The Ridge at Castle Pines North: Spacious Fairways, Devilish Approaches

By David R. Holland, Contributor

The Ridge at Castle Pines North is one highfalutin golf course. What designer Tom Weiskopf of Troon Golf has created here just might be the best public-use golf course in Colorado.

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Golf Magazine honored The Ridge as one of the "Top 10" new courses in its first year of operation. It is currently ranked No. 52 in the magazine's "Top 100" courses in America. Surely Weiskopf was a prophet when a few years ago he said the best golf courses since the 1930s will be built in the 1990s. The Ridge helps make his prophecy a reality.

The topography is that special kind of beauty you find in many front-range foothill locations -- sandstone rock formations, gambel oaks, Ponderosa pine, many varieties of wildlife and peeks at the Rocky Mountains.

Typical of some recent golf architect trends, The Ridge was designed to provide room for the environment. It's arranged in two huge loops with lots of natural space in-between. Wildlife corridors and gaps were left on the course to make way to migrating elk herds.

Weiskopf saved the most scenic tee for the last. From the 18th tee you will see sandstone monoliths and a gully, with a tee-shot carry of 170 yards to a safe landing.

"This could be one of the most interesting tee boxes I've ever seen," said Dan Smink of Denver. "What they have done here is use the topography nicely. I don't like to have a course stand out from the physical surroundings."

Actually the back tee box of the 18th is closed. It's even more interesting, but apparently there was a rock outcropping just a little too close.

"If someone pulls his tee shot it could hit the rocks and be dangerous coming back at the player," said Jack Small, interim facility manager. "So the superintendent and I have been trying to figure out a way to make it safer. We are thinking about enlarging the teeing area and put up railings, because the tee would look off in to the gully."

The course has two contrasting nines. The front is open and plays through open fairways and oaks. Then the back nine opens with a tight, Ponderosa pine-framed hole.

On many of the holes The Ridge has two faces. From the tee box one sees an angel -- wide open fairways with generous landing areas. On the approach shots, however, one sees the devil. Elevated greens with deep bunkers surround these greens, which are difficult bentgrass with lots of contours and some with two tiers.

"The course is in outstanding shape with quick greens," said Larry Domingo of Denver. "Arrowhead is probably more scenic, but this course is in better condition. In fact this is the best conditioned course I have seen and I've played them all in the Denver area."

Each hole is named in its yardage book -- Sunrise, Summer Snow, Pronghorn, Elk Crossing and On the Rocks. There's also holes with ski themes -- Nastar and Black Diamond. The Ridge measures more than 7,000 yards (par 71) from the back tees.

No. 2 could be your best birdie chance -- a par-5 at 541 yards, but the par-3 No. 4 is a downhill, 165-yarder with a huge two-tiered green. Figuring out what club to use when the pin is close to the front is a challenge. If you over-club and find the back of the green don't be surprised when you three-putt.

No. 6, named "The Narrows" is really fun. You gotta hit it straight -- off the fairway is dead. It's only 307 yards, all uphill, and big hitters will be tempted to go for it all. If that wasn't enough fun, the seventh, named "Calamity Jane" is really a formidable task. You have a 223-yard shot over a gully filled with oaks and sandstone boulders. Hit the green or count on a double bogey. The critter sitting on the sandstone rock won't even flinch when you come up short in his habitat.

From the fairway of the 8th hole you are on top of the mesa part of "The Ridge" where you can see south to 14,110-foot Pike's Peak and to Devil's Head and Mt. Evans in the west. Northward you can see downtown Denver.

No. 9, named "Nastar", is all downhill. It's a par-4, 476 yards, but your second shot downhill lie makes this the No. 1 handicap hole.

The signature hole is the par-4 15th. It's only 338 yards but there is 40-foot-high Ponderosa pine in the middle of the fairway. If you negotiate the tree correctly and zip by it, this hole is simple. If you hit the tree or come up behind it this hole isn't so simple.

No. 17, a par-3, 175-yarder, has a stone tower lurking behind the green and four bunkers guarding it -- a nice aesthetic setup to what you will see on the 18th tee.

The Ridge at Castle Pines North was opened in 1997 and averages 29,000 rounds a year.

"People tell me all the time that we are the best-kept secret in Colorado golf," Small said, who was head professional until Director of Golf Mark Kizzire resigned weeks ago. "We don't want that title. We don't want to be a secret."

"Our customers are 77 percent locals," Small said. "We hope to get more locals and hope we lose the title of being a well-kept secret. We like to think we are a private-upscale facility and we want people to come out and be a member for a day.

"Even though the back nine is more scenic," Small said, "I think the front nine is the more challenging test of golf."

"I like to walk when I play golf," Smink said. "You can't walk this course and the rule to keep carts on the path promotes slower play."

Actually, Golf Magazine's recent survey of slow play rates "carts on path only" as the No. 7 cause of slow play today. However, it sure keeps those fairways at The Ridge looking nice.

The amenities for your $100 (twilight fee is $65) ticket includes a bag drop (someone will greet you and take your bag), range, putting area (perfect bentgrass!), bag tag and yardage book. The starter will come get you at the range and start you on a nine-minute tee-off interval. She will also give you a briefing about etiquette, remind you of keeping the pace of play quick and where you will find yardage markers on the course.

The Ridge Restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, gets lots of non-golfers in for the view and outside patio seating.

Directions: From Denver: I-25 south to exit #188 (Castle Pines Parkway). Right on Castle Pines Parkway; two miles to entrance to The Ridge. From Colorado Springs: I-25 north to exit #188 (Castle Pines Parkway). Right on Castle Pines Parkway; two miles to entrance to The Ridge.

The Ridge at Castle Pines North
1414 Castle Pines Pkwy
Castle Rock, Colorado 80104
Phone: (303) 688-0100
Fax: (303) 688-0128

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

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 @David_R_Holland.

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