LA VETA, CO - Southern Colorado's scenery and golf - find it at Grandote Peaks Golf Club. You might never want to go home.
There's no place on earth like it. It's a place with a laid-back atmosphere, friendly people, towering Ponderosa pines, cattle roaming on an open range, double rainbows following an afternoon thunderstorm, a wild strawberry snack along the trail at Fishpaw Pass, daily red-hue sunrises on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, golden aspen on a warm September afternoon.
Add Grandote Peaks Golf Club, which is located on the Scenic Highway of The Legends, Colorado State Highway 12, to that formula and you have heaven for the lover of the outdoors.
Countless people here are taken home every day on a dusty country road.
There are 300 days of sunshine a year. There are less people. There are no traffic jams, unless you have to stop and wait for the Trinchera elk herd to cross the highway. The huge herd, located in the vicinity of nearby Stonewall, outnumbers local residents 100 to 1.
The geological wonders are abundant - the world's largest concentration of volcanic granite dikes are here, protruding from the Spanish Peaks like spokes on a wheel.
Here in the boondocks of Southern Colorado you can do almost anything recreationally all by your lonesome. It's a hermit-friendly lifestyle.
There are some off-season days you can cast a nymph upon Monument Lake with only silence as a companion. No motor boats, no chatter of other fishermen, just a diving osprey zeroing in on a rainbow trout.
On a Monday at mid-morning there were 10 cars in the parking lot at Grandote Peaks Golf Course. Just 12 miles south to the tiny resort ski town of Cuchara, folks have been know to traverse the slopes and count the number of other skiers on 10 digits.
Call it boondocks recreation. Destination golf. Whatever you call it - it can be heaven if you love to get away from the crowds. Oh, the crowds show up, naturally, but that is more likely to happen on the weekends. The course is rated four stars by Golf Digest and 16th best in Colorado.
Grandote Peaks is located in the Huerfano County town of La Veta, population 700. Its spectacular scenery includes the majestic Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo range. Climb to tee box No. 1 and your panorama is the West Peak, which rises 13,600 feet, and if you look closely, the Cuchara Valley Ski Resort is in the distance. Your scenery quota for the day can be checked off and the round hasn't even started.
No. 1 is a dogleg-left par-5, 570 yards from the back. Depending on the wind, a big hitter can reach it in two, but once the duffer reaches the fairway there's one thing that opens his eyes wide - just off the 2-inch first-cut rough - just a few feet off the cart path - is knee-high, ball-grabbing, never-find-the-ball native grass. And your "rough" on some holes is the fast-moving Cuchara River. The duffer knows this is going to be a long day.
"What I really like about this course other than the scenery," said Cuchara resident Jim McCandless, "is that this is a tough course. The rough will get you eventually." There are two small bunkers short of the green, but none surrounding it. So enjoy, because there are a total of 40 more bunkers up ahead and some of these partially surround select greens.
The second hole not only has a hard-to-see landing area, but you must drive through a chute. It is wet to the left, then the river crosses the fairway and curves to act as a boundary running along the right side of the fairway. It's 389 yards and if you don't hit the fairway, you are in deep trouble.
The best birdie chance is the par-four, No. 4, which is 310 yards in length, but has a deep bunker guarding the front entrance. Take advantage, because the Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish 1987 design, has 11 holes with water that comes in to play.
The finish is arduous - if you are braindead, brace yourself. No. 15 is the third toughest hole, No. 16 is ranked fourth hardest and No. 17 is ranked toughest ... a 458-yard par-four into the prevailing southerly wind. No. 18 is a 522-yard par-five with water crossing the fairway and a lake guarding the right side toward the green.
Grandote Peaks has four tee box selections. The black measures 7,085 yards and from the red ladies' tees it is 5,608.
If there's a negative to this layout it is that many locals can't afford it. The cost is $45 on weekdays and $65 on the weekends. Carts are $22 for 18 holes.
Locals would like to see a special low daily Huerfano County resident rate and an even greater savings for resident seniors. Huerfano County is one of the poorest in the state.
But Grandote does have a bargain. Its $24 twilight rate for Monday through Thursday is worth every penny. It's not uncommon to have to wait on a deer crossing in your path before hitting a shot. Or you could spot a dozing beaver as the sunlight wanes. The best twilight weather is in September when the wind is at its calmest and the memory of summer's thunderstorms are nonexistent - you could walk and play an entire 18 holes in less than four hours.
The course has bent grass greens and bluegrass fairways. Because it is a semi-arid climate, course superintendent Wayne Smith said they pour 650,000 gallons of water on the course daily, when it doesn't rain.
"We get some winter kill, so we have some bare spots on the fairways and greens early in the season," said McCandless, "but by the end of June the course will be in great shape." There was drought during the 2000 season, but Grandote, even though it was brown in spots, was a prize.
Dawne Kortgaard, winner of the 1998 Colorado Women's Open, is the head pro. She was a touring LPGA player in mid-1980s. The course is closed mid-November through mid-April.
Grandote Peaks Golf Club
5540 U.S. Highway 12
La Veta, CO 81055
Phone: 800-457-9986 or 719-742-3391.
Green Fees: $65 weekends and $45 weekdays. Twilight fee Monday through Thursday $24. Call for seasonal membership packages.
Grandote Peaks Golf Club is three hours south of Denver. It's easily accessible - just 20 minutes from the I-25 exit at Walsenburg. The Cuchara Valley Airport at La Veta also has a 6,000-foot runway that can accommodate small jets and the landing strip is equipped with lights for night time arrivals.
When you visit Grandote Peaks Golf Club don't miss driving the length of the Scenic Highway of Legends (Highway 12). Check out this spectacular drive at http://www.sangres.com/highwaylegends.htm. Also don't miss the Trinidad Municipal Golf Course, the best nine-hole layout in Colorado.
Practice Fac.: A-
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: C
Pace of Play: A
Overall Rating: A-