The Uninvited: Councilors Who Aided Ladera 0 4

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) Oct. 28, 2011 — City councilors who worked to obtain funding for a new irrigation system at Ladera Golf Course were not invited to Albuquerque Mayor R. J. Berry’s news conference celebrating the start of construction.

The forces behind the funding — Councilors Ken Sanchez, Debbie O’Malley and Dan Lewis — were mentioned only in passing at the news conference, held Tuesday afternoon on the edge of Ladera’s practice green on the city’s West Side.

Installation of 100,000 feet of new PVC pipe and 16,650 new sprinkler heads will start in early November. The work, which will save millions of gallons of water, will force closure of one nine at a time. Discounted greens fees will be offered for the approximately 190 days it will take to replace Ladera’s leaky, inefficient 31-year-old irrigation system.

Berry, who wasn’t in office when $1.5 million for the project was approved by Albuquerque voters, and whose administration has taken two years to design and bid the project, said, “We take our golfing seriously.”

“We are happy the bid has been awarded and we’re ready to see some shovels in the dirt,” Berry said in a prepared statement.

Sanchez and O’Malley worked with the administration of the previous mayor, Martin Chavez, to put the $1.5 million Ladera question on the October 2009 General Obligation Bond ballot. Berry was elected to office in the same election.

And it was councilors Sanchez and Lewis who several months ago pushed for $500,000  that had been earmarked for another West Side parks project to be shifted to Ladera to make up for a funding shortfall.

The Parks and Recreation Department is estimated to have spent about $200,000 planning and designing the new irrigation system, which will be installed by successful bidder Mountain West Golfscapes for $1.7 million, an amount which includes reseeding of trenched areas and new turf for some areas previously taken out of play.

Jeff Breitner, a Ladera golfer and Golf Advisory Board member who lobbied Sanchez and O’Malley in 2008 and 2009 to get Ladera on the bond ballot, asked Berry why Sanchez, Lewis or O’Malley weren’t at the news conference.

Berry said he he didn’t have an answer but said his administration has a “great working relationship with the councilors.”

After the news conference, New Mexico Golf News contacted the absent councilors and learned they did not know about the event. Here are their thoughts:

From Sanchez:

“The new irrigation system will use 20 to 25 percent less water each year, which is good for the environment, good for the course, and, of course, good for taxpayers.  I have worked with many West Side golfers and the staff at Ladera on finding ways to improve the course, and I’m happy to see that this much-needed improvement is underway.”

From O’Malley:

“This golf course has a loyal following and it’s the only public course on the west side of the river.  The reconstruction was long overdue.”

From Lewis:

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to support golf in New Mexico. With the money now available to improve the 30-year old irrigation system at Ladera, we will be able to conserve water, save taxpayer dollars, and keep Ladera Golf Course as one of our unique treasures on the West Side and an asset to the entire City of Albuquerque.”

Sanchez and O’Malley are Democrats. Lewis is a Republican, as is Berry.

It was apparent from their remarks at Tuesday’s news conference that the top city officials present believed the Albuquerque Metropolitan Area Flood Control Authority owns the land on which Ladera sits.

An AMAFCA board member present took the podium to correct them, reminding them that while AMAFCA retains a flood-control easement at Ladera, AMAFCA handed the city the deed to the golf course property in 1978.

— 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 Reach him at