August Reporter’s Notebook: Colorado Road Trips To Great Plains, Red Rocks, Mountain Splendor

By David R. Holland, Senior Writer

Wild Horse Golf CourseDENVER, CO -- Colorado is the unmistakable jewel of the Rocky Mountains when it comes to golf, but the state is surrounded by excellent golf travel opportunities -- Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico have scenic wonders that blend with challenging golf courses. And even Kansas and Nebraska have a few award-winners that draw travel golfers.

So, if you have teed it up at all 250 Colorado courses, all one has to do is drive a Rocky Mountain or High Plains highway past the state line. Here's a quick peek at some travel golf opportunities and current construction projects in the states that border Colorado.

Prairie Links in Nebraska

Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen is No. 1 on GolfWeek's list of modern golf courses, but it's private. Befriend a member and make the drive to this Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore designed prize routed among the rolling terrain and sand hills in north-central Nebraska. It's only a five-hour drive from Denver.

The Nebraska gem you can play is Wild Horse Golf Course in Gothenburg, a grassy-prairie mecca layed out in minimalist excellence only 297 miles from Denver. You might not have heard about it, but golf course architecture aficionados are raving about its 300 acres, Scottish-Irish links-style and unplayable rough. It's a 1998 design by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor and only $30 on weekdays and $33 on weekends.

In the planning stages: The Nebraska Alumni Association has drawn up plans for a new 27-hole golf complex on the northwest edge of Lincoln. It's just part of a boom in Big 12 golf courses which includes the newly opened Bear Ridge Golf Course in Waco, Texas, home to the Baylor Bears.

Also planned are new courses at The University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, who hired Tom Doak to design a course many think could be on Golf Digest's 2003 list of Best New Affordable Courses in the USA.

The Cornhuskers' new layout will be called Nebraska National and hopes to include a research laboratory for the university's well-regarded turfgrass research study program. It will also serve as headquarters for the Nebraska Golf Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Golf Association, the Nebraska Section of the PGA and the Nebraska Women's Amateur Golf Association.

In Kearney, The Links at Craneview is projected to be the third golf course to open in the past six years in the city. Meadowlark Hills opened in 1995 and the executive-length Loper Links in 2000.

Kansas Plains Not At All Plain

The private prize in Kansas is Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson -- host to this year's 57th U.S. Women's Championship. But the top daily-fee course in the state is Colbert Hills in Manhattan, Kansas State's home course.

Colbert Hills was designed by Jim Colbert and Jeff Brauer and locals call it the "Big Course". They also call the back tees the "bruiser tees," measuring a 7,525 yards (www.colberthills.com).

Utah Shines Bright

Utah is much more serious about golf these days with the rise of the St. George area as a golf destination, but Salt Lake City is also a major draw. Golf Digest drew lots of second looks in 1998 when it ranked the top golf cities in the nation -- Salt Lake City was placed ahead of Orlando, San Diego and Phoenix.

St. George is red-rock heaven. It's only 120 miles north of Las Vegas and it is the gateway to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon.

Sunbrook Golf Club, Oasis Golf Club, Entrada at Snow Canyon, Sky Mountain Golf Club and Green Spring Golf Club are the must plays.

And new construction is healthy. Johnny Miller is designing Outlaw Ridge Resort in Hurricane in Southern Utah. It's a housing community and hotel, spa and tennis center. Two 18-hole Johnny Miller Signature Golf Courses will surround the resort. Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young is one of the principals.

In Park City, www.parkcitygolf.com, the buzz is about five planned championship 18-hole golf courses -- part of The Pete Dye Canyon Golf Trail, that includes Promontory, which opened its first nine holes this summer. It traverses sagebrush meadows and rolling hills with panoramic views of the Wasatch Mountains – home to Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons and Utah Olympic Park.

Promontory continues in to 2006 with The Jack Nicklaus Valley Golf Trail. These signature layouts include an area called Painted Valley. If the golf demand is sufficient in all these projects, Promontory (www.promontoryclub.com) has approval for up to three more courses based on long-term need.

The Ranches Country Club, an 18-hole, championship course, is projected for open play this summer near Lehi. Designed by Ron Garl, a Florida-based golf course architect, the course has natural rolling topography. The course is 20 miles from Provo, and 25-40 miles from Salt Lake City.

New Mexico Layouts Unite

Golf on the Santa Fe Trail -- lovers of the west will rank this marketing unification over Louisiana's Audubon Trail any day. New Mexico has better scenery and weather. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama has eight courses and 378 holes.

The Santa Fe Trail was developed 181 years ago to encourage trade with the Spanish, but today you can play seven of New Mexico's best courses on this trail -- Paa-Ko Ridge, Twin Warriors, Isleta Eagle, The Championship Course at the University of New Mexico, Santa Ana, Pueblo de Cochiti and Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe.

The marketing goal? Attract golfers from Colorado, Texas and Arizona.

A website is under development. For more information check out these web sites: Paa-Ko Ridge www.paakoridge.com, UNM Championship www.unm.edu/~golf, Isleta Eagle www.isletaeagle.com, Santa Ana www.santaanagolf.com, Twin Warriors www.twinwarriorsgolf.com, Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe golfnewmexico.com/marty_sanchez.htm, Pueblo de Cochiti www.golfnewmexico.com/pueblo_de_cochiti.htm.

Also check out New Mexico's brand-new Towa Golf Resort near Santa Fe and Pendaries, a hidden gem in the mountains, in this On The Road In New Mexico: Santa Fe report.

Wyoming: Go For More Than Golf

The golf course boom hasn't quite hit Wyoming, but you would never be disappointed in a trip to Jackson Hole to play at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Resort or Teton Pines. Sheridan's The Powder Horn is also highly rated.

Just a trip here for Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons is well worth the gasoline. But go the third week in September to catch the fall colors and the elk rut. Find a quiet spot anywhere in the Park in early morning or late evening and you will hear the bugles. Stay at Jackson Lake Lodge and you might not want to go home (www.jacksonlakelodge.com).

For more information on any of the courses mentioned above in Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Utah or New Mexico log on to TravelGolf.com's www.golfguideweb.com. Sorry, but the prospective new courses mentioned above won't be listed at this time.

Colorado Open

Eight past champions are returning to Colorado to play in the 2002 Colorado Open set for Thursday, Aug. 29 through Sunday, Sept. 1, at the Sonnenalp Golf Club in Vail.

These eight past champions include; Gary Longfellow (1974), James Blair (1983 and 1987), Chris Endres (1989), Bill Loeffler (1991 and 1993), Mike Zaremba (1995), Shane Bertsch (1998) Scott Petersen (2000) and last years' defending champion Brett Wayment.

Along with this elite group of past champions you will find former Denver Bronco Quarterback and Celebrity Tour player John Elway; Derek Tolan from Highlands Ranch who qualified to play in the U.S. Open; Buy.com and PGA Touring Professional Kelly Grunewald and Colorado's PGA Tour Professional Gary Hallberg. 2001 low Amateur Erik Billinger is also returning. Erik turned professional this year.

Tournament week proves to be a week full of excitement and adventure, starting with the Hewlett Packard 4-Ball Amateur Championship being held on Monday, August 26 at Beaver Creek Golf Course and continuing into a second day on Tuesday, August 27 at the Summit Course at Cordillera. Followed by the Colorado Open Pro-Am presented by Sloans Lake Managed Care and the Sonnenalp Resort of Vail being held on Wednesday, August 28, at the Sonnenalp Golf Club.

The Colorado Open has grown to become one of the most prestigious state opens in the country over its 39 years in existence.

The Colorado Open is one of several tournaments under the umbrella of Colorado Golf For Charities. Other events include the Colorado Women's Open and the Colorado Senior Open. For information about any of the 2001 Colorado Open Events, call 720-283-6736.

Bradley Wins Colorado PGA Assistants Title

Eric Bradley of Cotton Ranch Golf Club in Gypsum, birdied the first hole of a sudden death playoff against Jason Brandt of the Links at Highlands Ranch to win the Colorado Section PGA Assistants Championship held Wednesday and Thursday, July 24-25, at Pelican Lakes in Windsor.

After the 36 holes of regulation play, the two were tied for first with 9-under-par scores of 135. On the first playoff hole, both players were about 20 feet from the hole, but Bradley's putt found the cup, while Brandt narrowly missed.

Bradley will now represent the Colorado Section in the Taylor Made National Assistants Championship which will be contested at the PGA Golf Club, Port St. Lucie, FL the last week of October.

Taking Third Place with a 6-under-par 138 was the first round leader, Shane Wahbeh of Collindale Golf Course in Ft Collins.

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Senior Writer

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter at @David_R_Holland.


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