Category - Member Events
A Closer Look at Twin Warriors and Santa Ana Golf Clubs, Hosts of the 2023 PGA Professional Championship
By Roger Graves
The eighth hole at Twin Warriors.
This article was originally published in the April 2023 issue of PGA Magazine.
The native people of Santa Ana Pueblo believed the Twin Warriors showed them the path to the Upper World along the banks of the Rio Grande River.
The 312 PGA Professionals competing in the 2023 PGA Professional Championship at Twin Warriors Golf Club and Santa Ana Golf Club near the mighty Rio Grande in New Mexico hope to find a similar path to prosperity on two of the most highly acclaimed – and two of the most challenging – golf courses in America’s southwest.
Located just 1.5 miles apart and operated by Santa Ana Golf Club Inc., Twin Warriors and Santa Golf Clubs are sister courses. But not twin sisters. The two courses are both bathed in awe-inspiring scenery and will each play to a par of 72 for the 2023 Championship, but that is where the similarities begin and end.
Designed and developed with meticulous careand cultural sensitivity, Twin Warriors Golf Club will stretch to 7,631 yards for the PGA Professional Championship and will play two or three shots tougher than Santa Ana Golf Club, which checks in at 7,324 yards for the PGA Professional Championship.
Twin Warriors, which competitors will play three times, is 18 holes of high desert, championship golf routed in and around 20 ancient cultural sites featuring grassy knolls and ridges dotted with Juniper and Pinon Pine. Arroyos and dry washes will collect errant shots, with several elevation changes making the Gary Panks design challenging from start to finish. Santa Ana Golf Club is a classic links-style layout featuring eight lakes and a gentler disposition, with the exception of the tricky, undulating greens.
Two Types of Courses
“In a nutshell, Twin Warriors Golf Club’s forced carries and length even at altitude (6,000 feet), will present the biggest test for the 312 competitors looking to make the Corebridge Financial PGA Team (previously known as the ‘Team of 20’) in the PGA Professional Championship,” notes Santa Ana Golf, Inc. PGA General Manager Derek Gutierrez, who has witnessed all four “major” championships conducted by the PGA of America on the property dating to the 2003 PGA Professional Championship.
“At Santa Ana Golf Club, a much shorter and receptive layout, the greens with significant sloping and speed will present a different difficulty. The greens at Twin Warriors are subtle in undulation and break, and golfers sometimes over read or overthink the lines. Both courses can be challenging in their own way.”
“Fast and fair has always been our philosophy, regardless of the Championship we are setting up,” says Mark Tschetschot, Senior Director of Member Championships, Rules & Competitions for the PGA of America, who is charged with setting up the courses for the 2023 PGA Professional Championship. “Having firm and fast fairways means the ball should get a lot more rollout, but at the same time that shrinks the fairways, putting a premium on driving. Driving the ball well at both courses is a must, and is probably one of the most important aspects to playing well at Twin Warriors and Santa Ana Golf Clubs.
“The greens at Twin Warriors have a lot of undulation, so not only can putting be a challenge, but the player will need to play precise approach shots using just about every iron in their bag during a round. Twin Warriors also has many elevation changes, adding to the challenge of selecting the right club.”
Wind and weather can have a direct impact on which holes play the most difficult at Twin Warriors and Santa Ana Golf Clubs. Since Twin Warriors will be used exclusively for the final round, the championship often comes down to the final three holes. But Gutierrez knows that many dreams have been dashed well before the closing stretch on the demanding back nine at Twin Warriors. He cites the par-4 10th, the par-3 15th and the 462-yard par-4 18th at Twin Warriors as the pivotal holes that will determine who hoists the coveted Walter Hagen Cup on May 3.
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“The 10th hole may be the most intimidating hole on the golf course,” explains Gutierrez. “The drive to a wide fairway is not a problem, but the approach can be a long one over a deep wide wash to an elevated green. There is an ample approach left of a bunker fronting the green and is the place to miss it. A miss right on the approach can lead to a high score. Par on the 10th is good and birdie will pick up a full shot on the field. This is the hardest hole on the course for this PGA Member.”
One of Gutierrez’s favorite holes is the par-3 15th, a 240-yard monster that runs adjacent to an 800-year-old cultural site.
“On this hole, the views and sounds are calm and serene, but at 240 yards, the prevailing wind may feel quite a bit different while standing over the ball or walking off the green. With a severely sloping green back to front, the proverbial ‘keep it under the hole’ rule is critical. Right, left, or long could lead to bogey or worse.”
A demanding 18th hole
Gutierrez has seen the 18th hole at Twin Warriors take its toll on many contenders in the PGA Professional Championships in 2003 and 2009, and in the Senior PGA Professional Championship in October of 2022.
“The 18th is a long hole into the wind,” notes Gutierrez. “With bunkers on each side, and a transition area at the end of the fairway, accuracy is at a premium. This green complex is also well bunkered and three clubs deep, so players must select the proper tool. With three tiers on this green and when the pin is tucked back-right, be careful. We have seen a lot of drama on the 18th since our opening in 2001.”
Tschetschot says don’t be surprised if the setup at Twin Warriors includes a drivable par 4, which traditionally adds considerable drama to the championship.
"Drivable par 4s are always fun; they make the player really think about their strategy,” says Tschetschot, who has been setting up courses for PGA Member championships for nearly 20 years. “To be what we consider an exciting, drivable par 4, there has to be risk and reward. The 11th hole at Twin Warriors is just that, a 346-yard hole that we could potentially move to the 305-yard tee, so with elevation and playing downhill, the hole would play approximately 270 yards. There is native desert crossing the fairway 30 yards short of the green and extending right of the green, and a penalty area left and beyond the green, so there is plenty of risk. The 11th hole could play a pivotal part in deciding the Championship.”
Given normal spring weather conditions, what might the winning 72-hole score be when Twin Warriors and Santa Ana Golf Clubs host their third PGA Professional Championship?
“I was able to witness both Tim Thelen’s (in 2003) and Mike Small’s (2009) victories, and they were truly impressive,” says Gutierrez. “For the 2023 championship, if the wind blows, it could be in the low single digits, maybe 4-to-6 under par. If ideal conditions persist, then it could be 10-to-12 under par.”