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Roaring Fork Club: A pricey private getaway that offers fishing, golf

By David R. Holland, Contributor

BASALT, Colo. -- Jack Nicklaus entered the pro shop at the Roaring Fork Club one glorious sunny Colorado summer day and didn't hesitate. He passed up the golf portion and made a beeline to the fishing section and John "JL" Livingston, head fishing guide.

"What are they biting?" Nicklaus queried. "They" are the trout -- rainbows, browns, brookies, and cutthroat -- that inhabit this spot only 16 miles from Aspen in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The Roaring Fork Club, which caters to a national membership, not only offers award-winning golf -- the Nicklaus signature design is ranked No. 12 in the state by Golf Digest, but offers a chance to "chase rainbows" with private access to eight stocked ponds, a three-quarter mile long Spring Creek, and a 1½-mile stretch along the acclaimed Roaring Fork. Livingston and his staff can also conduct guided fly fishing trips where inexperienced anglers learn still water and stream techniques, while experts can enjoy the camaraderie of a group outing.

And because the Roaring Fork Club is a licensed Colorado Outfitter, the fishing staff can also provide guided trips to the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan Rivers, just minutes away. Angler-golfer members frequently take in the popular half-day trips on these two gold medal rivers.

Trail-blazing golf

But what about the golf at Roaring Fork? Situated on the historic former Arbaney-Kittle Ranch, it's a trail-blazer in Colorado. The 7,130-yard, par 72 layout has several ingredients you just don't find at most courses anywhere. RFC has a selection of caddies -- from professionals to students. And it's the only track in Colorado with fescue fairways similar to the grass you will find at The Old Course at St. Andrews. This surface is firm and fast and is low-maintenance and naturally resistant to drought.

Awards have also poured in for RFC's environmental stewardship -- it's an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary and a 2001 Rocky Mountain Region Chapter Award winner for environmental excellence, given by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. The Bio-Island program is one of its innovations. Throughout the layout you will see island areas with trees, plants, wildflowers and tall grasses -- ecological areas that attract insects and minimize the need for pesticides and herbicides.

The golf experience opens with panoramic ranchlands spreading out in front of the Members' Lodge, moves to wooded corridors along the Roaring Fork River and Spring Creek, and flows to the scenic upper portions of the acreage.

No. 5 rolls through the old ranchlands, where the tee overlooks ponds, wildflowers and bunkers sculpted by Nicklaus with Frying Pan River Valley views. The riverside portion of the layout has a pine and cottonwood landscape and No. 6 is a short and scenic gem (366 yards) that plays over the Roaring Fork River to a tight fairway. The approach then must clear Spring Creek, which runs down the left side of the fairway and turns in front of the small, tree-encircled green.

Take in the view of Basalt Mountain at the par-3 185-yard 12th. You are high above the valley floor and golfers must navigate one of the trout-filled ponds that comes into play both in front of and behind the narrow green.

Even though it is a private club, Basalt residents and their guests can play by purchasing a Roaring Fork pass for $25 at Town Hall, showing proof of residency. Next you must go to the Basalt Recreation office and get a photo ID card and purchase a 10-play punch card at $40 a round. Roaring Fork may restrict these times so you need to call and arrange tee times.

The Verdict

So what is the downside to this playground of the rich and famous? Some golfers really don't like that the golf course is situated on two sides of Highway 82 -- a tunnel takes you under the highway and those who use a caddy and walk can ride a golf cart across the distance. The reward is hole No. 6, the most scenic on the course, awaits on the other side. Hardly a big downside.

Memberships are pricey. First you must be invited by a member to join, then fork over $200,000. But social memberships are also available that don't include golf. RFC is one of those dedicated places where they are serious about being stewards of the land. In 1997, the developers initiated the River Restoration Project to improve the fishery habitat, and enhance the beauty and channel stability of a one-mile stretch of the Roaring Fork River where it bisects RFC property.

Stay and play

Roaring Fork's owners were inspired by the great camps of the Adirondacks which included big chairs, scenic porches and fellowship following days of recreation and the evening's dinner. The Member's Lodge is the heart of the Club -- intimate and rustic -- a reminder of old fishing lodges with its chinked timber facades and wide porches. The rustic, two-story Great Room includes a moss rock fireplace and veranda overlooking the 18th hole. The lodge also includes a library with billiards, vintner room, fitness and business facilities, as well as, the men's and women's locker rooms.

Ownership plans are available to members for the 48 luxurious hand-hewn log cabins that are situated along the wooded riverbanks and throughout the undulating meadows overlooking the valley. And 12 Lodging Suites are available across from the Members' Lodge. There's a full-time concierge staff and pre-arrival shopping service.

Fast facts

Roaring Fork Club members arrive from all parts of the United States to a 300-acre facility that is automobile-free. Members exchange their car for a special golf cart to get around in during their stay. PGA Tour star Tom Lehman is a member and Nicklaus owns one of the luxury cabins. States with the largest membership are Colorado and Texas with approximately 100 members each.

Basalt began as a railroad camp named Frying Pan Junction, and then served as an important stop along the Colorado Midland Railroad in the late 1800s. The railroad carried coal and silver ore between Aspen and Leadville over Hagerman Pass. That venture lasted less than 10 years.

Dining out

Dining venues include The Members Lodge & Restaurant and The River Cabin for special events. Try the Fried Green Tomato Salad before a no-brainer for Colorado -- Grilled Rocky Mountain Ruby Red Trout. Want something different for lunch? Order the Grilled Lamb soft taco with red onion in a warm flour tortilla. The Roaring Fork Club's wine list is extensive and was awarded First Place in the 2003 America's Best Wine Lists Awards presented by the National Restaurant Association. RFC's sommelier is on-hand each evening to recommend wines and provide the membership with entertaining wine tasting.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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