Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne: Golf in a rarified mountain setting

By Doug Saunders, Contributor

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. -- The faint hints of seasonal change have begun to grip the high country in the Colorado Rockies. The touch of cool in the air and the streaks of yellow in the aspen groves combine to create the best golf atmosphere imaginable. To play golf at 8,000 feet in the fall is to be enchanted by the setting and discovering why the best golf architects in the country all feel a special kinship to their creations in the rarified mountain settings.

Raven G.C. at Three Peaks
Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry redesigned the Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne, Colo.
Raven G.C. at Three PeaksRaven Golf Club at Three Peaks - 12th hole
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Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks

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The Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks is touted as the best mountain golf course in Colorado and even one of the best courses in the country. Towering forests of pine and aspen frame the rolling fairways and manicured greens on this scenic layout.

18 Holes | Public golf course | Par: 72 | 7413 yards | Book online | ... details »

Such is the case with the Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne, Colorado. The stunning layout is the final result of a joint design effort between British Open Champion and PGA Tour Player Tom Lehman and Dana Fry of the Hurdzan/Fry Design firm. This championship layout is the result of a $12 million redesign of an existing course, Eagles Nest, which was designed and built by Dick Phelps in 1986. But any similarities to the original course are restricted to merely the routing. Lehman and Fry took a careful blade to the land and carved out a stunning course to complement the fantastic views found here.

While many Tour players have their name connected to golf course designs, Lehman is one of the few who takes the effort seriously and gives a lot of input into the projects that he has been involved in. At the Raven at Three Peaks, Lehman visited the site eight times during the two-year construction phase.

"Dana Fry developed a very playable course to replace the old Eagle's Nest Course, and Tom Lehman added the challenge necessary to make it a great golf course. His input can be found everywhere, from the green slopes to bunker positions and depths," explained Wadsworth Construction Supervisor Scott Zeller, who was in charge at the Raven site.

The Raven at Three Peaks is located in the town of Silverthorne which is part of the Dillon-Frisco Corridor off of Interstate 70 just on the other side of the Eisenhower Tunnel. This region has grown tremendously in the last 10 years as this stretch of the Rockies is so accessible to not only Denver residents, but to travelers from the entire country. The rapid growth of the area certainly helped Intrawest Golf Management's decision to fund the major renovation of the Raven at Three Peaks.

The course stretches from 5,235 yards from the forward tees all the way to 7,413 from the tips and is an inviting course for any player.

The first thing that one notices is the ample size of the fairways on this bold looking golf course. The huge landing areas are very inviting and were a particular feature that Lehman felt was important.

"At this altitude, the ball goes farther and off line shots also go farther so we wanted to have wide fairways to help keep players on the course and not in the junk," Lehman explained.

By being kept in play, the designers then made a premium on approaches to the greens and the real challenge to scoring at the Raven at Three Peaks can be found on these undulating surfaces. There isn't a simple green to be found here and some severe slopes are obvious as you make your approaches. If you get your ball on the wrong side of the hole, three putts can be a distinct reality.

The front nine takes the player on a climb to the high points of the golf course and winds through the existing homes from the original housing development. After a sweeping downhill opening hole, the sense of size is very evident on the 546-yard par 5 2nd hole. There is ample room everywhere, but you want to keep to the left side of the fairway to give yourself a good look at the green which sits up on a rise and is well protected by bunkers.

There is a feature on the third tee that you must see. On the left side of the fairway is a 45-foot tall pole scaffolding that was built to preserve an enormous nest for a pair of Osprey eagles The nest was originally in a tree that was removed to make this dogleg right par 4 more dramatic. Thousands were spent to construct the tower and move the nest, which is over six feet across and had to be moved by a crane and a semi. The Osprey still live in this nest and the sight of them soaring out from their perch and over the landscape is an inspiring sight.

The front nine is all climb with the par 5 6th hole being the zenith. This 533 yard long hole is reachable in two, but you have to negotiate the numerous bunkers to set yourself up. This hole provides the best view of the Three Peaks for which the course is named. The commanding view and visually stunning hole make this one of the memorable holes on the front.

The par-4 ninth hole is a hole that seems to be found on every mountain course in Colorado. This 498-yard par 4 (yes, par 4) starts from an elevated tee and the hole drops off in front of you. This hole seems to be caught in an identity crisis. ‘Is it a great golf hole or a good ski run?' is what you will wonder as you stare down the huge drop off to the fairway below. This hole just screams for you to grip and rip for the green.

Throughout the golf course, the many bunkers are formidable challenges. Lehman and Fry wanted to recreate classic looking bunkers like those done by famous architect Alister MacKenzie, with deep furrowed edges and longish natural grass hanging at the edge of the sand. If you get into these you will also notice that these are very deep bunkers and they should be avoided as much as possible.

The back nine doesn't have the dramatic elevation changes of the front nine but still the course flows across distinctive mountain terrain that asks for the best of your golf game. Through these holes, the designer's awareness of the altitude that you are playing at is obvious as the holes stretch out. On this side, the par 5's run 599 yards and 601 yards long from the tips and the par 3's from the silver tees run 216 yards and 200 yards long.

The 11th is a monster par 5 that takes the concept of risk and reward to new heights. After tagging a drive towards the pin you end up at the edge of a lake that runs all the way to the front of the green. Your choice is to go for a 185-yard carry over the water from the slightly downhill lie or play away from the trouble to a lay-up area off to the left. The choice is tempting, as even if you go to the lay-up area you will still have to negotiate the water on your third shot. This is a great golf hole.

The Raven at Three Peaks puts together a great stretch of finishing holes with 16 being a sweeping downhill par 5 with a fantastic view of the Eagle River Valley, the daunting 431 yard par 4 17th that plays over a mountain stream and up into a serene aspen grove, and the final chapter at the Raven, an uphill par 4 finisher. These three holes are a handful, but are the kinds of holes that will make you want to come back and tackle them again.

Doug Saunders, Contributor

Doug Saunders has covered more than 20 major championships and his unique perspectives on the game have appeared in numerous publications including Golf World, GolfWeek, Golf Course Management, Golf Course News, Golfdom, and the USGA Golf Journal. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, California Golf Writers, and the Sierra Nevada Golf Course Superintendents Association.

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