ABQ’s Joe McDermott Staring at Blindness 0 41

(PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.) Feb. 2, 2012 — New Mexico golf icon and Irish Senior Open winner Joe McDermott is recovering from a detached retina and awaits word on whether he will regain sight in his left eye.

McDermott, 71, woke up without sight in the eye the day after Thanksgiving 2011. He spent five days in the hospital. Surgery to reattach the retina occurred Dec. 1.

“Now, I can see a black spot in the center and fuzzy light around the edges,” he said. “I can wave my hand in front of my eye and can see movement. I can’t tell it’s a hand, but the doctor is optimistic.” His right eye is still good.

Cataract surgery, which possibly may further improve his vision in the left eye, is scheduled in several weeks. McDermott had lived part-time in New Mexico and Florida, but moved permanently last fall to his home near the PGA Village Golf Club in Port St. Lucie.

Thanks to a magical short game, McDermott won the New Mexico Open and several New Mexico Senior Opens. He is a multiple recipient of the section’s Senior Player of the Year award. He also received the section’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

McDermott was born in Kilrush, Ireland, a town halfway between Lahinch and Ballybunion. As a boy, he emigrated to Chicago, where he won the City of Chicago and Cook County Amateur. In the early 1960s, he was recruited by University of New Mexico Golf Coach Dick McGuire to play golf at UNM. He became a PGA professional after college.

In 1998, McDermott became the first native-born Irishman to win the Irish Senior Open. A hole-in-one on the 13th hole of the final round vaulted him to victory over a several Ryder Cup veterans. The win gained him status on the European Senior Tour, where he competed for several years before returning to New Mexico to work at Albuquerque Country Club.

Until Padraig Harrington’s emergence, McDemott’s 1998 win was the only one by a native-born Irishman in any of Ireland’s major professional events.

Most recently, McDermott was a teacher at Ladera Golf Course under his former Lobo teammate, Sam Zimmerly.

“Since the eye, I’ve putted and chipped a little, and some fellows here at the PGA Village saw me hitting shots with one eye, and they gathered around and by the end of it there were maybe 30 of them asking me about this and that,” McDermott said. “It will be awhile still before I hit a longer club.”

McDermott’s teammate from the University of New Mexico Lobo Golf Team, Guy Wimberly, also has been recovering from an eye ailment. Last month, Wimberly was inducted into the Albuquerque/New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame.

In other news …

Avid Santa Fe amateur golfer David Miller, a good friend, died Wednesday of a heart attack. Miller, known as “The Mills” and “The Black Squirrel,” was a regular at the Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe.  He was past member of the Golf Channel’s New Mexico Amateur Tour. Miller, owner of his own real estate appraisal company, had just finished working out at a Santa Fe gym when he became short of breath and collapsed.

Membership registration for the Sun Country Junior Golf Tour is open for junior golfers of all skill levels in New Mexico and El Paso County, Texas. This year’s Junior Tour will host about 50 tournaments across New Mexico and El Paso. Memberships cost  $40. Most individual tournament entries will be $25. Visit the Sun Country PGA Junior Tour site.

Albuquerque’s Katie Kempter was spotted at PGA Village Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., working on her game with coach Bill Harvey of Arroyo del Oso Golf Course, who was in town to compete in the PGA’s Senior Stroke Play Championship. Kempter plays on the Futures Tour.

The golf destination cooperative “Kaua’i: Discover Golf’s Ultimate Island Green” is welcoming in the new year with the re-opening of Princeville’s Prince Course on March 1, following a 13-month renovation. Member courses have unveiled value-laden golf packages and free golf for juniors. Visit Princeville.com for prices and tee times.

The University of New Mexico Lobo Women’s Golf Team starts its 2012 season Sunday at the 54-hole Arizona Wildcat Invitational in Oro Valley, Ariz.  Live scoring updates are at GolfStat.com.

— Dan Vukelich

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Sierra Del Rio to Shutter for Two Months 0 31

Sierra del Rio Golf Course

Sierra Del Rio Golf Course, which restricted play in December to Thursday through Sunday only, will close for two months after the New Year.

The temporary closure of the 18-hole Elephant Butte golf course was announced in an email Sunday. The golf course’s food and beverage operation, also will close. Plans are to reopen on March 1, the course said.

“The course is in reasonably good condition but we want it to be in the best shape possible when we reopen,” a golf shop employee said Sunday. Maintenance crews will devote the downtime to earth and drainage work to repair damage to native areas off the playing surfaces caused by heavy rains in September, the employee said.

Sierra Del Rio, a Richard Phelps design, is the centerpiece of a retirement- and second-home community near the Rio Grande in Southern New Mexico. Its director of golf is Guy Wimberly, who retired to Elephant Butte after decades running Arroyo Del Oso Golf Course in Albuquerque. Wimberly had no comment on the closure on Sunday.

Sierra Del Rio reduced playing days earlier this month. Winter is typically playable in Southern New Mexico, where daily highs reach into the 50s and 60s.

Sierra Del Rio is part of the Turtleback Mountain Resort. It opened in 2007 on the footprint of the old Oasis Golf Resort and is the nearest golf course to Spaceport America, where Virgin Galactic plans to fly tourists to the edge of space.

The renovated course and new homes built near it provided a boost to the local economy, but homebuilding and rounds played suffered following the 2008 housing collapse.

Dan Vukelich is editor of NewMexicoGolfNews.com. Reach him at dan@newmexicogolfnews.com.