You’d better bring your ‘A’ game, because the views are seriously distracting
Pinning down a short list of Colorado’s most beautiful golf courses is no easy task. There are literally dozens of greens strewn across the state regularly singled out as the world’s best by connoisseurs of all levels. Often your best days on the course boil down to the weather, the company and/or those magical swings that often strike at the most unexpected times. Still, the handful of courses highlighted here have been named as standouts by avid Colorado-based golfers for their hypnotizing scenery, course challenges and overall impressiveness.
Arrowhead Golf Club
Much like the enormous, ethereal formations comprising world-famous concert venue Red Rocks Amphitheatre up the road and dotted throughout neighboring Roxborough State Park, the slanted slabs surrounding Arrowhead are jaw-dropping wonders of nature. Knowing that these sandstone formations have been around for hundreds of millions of years makes them that much more awe-inspiring and when a handful become hazards, they earn yet another added measure of respect. A public course, Arrowhead has ranked as a hotspot for scenery-seeking golfers across the globe and a favorite treat among Colorado-based players for nearly five decades. The greatest aspect of the prehistoric surroundings is that the course layout saves the best for last, the most striking formations landing amid the back nine. Designed by iconic duo Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Jr., the course begins with sprawling emerald fairways, the rocks initially serving as spiky red backdrops, such as at the deceptively short par 3 at hole 3. Water becomes a challenge at hole 4 and the sandstone becomes an obstacle in the form of the dogleg right slab at hole 5. The incredible view of enormous natural statues standing in identical formation like a field of giant, iron-shaped soldiers is so distracting you might not notice the bunkers at hole 10. Trouble looms on all sides at the signature hole 13, which requires a shot through two walls of rock and is bordered by bunkers and water. As one might expect amid this next-level scenery, the pace of play can get slow, but it’s all the more an excuse to soak up the views yourself.
Situated in a remote oasis south of Denver, the Sanctuary is aptly named for many reasons. Its rolling greens, elevated tees, pine trees, waterfalls, abundance of wildflowers and absence of surrounding residences make it look as if it was designed by Mother Nature to blend into the landscape. The most standout feature of this course is that at any given hole, you will be overcome by the sensation that your foursome is the only one out there. You’re often more likely to spot a deer, elk or soaring hawk than you are another human. The sprawling property (nearly 13,000 acres) serves as refuge for local wildlife species of every kind, all allowed to roam (and fly) freely throughout the 220-acre course.
The lucky few who tee up at The Sanctuary do so by invitation or through one of the course’s 25 annual charity events. Nearly all proceeds from golf play are donated to Children’s Hospital, Food Bank of the Rockies, Flight for Life and a long list of other local and national hospitals, research institutions and nonprofit organizations. The place was masterminded by RE/MAX co-founder Dave Liniger and his wife, Gail, and the hilly course, designed by famed architect Jim Engh, will most assuredly test anyone’s skill level. Overlooking a panorama of the entire Front Range, the par-5 first hole sets the tone, stretching more than 600 yards and plunging down a narrow fairway, meaning your initial drive’s hang time can add to the hypnosis. The unique challenges (and jaw-dropping views) continue throughout, wrapping up with the grand finale – the 438-yard par 4 hole 18 – taking you up what may be one of the steepest fairways you’ve ever seen.
Another architectural masterpiece by Jim Engh, Redlands Mesa sits just outside Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction. Topping out on a mesa all its own, the course layout features a series of shelves and 11 elevated tees. Every hole offers sweeping views of the majestic Grand Mesa across the valley in one direction as well as the striking red sandstone walls and towering national sculptures characterizing Colorado National Monument in another. The contrast of the red hues against the fairways, sprinkled with the tans and yellows of the cratered rock slab, renders this course a truly colorful moonscape, albeit under what is often a blazing sun. The aromas of sagebrush and wild grasses are ever-present in this high desert environment where, in the heat of summer, the earliest possible tee time is a much-coveted commodity. It’s tough to say which hole is most impressive or challenging in this environment. Par 4 hole 4 ranks up there, as misguided balls easily and often disappear over the steep cliff next to the fairway and the following par 5 fifth hole is at least equally demanding, doglegging right toward a green atop a rocky outcropping. Redlands’ signature hole is the 218-yard par 3 17th, one of a few requiring a drop shot and a tricky one at that, coming from a cliff 150 feet above the green.
Red Sky Ranch
If you’ve ever dreamed of a PGA experience, Red Sky Ranch is the place to simulate it. This private membership club is situated about 20 minutes west of Vail above the small hamlet of Wolcott and is home to not one but two world-class 18-hole courses designed by Greg Norman and Tom Fazio, both regularly ranked among the top courses in the United States. The exclusive setting features immaculately maintained greens and state-of-the-art service. The views – glimpses of Beaver Creek and Vail’s Back Bowls to the East and a sea of arid, sagebrush-strewn peaks down valley to the West – are pretty okay, too. The Norman course is considered by far the more-challenging of the two, but both offer even scratch players a serious run for their money. Speaking of which, although Red Sky is members-only, overnight resort guests at partner properties at Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch can get access. The course open to guests changes daily and regardless of which one you end playing, you’ll be impressed. Elevated tees open to seemingly endless panoramas on both courses. The undulating greens on the Norman course vary by a whopping 400 feet of elevation, all dotted with well-placed bunkers and water hazards. Views are camera-worthy at nearly every hole, but the par 4 hole 7 is especially interesting as the distant jagged peaks are eclipsed by the bizarrely slanted (and uniquely challenging) fairway. Long hitters will do well here, but if you’ve never played at 8,000 feet, keep in mind that drives sail longer than you’d think in this thin air.
Chris Wheeler/Great Divide Pictures
Pole Creek Golf Club
Pole Creek outside of Winter Park is a rare 27-hole treasure quietly sitting on a stack of internationally heralded awards. Less pretentious and more affordable than many clubs in surrounding resort areas, Pole Creek’s popularity speaks for itself. The design is divided into three par-36 nine-hole courses – Ridge, Ranch, and Meadow. The Ridge is the most rolling and challenging of the three, but any 18-hole combination is approachable for all skill levels. Perhaps the single word used most frequently to describe the golf experience here is “fun.” All 27 holes feature stunning views of surrounding peaks and the Continental Divide. The fairways are broad and beckoning, bordered by lush pine forests and a rainbow of color in the form of native wildflowers (lupine, paintbrush, wild roses, etc.). As a unique bonus for anyone wanting to get a workout, golf bikes may be substituted for carts. The greens and views beyond are extra breathtaking (literally), when seen from two wheels.
©2015 Dick Durrance II
The Broadmoor has served as one of the state’s most prestigious oases for a whopping 102 years. Yes, 102. Donald Ross designed the original course, which opened in 1918. Throughout the decades, countless celebrities have stayed at the luxurious resort and played its legendary links. The venue has also hosted a number of USGA championships. Both of its pristine courses offer sweeping vistas that vary from expansive greenery and manicured lawns surrounding the property to distant mountain plateaus and wild rock formations similar to those characterizing the nearby Garden of the Gods. Built into the side of the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain, the East Course greens are famously full of doglegs as well as mind games when it comes to putting — certain slants present optical illusions on which the ball sometimes rolls in the exact opposite direction than anticipated. The hillier and more tree-lined of the two, the slopes of the West Course are much more predictable and obvious, though doglegs abound here, too, as well as glorious approach shots.
According to The Broadmoor Head Golf Professional Russ Miller, the most dramatic hole is No. 18 on the East course. Your tee shot faces the mountain and provides a breathtaking vista, then the hole doglegs back toward the clubhouse, offering a gorgeous setting on the approach. This hole is the backdrop for many a tournament, where grandstands are set up to pay homage to the spectacular view … and to watch the players!