Sweeping views, animal sightings, challenging courses? Mountain or urban, Colorado golf is serious slice of heaven
While playing on mountain-high golf courses, or even in the foothills, have you watched an elk bugling, a deer nibbling on a tree or a fox hiding a treasure in a sand trap? Did you see the photos of a black bear crossing the 13th fairway on Broadmoor’s East Course during the 2008 U.S. Senior Open Championships?
Playing in Colorado, you’re guaranteed dramatic views, challenging layouts and, upon occasion, a little animal companionship. It doesn’t matter if you’re a PGA pro like Fort Collins-based Sam Saunders or a duffer, hitting the driving range. Whether you’re on an urban course framed by the Rockies or you’re teeing up in a scenic mountain layout, a round of golf here is bound to be entertaining.
Sam Saunders Gets Into the PGA Groove
Arnold Palmer’s grandson now calls Fort Collins home
Sam Saunders is rarely home during the PGA Tour season, but Colorado is where he stores his clubs and tinkers with them in the garage workshop of his Fort Collins’ home.
“I’d be lying if I said I lived in Colorado for the golf. It’s great, but I live in Colorado for the quality of life,” says the former Floridian and grandson of golf great Arnold Palmer. “I’m surrounded by the kind of people that I want my kids to grow up around.”
Saunders recalls holding a golf club “ever since I could walk” and remembers playing with clubs his grandfather cut down. He played in his first tournament at age 10, then quit basketball and other sports to concentrate on golf because he became so “passionate about it.”
Saunders, 27, turned pro in 2009, but struggled during his first years as a professional player. Several of his starts came from sponsor exemptions, including one for the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was 18. In 2012, he joined the Web.com tour, but, after missing too many cuts, he was forced to go back to qualifying school. He worked hard and played solidly–finishing in the top 10 five times–on the 2014 Web.com tour, the current route to getting a PGA Tour card. He finished in the top 10 in the Web.com tour finals, and earned his PGA card for 2015.
In March, after a series of slow starts, Saunders came close to the winner’s circle in the Puerto Rico Open. In a five-man playoff, he lost to Alex Cejka. “The difference between winning or not could be a putt here or there, or a shot,” Saunders says when asked if anything suddenly clicked to elevate his game. “It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a difference. I personally started to putt a whole lot better.”
This time around, he’s intent on learning from circuit veterans. “I’ve tried to seek out some of the veterans to play a practice round with,” Saunders says. “I play with guys like that to try and learn from them, to learn how to handle all the things that go along with playing on the PGA tour.”
In addition to play, this, according to Saunders, includes learning how to manage your time, and gleaning tips for things like meeting the press and all the people who now want to be with you. Living in Colorado, he may no longer be firmly under his grandfather’s shadow, but Saunders still values his grandfather’s advice for life–both on and off the fairways.
“The best piece of advice my grandfather gave to me is finding a system that works for you,” he says. “My Grandfather said that ‘I can’t tell you what that is; you are going to find that out on your own.’” And finding that system is important at work and at home, he adds. “While on the course, it means everything from finding the right practice routine to what you eat on the course and how to maintain your body week to week, tournament to tournament,” Saunders says. “Off the course, it means striking the right balance between your golf schedule and your family. Whether I am home in Colorado or on the road with my family, it is important to me to always find some time to put the clubs down and spend time with my wife and my two kids.”
Saunders met his wife, Kelly, in Colorado, and after marrying they decided to stay, and he says being at home in Fort Collins with his family is what he enjoys most. They hike, with 1 1/2-year-old Ace in a baby backpack, and ride bikes to take 6-year-old Cohen to school.
“In the summer, we ride our bikes to the Old Town, go to the breweries and then ride our bikes home,” he says. If you’re around Fort Collins, you might spot him at C.B. & Potts, his favorite 19th hole.
When in Colorado, Saunders loves to snowboard and ski, sports he’s been enjoying since first visiting the state when he was 3 years old. In the summertime, he’s an avid mountain biker. Off the circuit, he plays golf at his favorite urban course, a James Engh-design at the Harmony Club in Timnath, southeast of Fort Collins.
He enjoys mountain courses, too, especially the Tom Fazio Course at Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club near Vail. Jeff Hanson, Red Sky’s director of golf, recalls a round with Saunders, when the PGA pro drove No. 12–which Fazio designed as a risk/reward hole–then made a 15-foot eagle putt. (Saunders finds that hole easier to play than the 9th hole at Pebble Beach Links, in Pebble Beach, CA, which he considers to be the most challenging hole in the nation.) He says he likes the Colorado courses, but admits his favorite one in the world is a Tom Fazio layout at the Wade Hampton Golf Club in Cashiers, NC.
“If you really want to get better and start shooting lower scores, I’d recommend going to the putting green,” Saunders says. “The short game is by far the most important. It’s not the most fun to practice but the most rewarding at the end.”
Saunders’ aces in the hole
Favorite urban Colorado course: Harmony Club in Timnath | harmonyclub.info
Favorite mountain course: Tom Fazio Course, Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club, near Vail | redskygolfclub.com
Most challenging hole: 9th hole, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, CA | pebblebeach.com
Favorite course: Wade Hampton Golf Club, Cashiers, NC | wadehamptongc.com
Favorite 19th hole: C.B. & Potts in Fort Collins | cbpotts.com
Tips from the pros
Looking to up your golf game? We asked local golf professionals for their best tips and advice for amateurs.
Owner and Director of Instruction, Lana Ortega Golf, City, lanaortegagolf.com
Power set up
To adjust your set up for a powerful tee shot:
1. Take a wider than normal stance.
2. Drop your right shoulder which tilts your upper body behind the ball.
3. Set 60 percent of your weight on the right side.
4. Tee the ball higher and position it more forward in your stance.
Putting practice: Before your round, putt around the green using just one ball and holing everything out. This narrows your focus to the task of getting the ball in the hole, and lets you prepare for both longer lag putts and the short knee-knockers you’ll definitely face during the round.
Director of Golf, Red Sky Golf Club, Wolcott, redskygolfclub.com
Around the green: When your shot misses the green, I always look at the terrain and see if it allows for a putt first, as this allows the safest and most effective option. Next, if the grass is too thick I elect to keep the ball low with a 7- or 8-iron using my putting technique. This option is best if you are more than 15 feet from the green. If the shot requires height over longer rough or a bunker I use my 58-degree sand wedge, making sure I hit the shot off the bounce of the wedge with the ball played forward of center.
Course management: Knowing the slope and design characteristics is a must, as leaving your approach below the hole for an uphill putt will negate three-putting and give yourself the best chance at a birdie.
PGA Head Golf Professional, Red Sky Golf Club, Wolcott, redskygolfclub.com
Pitch shots: To hit consistent pitch shots, a smooth tempo pendulum swing is most effective. The length of the back swing should be similar to the length of the forward swing. This, along with the proper ball position to promote a descending strike of the golf ball, will lead to more consistent distance control.
Course management: As you come up to a putting green, make an assessment of the general tilt of the putting green and any special features that may be between your ball and the hole. Sometimes, seeing the slope of the putting green from a short distance away is easier than when standing on the green.
Join the Club
Choosing the coolest golf courses in Colorado ensures an entertaining cocktail party conversation. Here are few suggestions to get you started:
CLUB AT RAVENNA
When Jay Morrish designed the layout at the Golf Club at Ravenna, through red rock, scrub and ravines by the Dakota Hogback, he created one of the most beautiful courses anywhere. This design has it all: elevated tee boxes, greens and fairways that undulate like a wind-tossed ocean, carries over ravines, well-placed bunkers and, of course, water. The first nine play in front and then you climb a curvaceous path over a hogback for holes 10 through 15, before returning to the front side for 16 through 18.
Holes 14 and 16 are the most spectacular in this stunning setting. Fourteen, a par-5 with water down the left side and in front of the green, requires serious thinking and course management to score well and not lose golf balls. Sixteen, the signature hole, is a par-3 over a ravine with a 50-foot drop, that has you hitting over an abyss to a postage-stamp size green. Strong winds make it even more challenging.
Two tips: Ask for the golf course guide at the club house, and remember that course knowledge is worth four to five strokes when betting with a club member.
As you approach, don’t let the temporary bubble fool you. Inside, where you’ll find a pro shop, restaurant and glassed-in wine cellar; it’s as luxe as any permanent private-course clubhouse.
Visit: The Club at Ravenna, 11118 Caretaker Road, Littleton | 720.956.1600 | ravennagolf.com
THE GOLF CLUB AT REDLANDS MESA
Redlands Mesa is a beautiful course set on the bluffs near Grand Junction, with stunning views of the Colorado National Monument’s pink sandstone cliffs. There are 11 elevated tees, gorgeous rock outcroppings and lovely landscaping. Because of the elevated tees, wind can add to the challenge. Greens here can be tricky, but solid approach shots are often rewarded with a good roll to the pin. Bring extra golf balls as the desert flora attracts them.
Relax with an après-golf drink in the stone and glass clubhouse while enjoying spectacular views of the Colorado National Monument.
Visit: The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, 2325 West Ridges Blvd., Grand Junction | 970.263.9270 | redlandsmesa.com
FOSSIL TRACE GOLF CLUB
Fossil Trace Golf Course sits on land that was once a working clay mine and farm, and remnants of this history are built into the course design. An old incinerator chimney sits in the middle of the first fairway. Look for dinosaur tracks by the green on the 12th hole. This Jim Engh-designed public course in Golden has elevated tees and many risk/reward opportunities. No. 2 is a short, blind hole with a TV camera, so you can confirm the green is empty before teeing off. No. 10 crosses a lake that has claimed many balls hit by players who think they can cut the fairway.
Take a look the casts and imprints from residents who trodded these fairways 64 million years ago.
Visit: Fossil Trace Golf Club, 3050 Illinois St., Golden | 303.277.8750 | fossiltrace.com
LAKOTA CANYON RANCH AND GOLF CLUB
In 2014, Lakota Canyon, in New Castle, near Glenwood Springs, was listed as one of Golfweek’s Top 100 Residential Courses. Perhaps it’s because of several elevated tee boxes that result in long “hero” drives. Designed by Jim Engh, you play along numerous bowled fairways, past large and often difficult bunkers, to reach rewarding greens. Some fairways are lined by steep canyon walls and you play over ravines. No. 16, for example, crosses a ravine twice on the way to the green.
Lakota does not have a clubhouse yet; golfers check in at the recreational center.
Visit: Lakota Canyon Ranch and Golf Club | 1000 Clubhouse Drive, New Castle | 800.613.2946 | lakotacanyonranch.com/golf-course
RED SKY RANCH AND GOLF CLUB
This ultra posh private club has two golf courses, one designed by Greg Norman and the other by Tom Fazio. The courses, which are ranked among the best mountain courses in Colorado, can only be played by members and guests staying at one of the club’s partner properties in nearby Beaver Creek and Vail. The course you’ll play depends upon a rotation, because members play one course and hotel guests play the other. Red Sky Ranch is mountain gold at its finest with hero drives to fairways far below you. Putts go away from the mountain and most often the greens are lightning fast. The surround-views are spectacular on both courses.
The Fazio course plays through sage-covered hills, aspen forests and circles a high country lake. The large first cuts around many of the Fazio greens could become your best friends. The Norman course is more open, taking advantage of rugged rock outcroppings and gulches, through meadows filled with wildflowers in the summer.
Red Sky has two luxurious stone, wood and glass clubhouses, one for members by the Norman Course, and one for nonmembers that overlooks the Fazio course. SummerThyme, the restaurant at the guest clubhouse, is open during the day. Non-members can only dine at the Silver Sage in the member clubhouse in the evening.
Visit: Red Sky Golf Club, 376 Red Sky Road, Wolcott | 866.873.3759 | redskygolfclub.com
Hit the 19th hole
By Alex Hopkins
No game of golf is complete without a stop at the clubhouse for a cold beverage. Here are some post-play drinks sure to hit the spot.
Remington’s: Take in the San Juan Mountains as you sit a spell at this patio overlooking the Nicklaus Design Championship Golf Course. “The view is probably one of the best on the Western slope,” says Rick Krippen, food and beverage manager. While gazing into the open Front Range, order fresh, local fare such as Rocky Mountain beef and pair it with a glass of wine from Colorado vintners. Pure. Bliss. Signature drink: Montrose Mule, featuring ginger beer, vodka and lemon sprinkled on top.
Bridges Golf and Country Club, Montrose | montrosebridges.com | 970.252.1119 x 2
Keys on the Green: Originally completed in 1925 and situated along Upper Bear Creek, this Colorado-style clubhouse features a stunning four-sided fireplace and a fine menu (not to mention plenty of elk sightings). Feel the warm Colorado breeze as you relax on the upstairs patio while sipping one of the bar’s many popular cocktails. Signature drink: Grapefruit Martini, made with Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka and Cointreau.
Evergreen Golf Course, Evergreen | keysonthegreen.net | 720.865.3438
Ravenna: The cuisine at this scenic establishment never goes out of style with its classic preparation techniques. Each dish is crafted from locally-sourced and sustainable products, and the 360-degree views of sites such as Pike National Forest and the Platte River only emphasize the enticing eats. Signature drink: Fruit Basket, a mix of Peach Schnapps, fresh orange juice and Paddy Spiced Apple Whiskey.
The Club at Ravenna, Littleton | ravennagolf.com | 720.956.1600
Ironbridge: Come rain or shine, this modern-style grill’s year-round mission is to provide visitors with a memorable dining experience, even if that means canvassing off the patio throughout the winter. Open less than a year, the grill boasts hardwood floors and large deck complete with a vibrant garden. The menu is completely organic, and, for the protein-craving golfer, most of the meat is locally sourced. Signature drink: Stuffed Martini, featuring premium vodka and blue cheese-stuffed olives.
Ironbridge Golf Club, Glenwood Springs | ironbridgeclub.com | 970.384.0630