Once struggling, Ladera is Now Bustling
Things are hopping at Ladera Golf Course, once the neglected stepchild of Albuquerque muni golf.
Rounds are up, there’s a thriving junior golf program and the golf course is looking as good as it has since the 27-hole facility opened in 1980.
The latest development is construction of an awning to cover the west-facing patio, formerly a sun-baked hell that was only inhabitable in the afternoon when collapsible umbrellas shaded its tables.
Patio Upgrade From Liability to Amenity
The covering will turn a long-time liability into an amenity – especially during COVID-19 occupancy restrictions that have limited the indoor grille to no more than 32 people, half its capacity.
Ladera’s concessionaire, Director of Golf Bill Harvey, is especially bullish on the patio upgrade, which was funded by $60,000 in city capital outlay funds. He’s working to turn Ladera into a social hub for the neighborhood that surrounds the golf course.
“When the restrictions lift, we plan food specials and live music from 6 to 10 p.m. on ‘Thirsty Thursdays,'” he said. “It’s been popular with the neighborhood. We’re trying to create a community atmosphere.”
On the golf side, rounds are up. “We’re packed with tee times every day through one o’clock, and we’re seeing a lot of new faces, plus a lot of people are coming back,” Harvey said.
“It’s a changed atmosphere here nowadays,” he said.
Once the Poorly Maintained Golf Course, Now Ladera Thrives
That’s a big difference from several years ago when poor maintenance by unmotivated city workers turned Ladera into a dog-eared shadow of a golf course. It became known for its dead turf, bare fairways and burned-out greens.
One long-time low-handicapper at Ladera once joked about printing up T-shirts that said, “I don’t play golf. I play at Ladera.”
The course conditions were so bad that in the late 1990s, when the city built a new clubhouse at Ladera, Wright Zimmerly, son of the former concessionaire, likened it to “putting a $1,000 saddle on a $10 horse.”
Ladera was built on land designated as a flood-retention area for the area north of I-40 between Coors and the Petroglyphs.
In the mid-1990s, it ably fulfilled that role, catching so much rain runoff that the course flooded and much of the course’s turf was drowned and died, The course never quite recovered, leading golfers to abandon it and rounds and revenue to decline.
All four of Albuquerque’s municipal golf courses are city-owned and maintained, while private concessionaires operate the golf and food and beverage operations, sharing revenue with the city.
Ladera’s perennially poor conditions fostered ill will between Sam Zimmerly, Ladera’s former concessionaire, and city officials over two mayoral administrations.
“Their commitment to me in the contract was that they provide me a golf course, and as you can see, this doesn’t really qualify as a golf course,” Zimmerly once told New Mexico Golf News. Harvey succeeded the Zimmerlys as Ladera’s concessionaire.
Conditions got so bad, Ladera was briefly removed from the three-course rota of the Albuquerque City Men’s Golf Championship.
Over time, in fits and starts, city officials invested in Ladera by funding a new irrigation system and new cart paths, and maintenance practices improved. In the spring of 2019, Ladera got covered parking that doubles as a solar-power generator.
A Booming Junior Program
This summer, Corey Eoyma, Ladera’s junior golf manager, runs junior golf programs twice a day Monday through Thursday. Because of social distancing restrictions, demand is outstripping available program slots.
Harvey credits the improved conditioning to Ladera’s superintendent, James Lucero, who used the weeks-long COVID-19 shutdown to perform much-needed maintenance. “The golf course is in the best shape it’s ever been,” Harvey said.
All play is via reserved tee times. Walk-ons are not allowed due to social distancing requirements, although a single can get on by calling ahead in the hope of being paired with a twosome or threesome, Harvey said.
(Featured photo credit: Flickr)
Dan Vukelich, editor of New Mexico Golf News, is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Golf Travel Writers of America. Reach him at email@example.com