It’s always a good time to plan your golf itinerary for a Colorado vacation. Personally, I like the Rockies in the summer, especially since the titanium in my back functions better when the temps are above 60 degrees! For me, there’s more to do than skiing and snowboarding in the winter, the summer has golf, fly fishing, balloon rides, hiking, river rafting, biking, boating, warm days, and cool evenings. Lastly, there’s hardly anything better than watching the sun go down over the mountains sitting in a hot tub with a Vanilla Porter from the Breckenridge Brewery at your side.
Golf’s better in the summer in the Rockies as well, and while it’s a short season, starting in June and ending up in early October, it’s sweet. The golf is hard to beat, especially west on I-70 out of Denver toward Vail, which I’ll cover in this post with the Colorado Rocky Mountain Golf Trail
Once you’re about an hour out of Denver and through the Eisenhower Pass at the Continental Divide, the first exit is Dillon, where you’ll find Keystone Ranch. Keystone has two 18 hole courses, the Ranch course and the River course, located in the White River National Forest. The Ranch course is a parkland style of course with moderate elevation change with lodge pole pines or sage meadows lining the fairways. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and is more open on the front side, with the back side more parkland style. The course is at 9,300 feet in elevation, so the ball really flies from the elevated tees. Great views of the Gore Range, overall, not as challenging as the River Course, but still worth playing, very well done. From the back tees, it’s 7,090 yards, 137 slope. The River Course was designed by Hurdzan-Fry with the front nine routed along the Snake River, and the back side, through tree lined fairways with a lot more elevation change than the Ranch. Extremely challenging, fun to play, and is around 6,900 yards, 132 slope from the back tees, great views of Lake Dillon, and the snow capped peaks.
The next exit west is Silverthorne, head north and the Raven at Three Peaks is just off the Interstate. The Raven is just in a fantastic setting and is a great mountain style golf course as well. From the back tees, it’s 7400 yards with a 136 slope, and the scenery with the Gore Mountain Range in the background is stunning. It was designed by Hurzdan / Fry and Tom Lehman, All the holes are named after old mines or mining claims in the area and there’s a lot of wildlife especially in the late afternoon. We’ve seen osprey and deer, and hear there’s been elk and moose. The routing has a good amount of elevation change to it with elevated tees, greens raised, or in small coves, a number of holes play through the pine and aspen groves, and are bordered by wetlands and trout streams. It’s just a superb golf experience throughout, very well conditioned, with excellent service.
Heading west to the next exit is Copper Creek, probably the least expensive, and least dramatic of the other mountain courses in the area. It was designed by Pete and Perry Dye and from the tips the course is 6,094 yards, 67.6/124 ratings, very short considering the altitude advantage here. Supposed to be the highest elevation championship golf course in the US, and while it’s challenging, is not the sternest test of golf you’ll find around here. It’s a mix of links and mountain style holes with great views of the 10 Mile Range, and a good relaxing course to play in a beautiful setting. The front nine is a bit target golf with tight approach shots, and driving holes, while the back nine is more traditional and offers great views of the surrounding mountains and double diamond ski slopes of East Copper Mountain.
If you like to venture 30 minutes south to Breckenridge, you’ll find an excellent Jack Nicklaus design as part of Breckenridge Golf Club, actually a muni, but you won’t believe it after playing the course. There’s three nines, the Bear, The Beaver, opened for play in 1985, the Elk in 2001. From the Nicklaus Tees on the Elk / Beaver it’s 7145 yards with a course rating of 73.5, and a slope of 151. From the Nicklaus Tees on the Beaver/Bear rotation, the course plays 7,261 yards and has a course rating of 73.9 with a slope rating of 147. But remember, you’re at 9300 feet, so the ball flies further….further off course for me! The course is routed through the mountains and valleys heavy forests and streams, in fact water comes into play on more than half of the holes. The Elk nine offers more elevation change than the Bear and Beaver nines, but all three nines are a treat to play. It’s a classic mountain golf experience, the course is always in good shape, and there’s nothing about it that will remind you of your muni back home.
Further west now to the Vail Golf Club, it is the golf course you notice on the south side of I-70 as you’re coming into the Vail Valley from Denver. It’s a fairly flat course at the base of the Gore Mountain Range, at an elevation of 8,200 feet surrounded by beautiful scenery. Fairly mundane golf course, straightforward, if you took it out of its setting, not sure it would be anything special. It was designed by Ben Krueger in the 1960′s, classic traditional style of course with tree lined fairways, well bunkered greens, with streams and ponds to contend with around the layout. From the tips the course plays to 7,024 yards, par 71, 70.8 course rating, and a 121 slope. It’s owned and operated by the Vail Parks and Rec, and is one of the more reasonably priced golf courses in the entire area. Well maintained, lots of slow tourists in the summer, beautiful to play in the early Fall.
Eagle Vail is one of the lower priced alternatives in the Vail Valley. The course plays to just 6,590 yards, 131 slope, and has major elevation change through the layout with great views of the Eagle River. The course was designed by Devlin/Von Hagge and is a hilly, parkland style of course with elevated tees and greens. The front nine is mostly flat along the valley floor, playing over the Eagle River a couple of times, while the back nine runs up into the hills through aspen, lodge pole pine, and firtree lined and tight fairways. A couple of the holes are tricked up, maybe a little quirky, but overall a nice experience for the money.
The Beaver Creek Golf Club is in the town of Beaver Creek at 8,500 feet above sea level, and is a truly scenic and tight course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, playing to 6,784 yards from the tips with a tough 140 slope rating. Beaver Creek runs through the course and impacts play on a number of holes, and there’s a 500 elevation drop on the course from its highest point to the lowest. Great experience overall, wonderful conditioning, and beautiful environment. Accuracy and course management are rewarded here, the course is difficult with its slopes and elevation change, and numerous water holes, but not much in the way of sand. Post round, head to the Gashouse, just down the road in Edwards for some great grub.
Sonnenalp is in Edwards, the golf course is a few miles from the Sonnenalp hotel, and is a open, links type of layout through the valley with some elevation change. It was designed by Bob Cupp and Jay Morrish in the early 1980’s, and plays to only 6,482 yards from the back tees, 139 slope. Beautiful course, routed through and around open meadows, streams and sagebrush lined fairways. Great conditioning, enjoyable to play, a little on the expensive side.
Cordillera has three championship courses, and one short course, with elevation change overall from 7,150 feet to 9,100 feet above sea level, and is mountain golf at its finest. The Mountain course was designed by Hale Irwin, and is 7,457 yards, 147 slope from the back tees, but has four other sets of tees down to 5200 yards. The course has a rugged feel to it, with hilly and sloping tight tree-lined fairways, playing to well guarded small greens, and is an extreme challenge, no matter which tee you play from. The Summit course is 7,530 yards, 137 slope, and was designed by Jack Nicklaus, routed literally over a ridge area at the top of the mountain. It’s more open and link-like with tall heather bordering the fairways, and like Nicklaus, plenty of bunkers, and seriously fast and undulating greens. The Valley course runs along the valley floor and is the easiest of the three courses, and was designed by Tom Fazio, playing to 7,091 yards, 138 slope from the back tees. Fantastic views all around from all the courses, impeccable service, beautiful, first class facilities, and as you would expect, expensive.
Red Sky is a large upscale resort real estate development in Wolcott, Colorado – 15 minutes west of Beaver Creek, and 20 minutes east of the
Vail/Eagle County Airport. Two golf courses here, a Norman and a Fazio, but you have to be a guest of the Vail Resorts to play here. The private club members and the resort guests alternate courses each day. The Fazio course can play to 7,113 yards, 133 slope from the black tees, but there are three other tee box selections. There’s three holes wrapping around a lake on the front nine as it winds up and then back down the hills with good change in elevation, and sage bordered fairways, with views of Vail’s back bowls. The Norman course is rugged, longer, and more difficult at 7,580 yards and 144 slope from the black tees. It’s routed through the natural rock, arroyos, and mountain vegetation with good elevation change as well, and a very challenging course from any tee box. Both excellent course, in top conditions, service and amenities over the top, and so are the prices.
Eagle Ranch Golf Course was designed by Arnold Palmer with an overall yardage of 7,500 yards and a slope of 141 from the tips. It’s located just west of Vail in the Sawatch Mountains in the Brush Creek Valley. The course is a combination mountain type holes, and some open links style holes. The fairways are open and forgiving, and the greens are on the large side with good speed, and undulations. There is a stream that runs along most of the holes and there are ponds on many of the holes as well, along with OB. Good condition throughout, and excellent guest service. Typical of Palmer, there’s your share of risk/reward type shots. An enjoyable experience overall.
Gypsum Creek is just off I-70, about 35 minutes west of Vail, and is a good economical alternative to the high priced resort courses in the area. It’s a real estate development course, and the homes do infringe a bit on the beauty of the setting, but aren’t a big distraction. Great views at 6,320 feet in elevation, and the course plays to only 6,980 yards. There are some flat, boring holes, but there are a few which go over the top, like #8, par 3, 164 yards to an elevated green. Every hole is different here, it is not walkable, the course takes you through some rugged terrain, along to some open meadow type layout. The greens tend to be small, slightly undulating, and very fast at least on the day we played, an the course was in reasonably good condition.