Piñon Hills Golf Course has reopened after undergoing a year-long, large-scale renovation project costing in the $8-10 million range. The 300-acre course, nestled in the high desert region of Farmington, N.M., opened in the late 1980s. Since then, it has often been ranked one of the top public golf courses in the country. General Manager Chris Jones gave us an overview of the renovation project and what this means for the future of the course.
What sets Piñon Hills Golf Course apart from other courses?
We’re in the high desert, so there are some elevation challenges. We do have a lot of grass though; it’s like you’re playing a Midwest golf course with some desert aspects to it. Our greens are tough. A lot of them have two or three tiers, so [players] must be precise.
What was the primary reason behind the renovation project?
We were behind on replacing our irrigation system. We have a lot of sandstone in our soil, so old PVC pipe rubbing against sandstone over many years created a lot of problems that needed to be addressed. Luckily, our mayor and City Council are very supportive of making sure that Piñon Hills is in the best possible shape and remains an asset to our community. We had planned on starting in early 2020, but then COVID-19 hit, so we had to wait. Finally, in January 2022, we closed the course and did a wall-to-wall replacement of the irrigation system over a series of 10 to 11 months. Meanwhile, we realized that since we were going to be closed for something this major, we should take care of some other projects as well.
What other renovations did you complete?
We ripped out all the old asphalt cart paths that were more than 30 years old and replaced them with new, eight-feet-wide colored concrete paths. We cleared out our bunkers and put in a new technology called Better Billy Bunker, which is basically a polymer spray, and filled them in with new sand. We also did nice renovations of our clubhouse and restaurant. Again, our mayor and City Council have been very supportive, so they decided to give these two spaces an all-new look in addition to improving the course itself.
“Working for the city we knew we didn’t have a huge budget. So we had to utilize the quality features that nature had presented us. The slope of the land was such that we didn’t need to move a lot of lands…maybe 100,000 cubic yards modest in comparison to course design by today’s standards. The terrain dictated the routing – designing this course because of budget and natural features made this a true exercise in routing. The tee sites, fairway landing areas, and greens were dictated by the rolling and undulating shape of the land, and natural desert features and formations.”Ken Dye, Original Piñon Hills Golf Course Architect
Did you deal with any major challenges?
The post-COVID supply chain issues were a challenge, as well as labor shortages. As I mentioned, we have a lot of sandstone, so we occasionally had to reroute some irrigation lines to avoid major sandstone areas. With this being a major oil and gas area, we also had to make sure we avoided any gas lines. It was a big project that had some challenges, but in the end, we got a product that we’re proud of.
How will this renovation benefit the course moving forward?
The course itself is going to be in really good shape. We’re still coming out of the renovation, so we have some grass areas that were seeded last fall and haven’t grown in yet. But going into this summer and next fall, we shouldn’t see any areas that are lacking good turf. As word has gotten out that we’ve reopened, we’re seeing a huge uptick in regional and national interest from golfers who want to play the course. We were already nationally ranked, and now with the buzz from the renovation, I think we’re going to be busier than we’ve been in a long time.
What’s next for Piñon Hills Golf Course?
We have a busy schedule of events this summer. In early May, we’ll have our grand reopening ribbon cutting with a fun golf tournament/scramble in the afternoon. Since we’ve reinvested in the course and made all these improvements, we’re hoping to host some regional or even national tournaments that we may have missed out on in the past. We want to continue being a major attraction for the local town and the city.
Kyra Molinaro is an award-winning writer and editor based in Richmond, Virginia. She manages donor communications in the Advancement Office at the University of Richmond.