Every once in a while, the history of golf intersects with history of another sort; a history of another time and place with its own incredible moments, people and places. Such an intersection has occurred recently at Butterfield Trail Golf Club in El Paso, Texas.
Put succinctly, Butterfield Trail Golf Club is a Tom Fazio-designed golf course that is owned by the city of El Paso’s Department of Aviation. It is a $23 million creation in which no taxpayer dollars were spent on the course, although it is a municipal course open to the public.
The course plays to a par 72, measuring 7,307 yards from the Iron tees with a rating of 72.8 and a slope of 130. For those wishing to play the course from a bit closer in, the Gold tees play 6,865 yards with a rating of 71.1 and a slope of 127. The most forward tees, the Bronze tees, still play a challenging 5,053 yards with a rating of 67.8 and a slope of 119.
Green fees are affordable, ranging from $35 – $80 including golf cart and practice balls prior to play. The 12.4-acre practice range features a separate putting and sand trap area complete with side hill lies and private teaching areas.
The clubhouse was designed by Mijares & Mora and features the Salida del Sol restaurant and bar. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch each day, with both indoor and outdoor patio seating. Private parties and special events at Salida del Sol are definitely available.|
But, what does this have to do with the intersection of golf history with history of another sort, you ask? Good question.
The historic Butterfield Trail dates back to 1858. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company carried mail and passengers across country from Missouri to San Francisco for three years. Of the 2,800 mile mail route the company served, more than 700 miles ran across the state of Texas. One could take in the entire 2,800-mile run in a guaranteed 25 days (at an average speed of 5 miles per hour).
Unfortunately, the trail was only utilized for three years due to a number of factors: the Civil War as well as political conflicts and policy differences with Butterfield’s major lender, Wells Fargo.
Interested individuals can still follow exact segments of the route in Texas that are dotted with historical markers. In fact, part of the original trail still runs through the El Paso International Airport. More interesting is the fact that part of the trail actually runs alongside hole #8, a 453-yard par 4 that will test the best of players.
The course itself is a wonder to behold. Whereas many so-called “desert” courses fall prey to harsh desert butting up against the fairways – thus causing many an unplayable lie or lost ball – Butterfield Trail would be fitting for any lush, green area in the country. The fairways are wide and generous in all the right places and there are plenty of “bailout” areas for beginning players. The desert, as defined by so many desert courses, does not really come into play on the course.
As Fazio does quite often, the bunkers are large, deep in places, and beautiful to look at (though one is best advised to avoid them if at all possible). One example is hole #4, a par 3 measuring 220 yards from the Iron tees. A large bunker runs down the left side of the hole and fronts the green on that side. One should take in the beautiful Franklin Mountains in the distance, although a moment to refocus on the tee shot is suggested.
A short historical aside: The Franklin Mountains of Texas are a small range that extend from El Paso north into New Mexico, running only 23 miles long and 3 miles wide. The Franklins were formed during the Laramide mountain-building period in late Cretaceous time, 60 million to 70 million years ago. The highest peak is North Franklin Mountain at 7,192 ft. Much of the range is part of the Franklin Mountains State Park, which was created by an act of the Texas State Legislature in 1979. Within the Franklin Mountains can be found billion-year-old Precambrian rocks, the oldest in Texas.
Depending on pin placement, the bunker on hole #4 may not come into play. The green runs from front right to back left, but the aforementioned bunker tiptoes long the entire left side of the green. There is a very generous safe area to the right and front of the green, but a shot aimed at the green (or, depending on placement, the hole) can definitely cause some nerves because of the bunker.
Another exciting challenge is hole #16, a very lengthy par 4. Measuring 510 yards from the Iron tees, time will most likely prove this hole to be the toughest at Butterfield Trail. In addition to the length, the hole plays uphill from tee to green. Almost all players will be forced to hit driver. Luckily, Fazio designed the hole with a very generous fairway in case players lose their shot a bit by trying to add a few yards off the tee.
Once safely in the fairway, players must play their approach shot to the large green with some additional consideration for the large bunker to the left of the green. Add to that the prevailing wind coming into players and the hole really shows its teeth. Once on the green, though, it is a simple contoured green that provides for a number of straight or slightly breaking putts.
Probably the most impressive part of Butterfield Trail is that it is open to the public. Fazio has designed hundreds of golf courses across America and neighboring countries, but very few are playable by the everyday golfer. Most require memberships or $100-plus green fees. To be sure, a trip to a Fazio course is a treat, but one that is rarely enjoyed by golfers of all means.
That makes Butterfield Trail a unique commodity. Not only is the course open to any and all that wish to play, it is downright affordable. Its green fees, as noted above, top out at $80 for Saturday, Sunday and holiday golf for non-El Paso residents. Those living in El Paso will find that the highest fee possible is only $60 for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Add to that a short 90-minute (or less) flight from anywhere in the state and Butterfield Trail is truly accessible to all.
The list of great Fazio courses in Texas is long: Barton Creek Fazio Foothills, Barton Creek Fazio Canyons, Westin Stonebriar Resort, Dallas National, Escondido, the Club at Carlton Woods, and many more. Butterfield Trail will surely be listed alongside those great courses as it continues to mature. But ask yourself, which of those will I be able to enjoy on any given day during any given time of the year? Clearly, Butterfield Trail stands alone as the Fazio course that welcomes all to its fairways.
It is, of course, difficult to know at this time exactly how Butterfield Trail will develop. What is certain is that it is new and still growing. There were some rough spots in some of the fairways, although these problems will most likely be solved by the passing or a few seasons. Right now, it can be likened to a fine sculpture that is not yet complete: the finer details will be chiseled in by nature over time.
What is not in doubt is that Buttefield Trail features an incredible design that embraces players of all skill levels while making a new entry into the definition of desert golf. The course is the centerpiece of a new development plan that is centered round El Paso International Airport and is expected to include retail and residential opportunities. Similar developments have taken place in Tuscon and Phoenix.
“The Butterfield Trail is the catalyst for a resort hotel. The business traveler is usually here from Monday to Wednesday. Hotel figures are notoriously weak on weekends. This is to encourage stay over and play a world-class golf course. The golf course and hotel will be surrounded by a high-tech business park. You have to put something of value around it, so this will be the centerpiece for a business park. It’s exciting.” Abeln said.
Whether you are a golfer or a developer (or both), Butterfield Trail is definitely worth taking a look at. The payoff will last for generations.
For more information, visit www.butterfieldtrailgolf.com
By J.Frank Hernandez