The mountain West, which incorporates the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Sierra Nevadas of California, Utah and upward to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, is quite possibly the most diverse outdoor playground in the United States. Literally every kind of recreation is found here, ranging from winter skiing and white-water rafting to horseback riding, hiking, fishing and, of course, golf. In the last few years, the ski industry has taken advantage of what once were strictly wintertime vacation havens that stood empty in the summer months, and built golf courses to offset the busy snowy seasons. The result of this infusion is a plethora of split-personality resort destinations where thrill-seekers can ski in the winter and golf in the summer, yet eat and sleep in the same place.
No two destinations in the mountain West are anywhere near the same. High in the Rockies, golfers can expect thin air and dramatic elevation changes as well as deep, dense tree lines that frame several hole boundaries. The "mile-high" atmosphere provides a higher and faster ballflight, so golfers ought not to be surprised if they find an extra 10 or 15 yards off the tee. Out farther west, golfers will encounter the occasional hidden creek, lake or waterfall as they traverse some of America's most beautiful forest scenery. In Utah, the Mars-like red rocks and windswept rock formations yield some golf challenges that not only beckon discerning golfers but leave them reeling over the stark contrasts between the harsh rocks and smooth, rolling turf.
In the California-Nevada Sierra Mountains, golfers can expect an entirely different personality in their golf experience. For starters, the personality out West is much less rugged, and golf courses are indicative of a more relaxing and serene persona. Places like Lake Tahoe feature golf courses and accommodations known worldwide for their attention to guest service, as well as often flawless course conditioning.
The resort town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, may appear way off a beaten path, but for golfers who have been there, they know it's worth the trek. Whether its water recreation, hiking or relaxing indoors or outdoors at the hotel, there's always plenty to do here, including taking a stab on the only moveable island green in the world.
And finally, the rock formations of amazing destinations like St. George in Utah are truly unlike anywhere on earth. Hard to believe at first, but the ribbons of green grass that sprawl through and around bare, red canyon walls provide some of the most rollicking golf challenges in the United States. Dense forest takes a back seat in this region, and one can expect to find several tributes to local Native American nations, many of whom to this day believe strongly in the mystical powers of rock formations that change colors as the sun wanes to set. Travelers can choose between dramatic challenges or dramatic views–or, a lot of both. Without a doubt, this amazing region is a golfer's paradise and not to be missed.
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Top 5 Jim Engh Courses You Can Play
1 The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa (Grand Junction, Colo.)–Striking images of the Colorado National Monument.
2 Fossil Trace Golf Club (Golden, Colo.)–Twenty-foot-high sandstone pillars dot the spectacular and unique 12th fairway.
3 Red Hawk Ridge Golf Course (Castle Rock, Colo.)–Sweeping views of the Colorado Rockies, wide fairways, moguls and a 528-yard par-4.
4 The Snowmass Club (Snowmass, Colo.)–A complete makeover of the 1980 Palmer-Seay layout with 360-degree panoramas of the Elk Mountain Range.
5 Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club (New Castle, Colo.)–Bomb drives 100 feet downhill or across ridge lines from seven tee boxes sitting on lofty, expansive stone walls.
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When To Go
We're talking about the mountains here, so even the most soft-heeled traveler knows that a golfing trip to the Rockies or High Sierra should avoid the winter months. That being said, spring through fall pull out all the stops, providing Eden-like conditions. Watch out for summer lightning storms–heed the warning and find shelter immediately. And don't be surprised by sudden turns in weather; at Edgewood Tahoe, the course has seen flurries every month of the year.
Denver, Colo. (High/Low _¡F)
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For Rockies destinations, fly into Denver International. Only 150 miles separate you from the tarmac and the mountain resort towns. For access to Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, Wash., is your best bet, lying a mere 40 miles to the west of the Idaho resort town. The golf sites of South Lake Tahoe, Carson City and Truckee are best reached via Reno. The north shore of Lake Tahoe is but a 35-mile drive from downtown. _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê
Colorado Golf Information
Coeur d'Alene Visitors Bureau
Golf The High Sierra
Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority
Truckee Visitors Authority
Carson Valley Visitors Authority
Reno Convention/Visitors Bureau
Look Out For...
#18, the Broadmoor (East)
On this beast of a finishing hole, the accomplished player strokes a slight fade off the tee box, but that's the easy part.
"It's imperative to keep the ball below the hole because the green slopes from back to front and is undulating," says The Broadmoor's director of golf Russ Miller. "Anything over the green usually means bogey for the recreational golfer. Par is cause for celebration."
At the 1959 U.S. Amateur, Jack Nicklaus and Charlie Coe reached the 18th tee box all square. Nicklaus hit 20 feet below the hole, but Coe made a tactical error. His approach flew the green, creating a daunting recovery back down the slope. Miraculously, Coe chipped his third stiff–a gimme. Nicklaus, however, calmly stroked in his birdie putt, winning his first major one-up. _Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê_Ê
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For travelers who need a break between rounds and who wish to put a little thrill into their sightseeing of the mountain West, consider the following once-in-a-lifetime, side-trip activities.
From seasoned, firsthand accounts, the most magnificent way to see the wonders of Colorado is from high in the sky in a hot-air balloon. Fair Winds, based out of Boulder, offers captivating and invigorating hot-air balloon rides year-round, replete with views and scenery unlike anywhere else (www.fairwindsinc.com).
Hiking enthusiasts will find tread nirvana in the mountain West, especially in Utah's Bryce Canyon and its thousands of weather-worn spires that rise above towering pines. As the sun reflects, so do the changing colors in the rocks, making Bryce Canyon one of the most beautiful places in the entire country.
In the Sierra Nevada, explore the beautiful Truckee River on an exciting white-water rafting expedition with the experts in white-water thrills. Tributary Whitewater Tours has several options from which to choose, ranging from serene to insane (www.whitewatertours.com).
The Perfect Day
8:00 am Breakfast in the Grand Lobby Cafe of the historic Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs (800-544-3998 or www.hotelcolorado.com). Opened in 1893, the Hotel Colorado is a true Wild West playground. Doc Holliday stayed here. So did Teddy Roosevelt. Add to your adventure by taking the train in from Denver–four hours of spectacular mountain scenery–and requesting one of the haunted rooms.
12:00 pm You're standing on the first tee of award-winning River Valley Ranch GC (970-963-3625, www.rvrgolf.com) in nearby Carbondale. Start your round with a solid shot over the white water of the Crystal River and strap yourself in for a rollicking ride. The back nine plays under the imposing shadow of Mount Sopris, one of Colorado's tallest peaks. The Jay Morrish design is a true favorite of locals. For feed, lunch in the clubhouse restaurant. Try the buffalo burger as you add up the day's tally. For post-round excitement, meet a local guide (the Hotel Colorado's concierge can help) and pull up your waders. It's time to wet your line in the world-famous Roaring Fork River. The Roaring Fork boasts more than 2,500 trout per mile, with an average length of 15 inches.
5:00 pm Unwind from the day's activities with a soak in the legendary hot spring-fed pool at the Hotel Colorado. For more than a century, pilgrims have traveled to the therapeutic 104-degree waters. Your back and your casting arm will thank you.
8:00 pm As darkness falls, enjoy the expansive Colorado night sky and reflect on a perfect Rocky Mountain golf day.
When playing in thin mountain air, it helps to tee the ball high to encourage a higher trajectory with as much carry as possible. But every golfer needs to pay attention when they use extra-length tees (www.pridegolftee.com). The USGA actually imposes a restriction on tee length, requiring that no tee exceed four inches. Also, a tee can't be designed to indicate line of play or influence movement on the ball. Brush-like tees are considered conforming, as long as they adhere to the same rules as wooden pegs.