Movers, shakers behind Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe recall challenges to get project built
The panoramic par-5 13th hole at the Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe stretches on for nearly 450 yards, its elevated tee box overlooking a dogleg left with a desert landscape to the right.
In the mid-1990s the view from that very spot was quite a bit different. Long before it was carpeted in thick green grass between the undulating hills of juniper and piñon, it’s where Baxter Spann and Mark Hogan threw back a few cold ones while grilling up a steak during an overnight recon mission.
“I think the actual spot is somewhere between the tee box and the landing spot in the fairway,” Spann says.
Then, as now, Spann was a golf course architect. His cookout buddy that night was Hogan, a city planner entrusted with the development of the monstrous Municipal Recreation Complex.
Hogan’s vision for the MRC was the sports destination spot we see today, with a lighted softball complex and lush fields big enough for soccer, rugby and anyone with a kite and some imagination. The centerpiece of the 1,200-acre complex is the golf course, which features an 18-hole championship track and a par-3 nine-hole course know as the Great 28.
The Links de Santa Fe and the rest of the sports complex celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. The golf course has been offering special events throughout the spring and summer, and Friday will host a commemorative 18-hole tournament to celebrate its rich history.
“One of the things I love about the MRC is driving up and seeing those green fields stretch on and on, and what looks like ants down there running around,” says Karleen Boggio-Montgomery, one of the original committee members handpicked with exploring the crazy idea of one day building a sports complex for a city growing faster by the minute.
That was in 1980, when Ragle Park was considered the edge of town, when Fort Marcy Recreation Complex was the destination spot for most everything, when the Country Club was the only golf course within half an hour of the city limits.
Another of those committee members was then-City Councilor Maurice Bonal, a self-described stubbornly persistent type who saw himself as a recreational sports advocate.
He shared Boggio-Montgomery’s need to make their dream a reality, taking what seemed like countless proposals before the city only to be shot down time after time.
“But that’s the thing about Santa Fe,” Bonal said. “Sometimes it takes years to get anything done. You get a no vote, so you go back and make it better until you get a yes. It’s not an easy process, but when you look at how all of this turned out, you have to say it’s worth it.”
Bonal finally got the city’s approval to push the project forward in 1987 by leasing a huge swath of land from the Bureau of Land Management off what is now the Santa Fe Relief Route, better known as N.M. 599.
That land came at a ridiculously low cost and the only catch was it had to be used for recreational activities.
It would be nearly another decade before construction hit its peak, a time frame that Bonal says stretched more mayors, city administrations and council members than he cared to count.
“We never gave up on the project,” he says. “We’d get a 5-3 no vote, take it all back to the drawing board and try something else. It was always about not quitting.”
The eventual site of the MRC beat out two other proposed locations: one by Santa Fe Community College and the other out towards La Cienega. Less than a decade later, things were coming together one big step at a time, the focal point of it all being the golf course that was Spann’s vision.
An architect for Finger Dye Spann Inc. in Katy, Texas, he was contracted to carve a course out of some of the most pristine high desert landscape not many city residents even knew existed. It was so far south and west of town that it went largely untouched.
“It did kind of seem like it was out in the middle of nowhere,” Spann says, “but that was one of the great things about it. It was a chance to make a golf course in a place where there was literally nothing but wide open space.”
The camping trip he and Hogan shared gave him the inspiration for the course’s layout.
Taking advantage of the high desert terrain, he designed it using the natural topography as a guide rather than bulldozing his way into a cookie-cutter layout followed by most municipal facilities.
In some ways, he had to tone it down. Bonal said some of the holes were well beyond the limits of the scratch golfer who’d serve as the course’s primary customers.
“One of the great things about Marty is it’s challenging without being too difficult for the average player,” Bonal says. “Some of Baxter’s original plans, yeah, they were championship level. He had holes that would have been great to play on, but it would have slowed the pace way down. The average player would have lost a lot of Titleists. As a municipal course, we wanted something different but something that kept the pace where we could keep getting people in and out quickly.”
Now 20 years after his project became public domain, Spann is set to return to help celebrate the course’s history during Friday’s tournament.
“You never know how these things are going to turn out once you’re done with your part of it,” he says. “I’ve had projects I was really proud of that didn’t get taken care of the way they should have, but Marty Sanchez is one of those that has gotten better. In 20 years, they’ve done a great job making a terrific place that much better.”