Diamonds in the rough: 10 hidden-gem golf courses in Colorado
DELTA, Colo. -- Devil's Thumb Golf Club, Colorado's latest award-winner, is not your typical Rocky Mountain-high layout. In fact, it might fit better in the flourishing St. George, Utah golf terrain.
"The strength of Devil's Thumb is the site itself," said Rick Phelps, who designed this 7,176-yard, par-72 moonscape that has been named 2002's No. 2 Best New Affordable Public golf course in America by Golf Digest.
Devil's Thumb is the essence of a hidden gem, a diamond in the rough. Because of its boondocks location, a distant 41 miles down U.S. 50 from Grand Junction and Interstate 70, this new layout is still waiting to be discovered with its views of the San Juan and West Elk Mountains and the Grand Mesa.
"I was a little bit surprised by the award," said Phelps. "You never know how many Golf Digest raters got to play the golf course, especially since it is out of the way. I really didn't have an idea, but I was hopeful it would be honored. You hear a lot of architects say awards aren't a big deal, that they are political, but I think awards have become a big deal."
Here's a capsule look at 10 hidden gems of Colorado. This list just scratches the surface of the many diamonds in the rough found is the Rocky Mountain state.
Devil's Thumb Golf Club, Delta
Situated on a plateau with panoramic distant views, Devil's Thumb Golf Club is a stark contrast from the mountain golf you find on the I-70 golf corridor in Keystone, Breckenridge or Silverthorne.
"This is such an odd place for Colorado, but it is beautiful," Phelps said. "The northeast view brings in the Adobe Hills, which reminds me of the surface of moon, but is just a combination of the terrain that made it interesting to me. It's one of the truest desert-style courses you will find in Colorado."
Strategy is paramount at Devil's Thumb, owned by the city of Delta, where you will find what many traditional golf course devotees clamor about -- no-frills golf.
Comparisons to The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction? Devil's Thumb is the kind of golf course you feel comfortable pulling up to in a 1985 Chevy pickup with clubs in the bed. Redlands Mesa is more upscale -- you won't be out of place in your brand-new Lincoln SUV. Which do you prefer?
Grandote Peaks Golf Club, LaVeta
Opened in 1986 and designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, Grandote Peaks Golf Club is stunning, challenging and another diamond located in the boondocks of Huerfano County, south of Pueblo.
You will find wide-open holes and tight tests where you have to hit precise drives to be in position for the approach. There's the cobble-strewn Cucharas River to traverse and a lake to negotiate on the ninth and 18th holes.
Walking Stick Golf Course, Pueblo
City-owned since 1991, Walking Stick Golf Course has won its share of awards, too.
GolfWeb once ranked it No. 10 Most Affordable Public Golf Course in America. In 1995 Golf Digest gave it four stars and its Top 5 ranking in value and difficulty.
It's a beautifully maintained layout in non-drought years and a formidable challenge with bumps and humps in rolling fairways and many arroyos that snake through the property. The bentgrass greens get lots of play and feature contours and roller-coaster rides. This is one busy golf course so be sure and call before you go.
Walking Stick, designed by Arthur Hills and Keith Foster, is named for its abundance of native cholla (cacti) which when dead and dried has a skeleton that can resemble a walking stick or cane.
Battlement Mesa Golf Club, Battlement Mesa
Built on a mesa overlooking the Colorado River and halfway between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction on I-70, sits Battlement Mesa Golf Club, a 1988 gem by the popular Houston design firm of Joe Finger and Ken Dye. Play up and along ridge lines for a challenging round that will keep you coming back.
Try to stay focused on No. 18, a tough 445-yard par-4 that normally plays into the wind. A narrow tee-shot landing area, water right and a two-tiered green awaits amidst towering mountain scenery.
Crested Butte Country Club, Crested Butte
Just imagine the panorama at the par-4 13th, a breath-taking downhill 456-yard Robert Trent Jones Jr. beauty at Crested Butte. A sign reminds you are at 9,003 feet above sea level and to your right is towering Mount Crested Butte. The valley floor spreads out like the wingspan of an eagle -- your scene off to the left.
That's just a smidgen of the beauty. How about Jones' strategically-placed, fingered, clover-leaf bunkers, some jutting into tall native grasses creating beautiful frames for many shots?
It was first called Skyland Country Club when it opened in 1984. Now it's polished-up with a million-dollar makeover, a remodeled clubhouse and a high-end course that's away from the crowds of Metro Denver, but close enough for a weekend getaway from any town in Colorado.
Patty Jewett Golf Course, Colorado Springs
If you ever want to experience golf like it was in 1898, Patty Jewett Golf Course, the third oldest golf course west of the Mississippi, is the closest thing you can find in Colorado. And you will have great views of Pikes Peak throughout the course.
Designed by Willie Campbell, it has been a city-owned since 1919 and annually hosts the Pikes Peak Amateur, won by Hale Irwin in 1965. Some holes present strategic doglegs wrapped around cottonwoods and over ponds, while No. 18 requires brut strength and a water crossing.
Grand Lake Golf Course, Grand Lake
Take in the view -- the Never Summer Wilderness, Mount Baldy, Arapho National Forest and the frequent elk sighting. It's all here at Grand Lake Golf Course, built at 8,420 feet in 1964 by Dick Phelps.
Towering pines close in on you making this a tight test of golf, but the scenery will make you forget all those treks into the lodgepoles looking for that Pro V1. You will get an additional 20-percent carry at this altitude, but it's too narrow to use the driver all day long.
Grand Lake, just down curvy Highway 34 from Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, is a fisherman's paradise, and many golfer's head for the lake after a morning round.
Dalton Ranch & Golf Club, Durango
Last summer's serious fire in Durango came all too close to Dalton Ranch & Golf Club. A photo in Golfweek showed a greenskeeper on a mower with smoke billowing in the background.
A 1993 Ken Dye design, Dalton Ranch has spectacular scenery. Five holes border the Animas River and the red cliffs of the surrounding San Juan Mountains come alive with a red-hued glow late in the day that will make you stop and gaze.
You will enjoy the finishing holes, too. No. 18 skirts the Animas River and has a lake to the right. Typical of Dye courses, head pro Fal Wood says it is the toughest second-shot course he's ever played. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs by the course.
Cattails Golf Club, Alamosa
When you drive into the San Luis Valley in far south-central Colorado, few folks know it is the world's largest high-mountain valley. Few know about the frequent UFO sightings. And few know about Alamosa's Cattails Golf Club.
Right here along the Rio Grande River is a true hidden gem. Cattails was born as a fun, but plain nine-hole course, but in 1991 Dick Phelps came to town and sculpted a great back nine that includes river wetlands, seclusion, wildlife, cottonwood trees and massive views of 14,000-foot Mount Blanca.
This huge valley is famous for growing carrots, potatoes and Coors barley. In summer you will see as many Texas white license plates as green ones as tourists pass through on the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, San Juan Mountains, Rio Grande National Forest and sandhill crane watching.
Trinidad Golf Course, Trinidad
Study the history of Trinidad and you just might discover visits from Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and even a stint by Bat Masterson as marshal of this scenic coal-mining town back in 1882.
Just over Raton Pass from New Mexico, this olden-day stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail also got an early douse of golf. The municipal Trinidad Golf Course is a nifty nine-holer that dates back to 1915 -- fourth oldest golf course in Colorado.
Although the architect is unknown, some speculate it was designed by Donald Ross or one of his crewman while working on Broadmoor East. You will see Ross traits in the greens -- some have false fronts and some are bowled, making this short course a challenge.
Take in the view on the downhill par-4 No. 3 -- that spectacular panorama includes the Spanish Peaks, Sangre de Cristos and Fisher's Peak.
December 18, 2002