Remembering the LULAC Country Club 0 6

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) April 20, 2011 — It’s been five years since sports journalist Frank Maestas died, and not much has changed at his beloved Ladera Golf Course, where they erected a plaque near the hazard on the 16th hole that swallowed so many of his golf balls.

The tee box is still scruffy. The green still patchy. The nearby fairways pot-holed and sickly.

“Don’t go in the water,” Maestas would say about the 16th when Maestas and his crew would convene each week for skins, beer and sandbagging.

On a solo walking round on an empty course in between wind storms this week, I had plenty of time to think. As I unslung my bag on the 16th tee I came across Frank’s plaque as if seeing it for the first time.

It got me thinking about Frank and the gang he held together for so many years, wondering whether his politically connected crew, had they stayed together, could have persuaded the new administration at City Hall to recognize the perennial lack of accountability at the Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees Ladera and operations at the other city-owned courses.

Back home, I dug out the obituary I wrote in 2006 for Sun Country magazine upon Frank’s death. Here it is again for his friends and comrades (photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Journal):

Less than 24 hours after Frank Maestas died, three players from the Maestas group teed off under leaden skies at Ladera Golf Course on Albuquerque’s West Side, their breath visible in the unusually chilly air.

Whether they didn’t get the news of his death, didn’t pick up the paper that morning or just didn’t care, all was right with the world.

Thursday at 11:30 a.m. was the standing tee time for the Maestas group, a group of lobbyists, trucking company owners, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, earth-moving contractors, legislators, bar owners, sports writers, defrocked sports writers and assorted odds and ends.

You showed up, you played. Skins, full handicap, low gross and low net. The accounting occurred after the round at any number of nearby liquor establishments, sometimes Pin Seekers, the Gin Mill, Our Place, wherever.

They called themselves the LULAC Country Club, an ironic reference to the longtime Hispanic activist group, the League of United Latin American Citizens. The fact that they played at the scruffiest Albuquerque municipal course, week after week, year after year, was not by accident.

It was their day and it was their course, a regular gathering dating to when Maestas organized the group 18 years ago, said Bob McBride, a lobbyist and one of the regulars.

The LULAC Country Club name was coined by McBride, who despite his name, is Hispanic. “One day early on, I called people to tee, ‘Now on the first tee, Montoya, Maestas, Rodriguez, Montano,’ and I said, heck, it sounds like the LULAC Country Club out here,” McBride said.

The name stuck. Guys would straggle to the course up to an hour before, but you knew the gang was ready to tee off, when Frank, retired sports writer from the Albuquerque Journal, showed up, his beard and wild hair making him resemble a refugee from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, got everyone paired up, got the game outlined, stakes settled, then teed off to lead the field.

“He did everything, from calculating the handicaps to pairing people up to collecting the entry fees,” McBride said.

Even though the group played year-round, weather permitting, at the end of the season, they held the Maestas Tournament, patterned after The Masters, with a red jacket found at Good Will and a trophy awarded to the winner. “We even had tee-shirts printed up that said, ‘The Maesters,’ also named after Frank,” McBride said.

Maestas, 70, a Las Vegas, N.M., native, retired from the Albuquerque Journal in the early 1990s, after covering the Albuquerque Dukes baseball team.

Maestas died of a lung ailment on March 8. He is survived by a son Antonio “Moe” Maestas, wife Lydia, sons Miguel Maestas, Ronald and Roland Aragon, daughter Angela Speight, brother Roberto Maestas and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

— Dan Vukelich

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Sierra Del Rio to Shutter for Two Months 0 30

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.