning score of 57.
A barbecue, accompanied by live music from Katy P and the Business, rounded out the day as the golfers celebrated into the evening.
Herrera said the tournament became an annual event in 2017, when it was held for the country club's 25th anniversary. The goal, he explained, was to attract new members.
"I think for the club, it is exposure," he said. "We did invite a lot of folks from town because we still hear a lot from people here that they didn't even know there was a golf course in town. It makes me crazy, so we've been trying to expose ourselves more to the community. And it's just really fun. Especially at this course, if you came out here in the afternoons and spent a sunset and just futzed around with a couple clubs, you'd fall in love with it. It's one of the most beautiful places you can be. The sunsets go from basically from around Abiquiú and Santa Fe all the way to Southern Colorado."
Even though the course is open to the public, playing there isn't cheap. The entrance fee for Saturday's tournament was $95 for non-members, $75 for members. A single membership fee costs $252 monthly, plus tax. A limited membership is more affordable at $125 per month. Both memberships come with a range of discounts and benefits. Several other membership options are also offered.
"We're basically reliant on the small membership that we have. We have about 132 members, which is really good for us," Herrera said. "But building excitement for the game in Northern New Mexico is a challenge. Most people ski and things like that, but that's what's good about golf. In the summertime, the skiers come down. In the wintertime, the golfers go up. That's been vital for our existence."
Chavez returned to his home course last year after a professional career and working at golf clubs in Albuquerque. He said that golf as a sport is exploding in popularity right now.
"It's only done this one time before, and that was in the late '90s, with the Tiger phenomenon when he was doing his thing, breaking records and going crazy," he said. "Golf went up huge."
He's hopeful that with tournaments like the Classic attracting more interest in the game, Taos County might stand to benefit from the sport's growth in popularity as well.