CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Hang gliders float on a steady Rocky Mountain breeze after leaping from 12,162-foot Mount Crested Butte. The tiny specks below are golfers enjoying one of Colorado's true boondocks hidden gems - The Club at Crested Butte.
Minutes away is the quaint 1880s mining town of Crested Butte, situated along the meandering Slate River deep in the heart of Colorado's ski country.
Standing atop the pedestal tee box of the par-4 13th, you are greeted by a sign proclaiming its skyscraping heights - 9,003 feet above sea level.
It's a hike up to this lofty perch, but it's worth the view. The hole plays 456 yards from the black tees, but your drive, aided by 12-percent altitude carry, plummets 400 feet to a fairway guarded left by a series of bunkers and right by no-recovery rough. The approach is uphill with a huge sand box guarding the left side of the putting surface.
Welcome to the best golf course in Colorado you probably never heard of. It's a Robert Trent Jones Jr. gem on a 580-acre parcel in ski country, a 7,208-yard, par-72 course dramatically crafted with 84 cloverleaf bunkers that blend picture-perfectly with tall native grasses on its outside fringes. The backdrop is mighty gray granite amid sagebrush rough, rolling fairways and shimmering aspens and tall pines.
This is the spirit of back country golf.
The vision started in the 1980s, named Skyland Country Club, but it was Rick Divine, an eye surgeon, who gathered family dollars for the purchase in 1996 then teamed up with The Cordillera Group to spend more than $1 million on capital improvements to the clubhouse, maintenance facility, the driving range and golf course.
"We took what has always been a spectacularly beautiful course with very good basic design and brought the quality of play and the entire golf experience up to where it should be," said Divine, who owns the Club and surrounding real estate. "We had the raw materials to create something really special here, and The Cordillera Group had the expertise to make it happen."
Cordillera, the state's most expensive resort experience with four golf choices in the Vail Valley, sent Brian Kreps from his job at the Mountain Course to become the Director of Golf at Crested Butte.
"I've played a lot of courses and this one is in my top 10," said Kreps. "It is one of the best layouts in the state and the setting can't be matched anywhere. The par-3 holes are just spectacular."
The transformation of the golf course came at the hands of course superintendent Steve Rau and Cordillera's Tim Taagen, a recognized authority on high-altitude golf course maintenance. That's a key. In this snowy environment the spring preparation begins when snow is removed from the greens in March of each year.
"Good players will notice the change we have made immediately - in both aesthetics and playability," Taagen says. "Nature gave the course its scenery, Robert Trent Jones Jr. gave it his flair and this latest round of renovations make it sparkle."
Your view from the first tee is down valley and of surrounding summits - the Elk Mountains, Mount Baldy and Mount Bellview. The front nine is fairly flat, but the back is a roller coaster ride typical of mountain golf.
Summer outdoor sportsmen will drool over the countless activities - only a five-hour drive from Denver. And the golf is memorable.
The Club at Crested Butte
385 Country Club Drive
Crested Butte, Colo. 81224
Phone: (970) 349-6127 or 349-6131 or (800) 628-5496
Where to stay
ResortQuest has all kind of rentals in the area. Call(800) 950-2133 or log on resortquest.com/crestedbutte.
Where to dine
The Wooden Nickel, 222 Elk Avenue, Crested Butte, (970) 349-6350.
Crested Butte's oldest bar and meeting place will take you back in time to the Old West. Specializing in filets, New York strips and rib-eye steaks, prime rib, elk tenderloin, Alaskan King crab legs, BBQ pork ribs, crab cakes, lamb and pork chops, fresh grilled seafood and garden salads. They also serve burgers, buffalo burgers, chicken-fried steak and giant sandwiches. Whole Maine lobster and a variety of surf and turf combinations are available nightly.
June 3, 2003