In Durango, Colorado, Dalton Ranch Golf Club's final holes light up the Animas River Valley
DURANGO, Colo. -- Near sunset on the Dalton Ranch Golf Club's final holes, the Animas River Valley lights up.
The red cliffs of the surrounding San Juan Mountains come alive with a sangre-hued glow that will make you stop and look on the par-5 16th, then turning back toward the clubhouse the Animas River lines the left border with another scene you won't forget.
Opened in July 1993, Dalton Ranch Golf Club was an alfalfa field before Ken Dye of Pinon Hills and Paa-Ko Ridge fame, designed this 6,934-yard par 72 layout in the stunning Animas Valley just six miles north of Durango. Even the touristy Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs by the course.
Dye moved 800,000 cubic yards of dirt and created a bundle of mounds spread throughout the course. At first, many of the mounds were covered in thick fescue. Golfers soon voiced displeasure over that. It was just too tough. Today, few mounds still have the deep grass, but typical of Dye, the greens are elevated and drop significantly to the bunkers.
"Even though the fairways are wide, they narrow closer to the greens," said Fal Wood, Dalton Ranch Golf Club's head professional. "It's the toughest second-shot course I've ever played."
Many approach shots will look promising, only to be a fraction short, taking dramatic dives left or right, down into the deep sand traps.
"I think the first seven holes are very fair," said Wood, "but Nos. 8-12 present a tough stretch. If you can keep your score in check on those holes you can post a good number. The back tees on the par threes are the meat of the course. And even though Dye is known for very tough, undulating greens, we have only five greens that are like that. The rest are not so tricky."
No. 14, the 156-yard par-3, will test you. The two-tiered figure-eight shaped green is diagonally placed behind a pond. "It's one of the best par-three holes I've ever seen," Wood said.
Dalton Ranch Golf Club's 17th is only 308 yards, bending left with the river on the left. A nice draw will put you in birdie range.
"The 308-yard 17th reminded me a great deal of the 18th at Pebble Beach, if shortened to a par 4, because of the Animas River running down the left side. Ken Dye has designed and built a course not only of great beauty, but of considerable excitement," said one visitor. "In short, every hole was unique and well thought out."
You finish with a 408-yard beauty. The landing area looks tiny from the tee. Too far left and the river will defeat you, but too far right and there's water shaped like a question mark, which surrounds the right side of the green and continues all the way behind it.
Dalton Ranch is open mid-March through November 1, but it doesn't close because of bitter cold. It closes because the elk, up to 1,000 of them, descend on the golf course at the first indication of hunting season. The staff has to protect the golf course.
"If we just put up fences around the greens the elk would tear them down to get to the grass," Wood said. "So we cover the greens with tarps, so the elk can't see the grass and we also put up fences."
July 1, 2002