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Colorado Top Ten: Mountain Vistas, Scenery Makes Rockies the Ultimate Destination

By David R. Holland, Contributor

DENVER, CO - Sorry Scottsdale. Sorry Myrtle Beach. Sorry Monterey Peninsula.

You can't match the bargains, beauty and weather of Colorado golf.

"I think golf in Colorado is the most exciting in the world. You are hitting shots you can't hit any place else," says Castle Rock's Jim Engh, the award-winning architect of Sanctuary, The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa and Red Hawk Ridge.

"You can't beat Colorado golf," agreed Perry Dye, son of Pete, and a Denver-based golf architect.

Why is Colorado golf so special?

How about perfect 70-degree days, cobalt-blue skies and playing golf without a mere drop of sweat? How about unparalleled mountain vistas, intriguing sandstone rock formations framing greens, rumbling clear-mountain streams? Have you ever seen a bear on the green or elk in the fairways? You can in Colorado.

You can't miss the scenery. Today, some new golf courses claim to be on the ocean, but you can't see the ocean. There's no mistaking a 14,000-foot mountain as a backdrop for your 9-iron approach to a high-altitude green.

Many folks around the country think Colorado is covered in snow six months out of the year. Untrue. Front-range golfers, those east of the Rockies, can sometimes play year-around. And on some shoulder-season days in the mountains one can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon.

There were eight new golf courses opened in Colorado last summer, and two others delayed openings until 2002, but naysayers, including some of Denver's TV talking heads, were wondering about more supply than demand.

"I keep hearing about over-saturation," says Dye, "But even if tourism softens a bit we are still building golf courses here with $30 green fees. And you can get the tee times. It's certainly great for the golfers."

When Arnold Palmer was posed the same question last summer at the opening of his Eagle Ranch layout, the King said: "My company is booked up for the next five years. We aren't seeing any slowdown on building golf courses."

Heck, they are even building classy layouts on the plains close to Denver International Airport. Dye's Green Valley Ranch which opened in the summer of 2001, is a winner, and The Homestead at Murphy Creek, unveiled during the 2000 summer, placed No. 10 on Golf Digest's 2001 List of Best New Affordable Courses in the nation.

No. 1 on that list was Engh's The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction. This is a layout every avid Colorado golfer must play.

Everyone knows selecting a Top Ten list is a political process. Ask any expert and you will get 10 different versions. Here's a capsule look at TravelGolf.com's Top Ten Colorado municipals, daily-fee and resort golf courses.

1. The Ridge at Castle Pines North, Castle Rock.

Tom Weiskopf's The Ridge is just minutes south of Denver, but has that special kind of beauty you find in many front-range foothill locations - sandstone rock formations, gambel oaks, Ponderosa pine, many varieties of wildlife and peeks at the Rocky Mountains and even downtown Denver.

Golf Magazine honored The Ridge as one of the "Top 10" new courses in its first year of operation. It has been ranked as low as No. 52 in the magazine's "Top 100 You Can Play" courses in America. Surely Weiskopf was a prophet when a few years ago he said the best golf courses since the 1930s will be built in the 1990s. The Ridge helps make his prophecy a reality.

Typical of some recent golf architect trends, The Ridge was designed to provide room for the environment. It's arranged in two huge loops with lots of natural space in-between. Wildlife corridors and gaps were left on the course to make way to migrating elk herds.

Green Fees: $100. Telephone: 303-688-0100. Internet: www.theridgeatcpn.com.

2. The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, Grand Junction.

RockiesGolf.com was one of the first golf publications to proclaim Redlands Mesa as a sure-fire award-winner for 2001 and predicted it would be the Best New Affordable Course in the country with a green fee of $50. This pilgrimage through sandstone is certainly the best new course to open in Colorado this century. It features downhill vistas on 11 holes in a spectacular topography where Rocky Mountains meet the desert on Colorado's Western Slope.

"Jim Engh has created a golf course that is one of the best in Colorado," said General Manager Michael Somma. "It is a great blend of land, nature and golf. I also like the feeling of power you get from the elevated tee boxes and the 11 downhill holes."

Green Fees: $50 every day. Resident $39, weekdays, $44, weekends. Carts $12 per rider. Telephone: 970-263-9270. Internet: www.redlandsmesa.com.

3. Broadmoor East, Colorado Springs.

Designed by legendary Donald Ross, with re-tooling by Robert Trent Jones, history has played a big part of The Broadmoor East. Jack Nicklaus won the 1959 U.S. Amateur on the course and Annika Sorenstam the '95 Women's U.S. Open. Unlike Ross' Pinehurst No. 2 where the greens are shaped like a turtle's back, causing some good shots to roll off the green, Broadmoor East's greens are more fair to receiving a shot, but they are a fast nine to nine and a half on the Stimp Meter (played to an 11 during the 1995 U.S. Women's Open). It is ranked No. 44 on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list. The scenery is the reason folks have been coming to The Broadmoor from all over the world for more than 100 years.

Green Fees: $140, hotel guests and members only. Telephone: 719-634-7711 or 800-634-7711. Internet: www.broadmoor.com.

4. The Valley Course at Cordillera, Edwards.

Tom Fazio took this near-desert terrain with an Arizona look and molded a challenging upscale layout that blends perfectly with the browns, rocks and sagebrush of the area north of I-70 in Edwards. Hire a caddy to enjoy the best of this layout, which takes you on a journey through the bright green of the bluegrass fairways. Some fairways will give you a favorable bounce if you stray right or left. Cottonwoods jut from the creek areas and ancient junipers hang on to the rocky cliffsides.

The Cordillera Resort and Spa is the most expensive place to play and stay in Colorado and features the brand-new Jack Nicklaus-designed Summit Course, Hale Irwin's Mountain Course and the Dave Pelz Short Course. The Valley Course opened in 1997.

Green Fees: $185 for resort guests, forecaddies included. This is a private course, members and guests only. Telephone: 970-926-5950. Internet: www.cordillera-vail.com.

5. River Valley Ranch, Carbondale.

River Valley Ranch, designed by Jay Morrish, is just 30 miles from Aspen and 12 miles from Glenwood Springs. It's one of those cow-patty fields of dreams that's now considered one of the best layouts in Colorado. Situated beneath 12,953-foot Mt. Sopris in the Roaring Fork Valley, along the rippling Crystal River, this is God's and Golf Country. Enjoy the flight of bald eagles in winter and address an eagle putt in summer. If your golf bag includes a fly rod, there are rainbows and brown trout in the river and nearby in the Gold Medal waters of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan Rivers.

Green Fees: Public 18 Holes $90, cart not included. Telephone: 970-963-3625. Internet: www.rvrgolf.com.

6. The Homestead at Murphy Creek, Aurora.

Just opened on July 29, 2000, The Homestead at Murphy Creek is a high-plains test near DIA with huge, wide fairways. You will need to hit it long on this one, though, because it measures a robust 7,456 from the big-boy tees. It will also reward you with one of the most enjoyable, affordable rounds of golf you will find in a brand-new golf course today.

"I've played golf all over the country," said Arizona-based golf architect Ken Kavanaugh, "and I haven't seen anything like this anywhere. It's a first for Colorado and I think you will see something different on every single hole. I took a little bit of this and a little bit of that to complete this design."

Green Fees: Monday to Thursday, Aurora resident pay $24. Non-residents $28. Friday to Sunday, locals pay $32. Non-residents $32. Telephone: 303-361-7300. Internet: www.golfaurora.com.

7. Breckenridge Golf Course,
Breckenridge, CO.

Situated 9,300 feet above sea level, this is Nicklaus' only municipal layout in the world, located in the world-class ski town of Breckenridge. Stroke your tee shot with stunning views of the 10-Mile Range, the Gore Range and Williams Fork. It also sports a brand-new nine holes.

"The biggest thing for us was that back when the town contracted with Nicklaus, he was still affordable," says Errol Miller. "The town had a lot of foresight and knew what the name meant to golf." The original layout, which measures 7,279 yards, has a 146 slope rating and takes you through lodgepole pines, wetlands and native grasses.

Green Fees: $55 to $90. Telephone: 970-453-9104. Internet: www.townofbreckenridge.com/pr_course.cfm

8. Keystone River Course, Keystone.

The River Course at Keystone, designed by Dana Fry and Dr. Michael Hurdzan, opened in 2000 at a cost of $12 million and measures 6,886 yards from the black tees for par 71. After a spectacular elevated tee shot on the first hole, it takes you only two holes to cross the scenic Snake River, where a par-3, 222-yard test awaits. A trap guards the right side of the green and anything right of that is in the river.

It includes 74 bunkers and five water hazards. The blue grass fairways are lush and the greens are L-93 bent grass.

The River Course is in the heart of Keystone's world-ranked ski resort and provides a multitude of summer activities and European-styled village. It's sister course, the Ranch, is another great escape for golfers.

Green Fees: Keystone Guest $115, General Public $140. Telephone: 970-496-4444. Internet: www.keystonesummer.com.

9. Riverdale Dunes, Brighton.

Riverdale Dunes, designed by Pete and Perry Dye, opened in 1985 meanders along the South Platte River and could be the best conditioned course in the Denver area. You might feel you are in the British Isles, because Ireland's Lahinch was used as its inspiration. Strike it straight, because railroad ties, pot bunkers, mounds and water are featured throughout. The course has hosted two Nike Tour events in the mid-1990s and the touring pros loved the perfect conditioning.

Greens fees: $31-$33. Telephone: 303-659-6700. Internet: www.riverdalegolf.com.

10. Haymaker, Steamboat Springs.

Golf architect Keith Foster loves old traditional golf courses and you can see it clearly at Haymaker, named for the hay fields it was cut out from. As you play the 636-yard, par-5 sixth hole, known as "Cattle Drive", you are in eyeball range of a working hayfield. If you play in late summer, the rolled stacks of hay are right there, just yards away from the fairway.

It's a Scottish-links style par-72 golf course that measures 7,308 yards from the championship tees. Foster designed this fair test, integrating the agrarian background of this ranching and ski community. Foster, designer of the award-winning Quarry Golf Course in San Antonio and Buffalo Run in Commerce City, completed a design that includes deep bunkers, rock walls, wetlands and native-grass rough. The 360-degree views of the surrounding Flat Tops Wilderness and Rabbit Ears Pass are unobstructed. There's nary a shade-tree on the property.

Green Fees: $69, includes range. Telephone: 970-870-1846. Cart Fees: 18 holes $16. Internet: www.haymakergolf.com.

Denver Metro Top Ten: 1, The Ridge at Castle Pines North. 2, The Homestead at Murphy Creek. 3, Riverdale Dunes. 4, Fox Hollow. 5, Buffalo Run. 6, Legacy Ridge. 7, Green Valley Ranch. 8, Saddle Rock. 9, Red Hawk Ridge. 10, Inverness.

Mountain Honorable Mention: The Raven at Three Peaks, Pole Creek Golf Club, The Summit at Cordillera, Keystone Ranch Course, Cotton Ranch, Sonnenalp Golf Club, Aspen Golf Club, Eagle Ranch, Dalton Ranch, The Cliffs at Tamarron.

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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