Rio Grande Club in South Fork: Golf club for all seasons is southern Colorado's pearl
SOUTH FORK, Colo. -- The first time developers of The Rio Grande Club jumped the barbed-wire fences to envision what would become scenic fairways, they were greeted by 12 longhorns.
The future fairways were part of the Bar BR Ranch and the inhabitants weren't ready to leave just yet. It was 1999.
This summer, the vision will be realized and the longhorns missing when the $10-million Rio Grande Club, an 18-hole championship golf course and club facility, opens the complete layout. Golfers were able to enjoy the back nine holes last summer, while awaiting construction of a couple of lengthy bridges which span the Rio Grande on the front nine.
Perhaps Rio Grande Club spokesman and Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Dow Finsterwald, former head pro at The Broadmoor, summed it up best: "With world-class golf, Gold Medal fishing and outstanding skiing 20 minutes away, this is the club for all seasons."
Designed by Ric Buckton of Denver-based Redstone Golf, it was first named Wolf Creek Golf Club. It measures 7,155 yards from the back tees, includes Rio Grande River access for fishing and has seven and a half miles of cart path winding through towering Ponderosa pines, scrub oak and aspens, creating picturesque hikes for the non-golfer.
"I think it will be one of the most uniquely varied golf courses in Colorado," said John Prestwich, principal partner of Redstone.
"Nature is on display here," said Todd Small, Director of Golf. "The course uses the valley, the Rio Grande, Alder Creek and climbs on the back nine into the aspens and pines and borders the Rio Grande National Forest."
Anyone who knows anything about south-central Colorado knows there's a laid-back lifestyle free of traffic jams, there's spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery and there's countless winter and summer recreational opportunities including fishing, skiing, hiking, camping and biking.
Just up the road toward Creede there's one of the most impressive geological wonders in the world -- Wheeler Geological Area. Teddy Roosevelt thought the place was so special he asked the founding fathers of the National Park Service and Forest Service to always keep it remote.
The only thing missing here in a true remote Colorado setting was a championship golf course.
The links land of Rio Grande Club is nature at its best as the course ranges in elevation from 8,130 to 8,590 feet. One will find mature trees, rugged rock formations and flat terrain as six holes venture through meadows with the Rio Grande coming into play laterally as well as crossing.
The journey begins with an 80-foot tee-shot drop to the No. 1 fairway, with a stone wall complete with chimney-rock formations running down the entire right side. The golfer then plays traditional golf in an open meadow, dodging only wetlands and ponds before reaching the stretch of Rio Grande that's part of the club.
Holes 3-8 negotiate the river with the par-3, 193-yard No. 6 requiring a forced carry over the rushing waters. The 14th could be the most picturesque, however, as Alder Creek snakes around it, giving this 207-yarder a target look -- anything wild will be wet. There's a small bail-out area just short and right of the green.
The downhill 18th, a 572-yard par 5, is guarded by a 2.5-acre lake and it is tough to hit if you draw a downhill lie. The San Juan Mountains provide the scenery and backdrop.
The log-cabin styled clubhouse, currently under construction, will be approximately 25,000-square feet. It will feature a dining room and lounge, spa-fitness facilities, conference rooms, business center, complete pro shop and men's and women's locker rooms. Driving range, practice chipping area and practice putting green are also on-site.
"Golfers love the scenery," said Small. "It's spectacular. Redstone did a great job of using the lay of the land -- all the distinct features were used. It can be difficult with so much nature, but nature also acts as a buffer. You must pay attention to the wetlands, creeks, the river -- there are many places to get in trouble."
"The bentgrass greens are very fair and range in size to 6,500-square feet -- only a few have severe undulations, but on these, the pin placements can be tough," he said.
Fishing at The Rio Grande Club
The Rio Grande River is home to some of the best trout fishing in the state. The Club has private access to a one-mile stretch and the second phase of development includes a 1,750-square foot fishing cabin with river frontage and an outfitting center to service the fishing initiative.
July 1, 2002