Sanctuary: Pushing The Envelope For Unique, Fun Golf

By David R. Holland, Contributor

SEDALIA, Colo. - Sanctuary is simply the most coveted round of golf in Colorado. It might even be the most exclusive private golf course in the world.

If you go

You can't call for a tee time and you can't join Sanctuary. But you can see it. Just drive to Daniels Park, bring a picnic basket, binoculars and the view from the ridge picnic tables of the golf course is awesome. That could be the closest most of you will ever get.

Sanctuary is a gift to the senses from Jim Engh of Castle Rock. He's America's brightest new rising star in golf architecture. Sanctuary is also a gift from its charitable owners, Dave and Gail Liniger, RE/MAX co-founders. The Linigers are the only members. Play is by invitation only.

But don't despair, the Linigers have made it possible for you to play what Golf Digest called the USA's best new private golf course in 1997. It's pricey, you might pay as much as $1,250 ($4,000 per foursome) for 18 holes, but the money goes to charity. One person even paid $10,000 in an charity auction for one foursome.

The Linigers could have kept this playground all to themselves. But using Sanctuary as a place to help others just shows their unselfish outlook on life.

In 1998 RE/MAX was the title sponsor for 11 charity tournaments at the course. These events raised more than $1.5 million for non-profit organizations ranging from local hospitals to the American Diabetes Association and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In Sanctuary's first two years, tournaments for worthy causes raised $2.5 million, and the course's charity included 16 events in 1999.

Sanctuary was Dave Liniger's dream. He tried to buy the property several times before he was successful, and his first dream was to use the 222 acres in Douglas County to raise Arabian horses. Then Liniger discovered golf and his vision for the property changed.

Liniger says there will never be a housing development on the property that is just seven miles south of the Denver Tech Center. With only 6,000 rounds per year played (16 to 20 golfers a day!) you could possibly view 18 holes as a journey of solitude. It is surrounded by thousands of acres of dedicated park land that will never be developed.

Sanctuary is located in the blossoming Castle Rock golf community. Next door is The Ridge at Castle Pines North. From Sanctuary you can also see a fairway of the Country Club of Castle Pines. Just minutes south is Jack Nicklaus' Castle Pines and also within minutes is another one of Engh's creations -- Red Hawk Ridge.

"There were some people in my business that said it couldn't be done," Engh said. "They said there just wasn't enough room to put 18 holes."

Engh's crew moved and transplanted more than 100 huge pines, some towered 70 feet and were 12 inches in diameter. The transplant success rate has been higher than 80 per cent.

Silent electric golf carts (with automatic downhill braking and tail lights) were built to keep from disturbing the wildlife. The cart paths, another construction accomplishment because of the severe elevation changes, were tinted reddish to complement the native rock. Because Sanctuary is located in the second highest lightning strike area in the country, five grounded shelters were constructed.

Only four holes play uphill for a downhill play of more than 850 vertical feet. Three spectacular waterfalls have been integrated into play with the largest providing 6,600 gallons per minute recirculating at the par-3 14th hole.

The course can be visually intimidating, but Liniger likes the fact that it can also be forgiving. Fairways carved through natural valleys were given edges that give bounces back toward the short grass should a shot go left or right of fairways.

"The intimidation thing was something I never thought of until I played the course with friends who were average golfers," Engh said. "I'd tell them, 'You don't normally hit the ball that way' (remarking about duffer skulls, pop-ups and shanks). Then I realized it could be intimidating the first time someone plays the course." Each "Rattlesnake" tee box, no matter at what elevation on the golf course, seems to be a climb to the top of a pedestal. On this day in late September the tees were scenic platforms that sometimes gave a 360-degree panorama of majestic Ponderosa pines, yellowing scrub oak stands, sandstone formations, waterfalls, trophy-trout ponds and if you were lucky enough to be around early in the morning or late in the evening, the bugling of the rutting elk.

For sure you aren't going to miss evidence of the elk. The Linigers made the decision that no matter what happens the elk weren't going to be disturbed. This was their home first. So they simply decided not to worry about the elk.

During the rut, elk damage the fairways with some deep hoof prints and even skid marks. The greens and sand traps also may have some hoof indentations.

"The mowers will smooth out the damage," Engh said, "and the grass will grow back in a few days. No big deal."

This is laid-back golf at its finest. Imagine a hard-line USGA rules devotee arriving at his golf ball sitting an inch down in an elk hoof print. Sanctuary's policy? Move the ball to a fair position -- this isn't the U.S. Open. Ball ends up in a pile of elk pellets? Move it.

Man also shares Sanctuary with fox, coyote, mountain lion, black bear, golden eagle and rattlesnake. The five tee boxes are named Rattlesnake, Elk, Bear, Mountain Lion and Fox. Rattlesnake plays 7,033, par-72, and Fox comes in at 4,676.

From the No. 1 tee box, the highest elevation on the layout, you have an awesome view of the front range west and a 200-foot vertical drop. Just a smooth, easy swing of a 3-wood can easily net you a 280-yard drive because of the dramatic drop to the fairway.

This 604-yard beauty is an award winner. Golf Digest named it as one of America's 99 Greatest Holes in its March 1999 issue. It was also selected No. 28 on the best Par-5s list in the USA.

"The landing area may look narrow because of the elevation change, but it is actually more than 40 yards wide," Engh said. Out of bounds is to the right and pines line the left side. "Play it left center and you will be in perfect shape for a second shot to a wide fairway. For long hitters play your second shot left or you might be wet in the pond to the right of this long-linear green."

The course can be visually intimidating, but Liniger likes the fact that it can also be forgiving.

Engh is proud of his par-5s which have several options for tee shots and approaches. At the par-5 fourth, a 571-yard dogleg left, he points out three landing locations. One he calls "the launching pad" gives you the option to cut the corner over the native grass to land on the green in two. For the shorter hitters you have two landing areas for your third shot that allows you to approach the green from the best angle.

No. 5 is a par-3, 188-yard carry over a chasm of scrub oak and sandstone. "This is a dramatic golf shot," Engh said. "I envisioned the green carved into the hillside and it came out beautifully." It has a huge green and if you get on the far side of the pin the putt can be a big-time challenge.

The uphill No 8 is a par-4 380-yarder that allows the big hitters to drive over a rock outcropping on the right for an ideal approach angle to a green with two tiers. The shorter hitter can drive just short of the outcropping and Engh's design allows the ball to roll back down to a flatter lie.

The front tier of this green is bowl-shaped and tiny. "Lots of birdies can be had if the pin is up front," Engh said, "because of the bowl shape it will roll right up next to the pin." A putt from the lower to the upper is as tough a putt as you would ever want to see. There's backboards on the upper tier helping long shots roll back toward the flag.

"This is a prime example of unique things I like to put in golf courses," Engh said. "Some would look at this green and say it is goofy. But if I can sit down and explain what I tried to do they are more receptive. It's pushing the limit and I like to do that."

No. 9 is a 344-yard dogleg left with one of the trademark waterfalls on the left. More scenery comes next. The Rattlesnake tee of the par-3 10th, with a view of Pikes Peak, sits just above the waterfall.

No. 13 has another strategic tee shot downhill. Go too far on this par-4, 393-yarder, and you might find one of the trout ponds. No. 14, a par-3, 173 yards, sports the manmade waterfall. The par-5 15th is a target drive for the short hitters and a cut-the-dogleg for the big hitters. A pond and huge white-sand bunker front this long skinny green. From the fairway the landing area looks smaller than it is.

As Engh strokes his drive on the closing hole, a 438-yard uphill monster from the back, he says: "This is one of the hardest finishing par-4 holes in Colorado."

The fairway narrows for your second shot with native grass to the left and a narrow opening to the green from the right. A waterfall is your backdrop.

"There is nothing that I have ever played like this golf course," Engh said. "It is unique fun golf. I pushed the envelope a bit, but all of my courses do that. I would have liked to have done more at Red Hawk Ridge, but it is still fun and unique too. I think golf should be interesting. Every hole should be different and never put two holes alike on one course.

Pros Ronnie Black and John Ogden share the course record of 67.

Nonprofit organizations interested in holding a charity golf tournament at Sanctuary should telephone 303-770-5531. Charity foursome auctions are also available.

Rudy Zupetz, formerly with Cherry Hill Country Club in Denver, is head professional at Sanctuary and Dave Hare is superintendent of grounds and maintenance.

7549 Daniels Park Road
Sedalia, CO 80135

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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