Playing a Round in Colorado | T+L Golf

Playing a Round in Colorado | T+L Golf

Courtesy of Devil's Thumb Devil's Thumb Courtesy of Devil's Thumb
Courtesy of Devil's Thumb
Courtesy of Devil's Thumb Devil's Thumb
Courtesy of Devil's Thumb
Blaze a trail to these mile-high courses, resorts and festivals

Of all the technological advances in golf, arguably none has revolutionized the game more than the motorized cart. Scourged by purists, the now ubiquitous buggy has literally taken golf to new levels: into terrain so vertiginous it’s otherwise navigated only on skis or by rope and belay. Nowhere is this more evident than in Colorado, where without the aid of an E-Z-GO even Lance Armstrong’s legs would burn during a round at any number of Rocky Mountain layouts. And the list keeps growing: Over the past decade and a half, more than a hundred new courses, the work of virtually all of the game’s finest architects, have opened across the state, from the red-rock mesas of Grand Junction to the rough-hewn sandhills near the Nebraska border.

But it’s not as if golf just arrived here. Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver has hosted three U.S. Opens, including in 1960, when Arnold Palmer began a final-round charge to victory by driving the green at the par-four opening hole. A year earlier, Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur at the Broadmoor, the iconic Colorado Springs resort, which, by the way, will stage the 2008 Senior Open.

Beyond the state’s double-black-diamond golf, its gourmet food and classical music festivals thrive in the glorious settings of Aspen and Vail. And the Denver Art Museum recently unveiled a striking new Daniel Libeskind-designed addition, a tangle of long, sharp, shiny triangles that evokes the mountains and stands as a symbol of a revitalized city.

Where to Play

The Broadmoor, East * * * * *

Host of two U.S. Amateurs and the 1995 Women’s Open, this historic parkland layout is already being groomed for next year’s Senior Open. But it’s the bones of the Broadmoor’s East course that impress the most: a seamless combination of strategic Donald Ross holes from the original 1918 design and brawnier holes built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. more than a generation later. Towering pines and oaks frame the bentgrass fairways, and steep bunkers and false fronts protect some of the most indecipherably crowned greens this side of Pinehurst. When putting, you’re better off trusting your ears instead of your eyes: Every quarter-hour, bells peal from the Will Rogers Shrine atop nearby Cheyenne Mountain, and every putt, without fail, breaks away from the shrine. Architects: Donald Ross, 1918; Robert Trent Jones Sr., 1958. Yardage: 7,130. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Greens Fee: $190. Contact: 1 Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs; 800-634-7711, broadmoor.com.

The Broadmoor, Mountain * * * * 1/2

Completing an arc begun as an amateur, Jack Nicklaus returned to the Broadmoor as an architect in 2003. His charge was to completely redesign the Mountain course, which had been chewed up by underground springs and erosion. The course reopened last year, and it’s safe to say that the Golden Bear triumphed again, adding penal rough and meaty shoulders to a site that clings to the side of Cheyenne Mountain. Despite opening with a string of five par fours, the course bucks and kicks with such variety that it never gets monotonous—and never lets up. Bunkers gape from the landing areas, and greens shed approaches that have the misfortune of finding the wrong tier. Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, 1975; Jack Nicklaus, 2006. Yardage: 7,637. Par: 72. Slope: 149. Greens Fee: $190. Contact: 4325 South Club Drive, Colorado Springs; 800-634-7711, broadmoor.com.


The Broadmoor, Mountain * * * * 1/2

Completing an arc begun as an amateur, Jack Nicklaus returned to the Broadmoor as an architect in 2003. His charge was to completely redesign the Mountain course, which had been chewed up by underground springs and erosion. The course reopened last year, and it’s safe to say that the Golden Bear triumphed again, adding penal rough and meaty shoulders to a site that clings to the side of Cheyenne Mountain. Despite opening with a string of five par fours, the course bucks and kicks with such variety that it never gets monotonous—and never lets up. Bunkers gape from the landing areas, and greens shed approaches that have the misfortune of finding the wrong tier. Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, 1975; Jack Nicklaus, 2006. Yardage: 7,637. Par: 72. Slope: 149. Greens Fee: $190. Contact: 4325 South Club Drive, Colorado Springs; 800-634-7711, broadmoor.com.

Golf Club at Redlands Mesa * * * * 1/2

Architect Jim Engh’s Redlands Mesa course almost appears to be painted onto the rock formations adjacent to Colorado National Monument. Tee boxes sit atop mesas, the fairways jounce and worm between ochre outcroppings, and the greens hang in box canyons, protected by bunkers. Redlands Mesa is friendlier to the camera than it is to the player, especially one who fears heights or plays from the wrong set of markers. If you fail to drive deep enough into the landing areas, you’ll often face a blind second shot, possibly over boulders. All that said, the amazing setting makes this one of the most enjoyable courses in the state.Architects: Jim Engh, 2001. Yardage: 7,007. Par: 72. Slope: 137. Greens Fee: $100. Contact: 2325 West Ridges Boulevard, Grand Junction; 866-863-9270, redlandsmesa.com.

Raven Golf Club At Three Peaks * * * * 1/2

Tom Lehman’s runner-up performance in last year’s International at Castle Pines showed the world what golfers in Colorado already knew: The guy knows his way around a mountain course. More than just a name attached to the project, Lehman worked with Hurdzan/Fry to create a tight, inventively bunkered and tree-lined beauty that crouches below thirteen-thousand-foot peaks and yields views of the Gore and Williams Fork ranges. The front nine, which climaxes with a downhill 514-yard par-four ego booster, stokes you for a brutal back nine. Architects: Hurdzan/Fry and Tom Lehman, 2001.Yardage: 7,413. Par: 72. Slope: 142. Greens Fee: $139. Contact: 2929 Golden Eagle Road, Silverthorne; 970-262-3636, ravengolf.com.

Red Sky Golf Club, Norman * * * * 1/2

There might be no better poster child for exquisite mountain golf than Red Sky’s Norman and Fazio courses. Both loom high above the valley amid serrated peaks. The Norman is the tougher of the two, an alpine brute with canted fairways lined by nests of bunkers leading to heaving greens. Your hybrids and fairway woods will get a workout—four of the par fours max out at more than 450 yards—as will your wedges when you scramble to get up and down. If your game needs a fix, don’t despair: There’s a David Leadbetter academy here. Architect: Greg Norman, 2003. Yardage: 7,580. Par: 72. Slope: 144. Greens Fee: $240. Contact: 1099 Red Sky Road, Wolcott; 866-873-3759, redskygolfclub.com.


Devil’s Thumb Golf Club * * * *

This lesser-known layout wends and scuttles through the stark, almost lunar landscape southeast of Grand Junction. Named after a distant butte, Devil’s Thumb indeed delights in the diabolical. Holes straddle plateaus, demand carries across ravines and lakes and play up canyons to split fairways with hidden greens flanked by gnarly bunkers. In other words, there’s plenty of drama even without the awesome elevation changes found at so many other Colorado courses. Architect:Rick Phelps, 2001. Yardage: 7,176. Par: 72. Slope: 132. Greens Fee: $42. Contact: 9900 Devil’s Thumb Road, Delta; 970-874-6262, deltagolf.org.

Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club * * * *

Another wild Jim Engh creation, Lakota Canyon Ranch roller-coasters through the striated buttes and variegated valleys near New Castle, a former coal-mining town. Almost every hole drops precipitously from tee to green, but Engh plays enough with depth perception, bunker placement and green contouring that you never feel as though you’ve played the same hole twice. The climb to each tee rewards you with breathtaking views of a landscape that includes Burning Mountain, where a coal-seam fire has smoldered for more than a century. Architect:Jim Engh, 2004. Yardage: 7,111. Par: 72. Slope: 137. Greens Fee: $85. Contact: 1000 Club House Drive, New Castle; 970-984-9700, lakotacanyonranch.com.

Best of the Rest

Framed by mountains and perched at 9,324 feet, the twenty-seven-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed Breckenridge Golf Club (breckenridgegolfclub.com) redefines municipal golf. At Fossil Trace Golf Club (fossiltrace.com), a Jim Engh layout in the Denver suburb of Golden (home of Coors Brewing Company), holes skirt huge limestone outcroppings, rusting backhoes and cranes left over from an old clay mine, and, yes, fern and dinosaur fossils. The Golf Club at Bear Dance (beardancegolf.com) in Larkspur, forty-five minutes south of Denver, embodies the quintessential elements of Colorado golf, including precipitous elevation shifts and pulse-quickening vistas. A redoubtable alpine retreat, the Club at Cordillera (cordillera-vail.com) near Vail boasts three eighteens—by Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Hale Irwin—as well as a Dave Pelz Scoring Game School.


Where to Stay

The Broadmoor

Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, hotelier Spencer Penrose built a resort at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain that would match the magnificence of the grand European hotels. Constant reinvestment in his vision has led to an endless string of five-star ratings and a parade of celebrity guests. The Broadmoor’s spa ranks among the finest in North America, as do its tennis facilities and dining.
1 Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs; 800-634-7711, broadmoor.com. Rooms: $405-$550. Suites: $625-$3,340.

Brown Palace Hotel

This grand dame of downtown Denver has all the regal trappings befitting its age (the hotel opened in 1892). Most impressive is the eight-story atrium that’s ringed by wrought-iron railings and rises to a stained-glass ceiling. The cushy rooms and suites each bear distinctive designs and appointments.
321 17th Street, Denver; 800-321-2599, brown palace.com. Rooms: $185-$450. Suites: $515-$1,700.

Doubletree Hotel Grand Junction

Grand Junction’s dry and, by Colorado standards, mild climate has long made it a destination for retirees rather than vacationers, so upscale lodgings don’t yet exist around here. The 273-room Doubletree, twenty minutes from Redlands Mesa and forty-five from Devil’s Thumb, comes the closest to passing the bar of luxury.
743 Horizon Drive, Grand Junction; 970-241-8888, doubletree.com. Rooms: $84-$169.

Hotel Jerome

Generations of Hollywood stars have bedded down at this classic downtown Aspen hotel. Opened at the height of the silver rush in 1889, the red-brick Jerome was purchased two years ago and will be closed for renovation from early April until mid-December. Its saloonlike J Bar, home of the Aspen Crud—a vanilla milk shake blended with three shots of bourbon—will be left largely intact.
330 East Main Street, Aspen; 800-331-7213, hoteljerome.com. Rooms and Suites: tbd.

The Little Nell

A Relais & Chateaux property tucked into the base of Aspen Mountain, the Little Nell is more intimate than it is grand, but it still has all the requisite appointments of a high-class mountain retreat: sumptuous guest rooms, a choice of appealing restaurants and a relaxing pool and spa.
675 East Durant Avenue, Aspen; 970-920-4600, thelittlenell.com. Rooms: $315-$770. Suites: $360-$4,900.

Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

Nearly every one of the 180 rooms at this refreshingly laid-back resort offers panoramic views of Beaver Creek Mountain. Remington’s, its flagship restaurant, turns out sophisticated plates of Western game. There’s also an excellent spa, highlighted by an intimate grotto with a soothing hot tub. Resort guests can tee it up at Red Sky Golf Club and Beaver Creek Golf Club, both nearby.
0130 Daybreak Ridge, Avon; 970-748-6200, ritzcarlton.com. Rooms: $195-$375. Suites: $500-$950.


Where to Eat

The Fort (Steak house)

Situated in an authentic adobe fort in the foothills west of Denver, this restaurant dishes up haute variations on pioneer cuisine—elk chops with huckleberry gravy, bison smothered in green chiles, Rocky Mountain oysters—with equally delicious views of the Mile High City.
19192 Highway 8, Morrison; 303-697-4771. $$$$

Frasca Food and Wine (Italian)

It’s worth the half-hour drive from Denver to Boulder to experience what could well be Colorado’s finest restaurant—but be sure to reserve a table weeks ahead. This celebration of the foods of Friuli, in northeastern Italy, is owned and operated by two alums of Napa Valley’s fabled French Laundry.
1738 Pearl Street, Boulder; 303-442-6966. $$$

Mizuna (American/French)

This intimate neighborhood eatery annually ranks among Denver’s very best. Its chef and owner, Frank Bonanno, changes the menu every month, but his signature lobster macaroni and cheese is a mainstay.
225 East Seventh Avenue, Denver; 303-832-4778. $$$

Summit at The Broadmoor (Continental)

Each of the Broadmoor’s restaurants is impressive, but this latest one outshines them all. Adam D. Tihany, who designed Per Se in New York, outdid himself here, with a fourteen-foot-tall wine turret that suggests the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb car race. Creative dishes such as the monkfish osso buco aspire to similar heights.
19 Lake Circle, Colorado Springs; 719-577-5896. $$$$

Sweet Basil (Continental)

For more than twenty-five years, locals and visitors alike have packed Vail’s centrally located temple of inspired cuisine. One bite into either a Colorado lamb T-bone or the ginger-and-peppercorn wild salmon will tell you why.
193 East Gore Creek Drive, Suite 201, Vail; 970-476-0125. $$$$

Syzygy (Contemporary)

The esoteric name of this stylish Aspen restaurant refers to the alignment of heavenly bodies, and you’ll remember it for its celestial fusion of French, Asian and Southwestern flavors. Recent entrées on the seasonal menu have included pan-seared elk tenderloin and Hawaiian ahi.
520 East Hyman Avenue, Aspen; 970-925-3700. $$$$

The Winery Restaurant (Steak House)

This Grand Junction institution occupies an old firehouse and serves succulent steaks, chops and seafood amid an atmosphere of wine barrels, red brick and stained glass. The wine list represents the best vintners in the region; the Two Rivers Port makes the perfect finish to a meal.
642 Main Street, Grand Junction; 970-242-4100. $$$


Orientation

Getting There

All major carriers fly into Denver International Airport. From there you can puddle-jump to Vail, Aspen, Durango, Montrose and Grand Junction. But the best way to experience the state’s natural splendor is by car. Interstate 70, the main east-west artery, takes you from the airport to Denver in thirty minutes; over Vail Pass and into the Rocky Mountains in ninety minutes; and to western Colorado’s buttes and mesas in four hours. To get to Colorado Springs from Denver, take Interstate 25 south for just over an hour.

Lay of the Land

In addition to the sparsely populated Eastern Plains, Colorado consists of three main regions. The Front Range, the populous north-south corridor along the eastern foothills of the Rockies, stretches from Fort Collins in the north to Pueblo in the south and includes Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. The Rockies form the state’s snow-capped spine, home to Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs and Vail. On the Western Slope sits Grand Junction as well as Durango and Telluride.


Local Knowledge

Into Thin Air

Ask any major leaguer who has played at Coors Field in Denver: Balls fly farther in the mountain air; they also don’t curve or break as much. The same holds true for golf. The lighter air reduces lift and drag, enabling the ball to maintain speed better and fly longer and straighter. At a mile high, the same shot will travel 7 percent farther than it would at sea level. So a 250-yard drive at Pebble Beach will fly about 268 yards at Cherry Hills. At the Raven at Three Peaks, which sits above nine thousand feet, that drive will go 280 yards. To take advantage of these conditions, consider playing a higher-spinning ball than usual. The extra spin will give you more lift, increasing your carry.

Private Gems

Venerable Cherry Hills Country Club (1922), a William Flynn layout in Englewood, and Castle Pines Golf Club (1981), the Jack Nicklaus course in Castle Rock that hosts the International, resist most reciprocal play. But two courses of more recent vintage in the suburbs south of Denver—Jay Morrish’s Golf Club at Ravenna, slated to open this spring, and the Jim Engh-designed Club at Pradera (2005)—haven’t yet earned such exclusive status. In the timberland east of Pradera, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s new Colorado Golf Club is courting national members, and pilgrims are heading to Ballyneal (2006), Tom Doak’s tour de force in the linksy sandhills of northeastern Colorado.


Digging Denver

A Downtown Reborn

Thanks to the development of lower downtown (LoDo) and the Cherry Creek Shopping District, Denver has shaken off its dusty cow-town reputation. LoDo boasts Coors Field, one of the country’s first retro ballparks; the chic restaurant-rich Larimer and Writer Squares; and the Tattered Cover, a beloved independent bookstore. Also, tour the Capitol and the U.S. Mint and set aside a few hours to take in the Denver Art Museum’s strong nineteenth- and twentieth-century collections, which include works by Monet, Picasso, Matisse, O’Keeffe, Modigliani and Warhol. They’re housed in the new Daniel Libeskind-designed Frederic C. Hamilton Building—the most creative use of titanium since the thin-faced driver.


Summer Peaks

Aspen and Vail

The Aspen Music Festival (aspenmusicfestival.com) features some of the most up-and-coming classical musicians, while the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (vailmusicfestival.org) hosts celebrated soloists, ensembles and three resident orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic. Both festivals run from June through August. For gastronomes, there’s the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (foodandwine.com), a spirited gathering of leading chefs and vintners held each June by this magazine’s sister publication.

Grand Junction

Just east of Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa, balmy Palisade is home to the state’s fledgling wine industry, which produces about fifty thousand cases a year. Most of the vineyards offer free tours and tastings (visitgrandjunction.com).

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