Keystone Resort: River, Ranch Courses Just Part of Big Picture

By David R. Holland, Contributor

KEYSTONE, CO -- Long before the ski runs were carved and the golf holes placed into the environment, Keystone, at an elevation of 9,300 feet, was an 1880s stagecoach station on the way to Denver, heading over towering Loveland Pass.

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A little rustic inn served as the stop for travelers and it's still here. They call it the Ski Tip Lodge and if you could look back in time, there was a day when you might have said "howdy" to Henry Fonda, sitting in a rocking chair in back, overlooking the Snake River, relaxing after a day of hiking in the cool Colorado summer.

Today, the Ski Tip Lodge is a Keystone landmark. It's a bed and breakfast and home to a gourmet restaurant that is a must for any vacationer.

But modern-day Keystone is much, much more. It's a world class ski resort, carefully designed to make every single member of the family happy. The kids won't have a chance to get bored.

It's also home to two championship golf courses, the newest one opened in June 2000, named The River Course at Keystone™, and The Ranch Course, which opened in 1980.

Steve Corneillier, Keystone's Director of Golf Courses, looks at the River Course like a proud papa. A veteran employee for 25 years, he nurtured the dream-to-reality project with a vision of environmental stewardship to a playable and enjoyable golf course that might not be matched by any other mountain golf course -- anywhere.

"Our goal was to make this golf course appear as if it was air-lifted in," said Corneillier. "We didn't want the golfer to see any disturbance to the landscape. There's a breathtaking view from every hole."

This vision was the reason he selected golf course architects Dana Fry and Dr. Michael Hurdzan. The duo are known worldwide for their environmentally-sensitive approach to design and Hurdzan was rewarded as Golf World magazine's 1997 Golf Architect of the Year.

"Our two courses are like brother and sister," Corneillier said. "You can see how they are related, but they are also two different contrasting styles."

Head golf professional Steve Keiser says the Ranch Course has been rated high as a friendly course for women. "I hear from women often who say they played their best round of golf on the Ranch Course," he said. "So we really expect to get the same or better praise from the River Course -- we think it will be even more playable for higher handicap golfers."

The River Course

The River Course measures 6,886 yards from the black tees for par 71. It cost almost $12 million and features five to six sets of tees allowing play for any level of golfer. It includes 74 bunkers and five water hazards. The blue grass fairways are lush and the greens are L-93 bent grass.

Fry and Hurdzan provided generous landing areas, but mounding keeps fairways from looking as wide as they are. After a spectacular elevated tee shot on the first hole, it takes you only two holes to cross the scenic Snake River, where a par-3, 222-yard test awaits. A trap guards the right side of the green and anything right of that is in the river.

Then your journey provides some scary target golf combined with mountain scenes that will cause you to shoot as much with your camera as with a wedge.

The back nine is more elevated and includes incredible mountain vistas and a glimpse of Lake Dillon. Lodgepole pines frame the fairways and wildflowers -- poppies, daisies, lupine and flax -- are popping up everywhere for an added dash of color.

You could ski down the par-4, 509-yard, 16th hole. It features a 194-foot vertical drop from the tee to green with leveled-off collection areas for the tee shot. The 18th is another elevation drop par-5 with 12 bunkers to navigate on a trip of 520 yards.

"The 18th is my favorite hole," Corneillier said. "From the tee box you feel as if you can see all of Colorado in the stunning 360-degree panoramic view. It's a 130-foot drop and the exhilaration you feel after you tee off on the final hole makes you want to start the whole day over again. The River Course really is Colorado at its best."

The River Course design also features biking and hiking paths which creates a multi-purpose recreational opportunity. In winter, Keystone's Cross Country Center will headquarter out of the new River Course clubhouse and provide cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the area's pathways.

The Ranch Course

The 7,090-yard, par-72 course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and is located where Ute and Arapaho Indians once hunted buffalo. The clubhouse is a 60-year-old former ranch house, where the settlers were cattle ranchers and also farmed lettuce.

After the first two holes are played in the trees, the Ranch Course pops out into sage meadows with a Scottish "linksland" design with 68 bunkers, a nine-acre lake and a total of six water hazards. The greens are a combination bent and poa with bluegrass and rye in the fairways.

Old ranch buildings provide a backdrop on the par-3, 190-yard No. 5. No. 9 is a challenge from the back, especially if the wind is gusting. The hole is only 368 from the rear, but it's a major carry over the lake when you are against the wind. If you clear the water you will be faced with a short iron for a possible birdie.

Corneillier says No. 17 is Jones' favorite hole. From the back this par 4 is 422 yards with a forced carry over native grass and wetlands. It's only one of the holes on the Ranch Course side that makes it a sterner test of golf over the new River Course.

"The Ranch Course is course is wonderful," said Kyle Ueberroth, a Keystone vacationer. "I have played several courses in Colorado including Cherry Hills. Keystone is a far more challenging course. It's like Carnoustie in the mountains, but much better."

The River Course
155 River Course Drive
Keystone, CO 80435
Telephone: 970-496-4444

The Ranch Course
1239 Keystone Ranch Road
Keystone, CO 80435
Telephone: 970-496-4250.

Green Fees, Both Courses: Summer Season, June 19 to September 17. Keystone Guest $115, General Public $140. Twilight fees and nine-hole specials are available. Spring and Fall rates are reduced. Call for details.

Internet Address:

Where to Stay: River Run is a European-styled village with shops and restaurants on the first floors and condos on the upper floors. It includes underground parking, which is great for winter ski trips. Keystone's gondola ski lift is a short walk away. It doesn't get any better than this.

Guests who book special golf packages may make tee times when arranging their lodging which may be well in advance of the general tee time policy of 14 days for Keystone guests. Also, those people who book golf lodging packages will receive a special discount on their greens fee and nightly lodging. Each Keystone lodging reservation includes two "Mountain Passports" free -- these include no less than 16 varied activities.

Golf packages start at $147 per person/per night from June 19 through September 17 and $120 per person/per night in the spring and fall. Call 877-753-9786 for golf package reservations. Or check out

Where to Dine

The Ski Tip Lodge was not only a stagecoach stop, but was used as the very first ski lodge by founders Max and Edna Dercum when the ski lifts opened in the 1940s. In 1947, Edna realized a great way to open the doors was to attach broken ski tips as handles. She collected them from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. Today it offers a four-course dining experience. Entree choices include beef, lamb, fish, wild game birds and veal. Enjoy dessert and coffee in the living room in front of the fireplace or on the patio overlooking the river. Call 970-496-4386 or 800-354-4FUN for required reservations.

The Keystone Ranch Restaurant is in the same building as the Ranch Golf Clubhouse. This former 1930s ranch log homestead is rated AAA Four Diamonds. It has been heralded "as quite possibly the finest ski resort restaurant on earth" by US News and World Report magazine. The Ranch offers a six-course dinner highlighted by "Wild West" ingredients -- wild game, elk, venison and fowl. Meals end with desserts served by a fireplace in the living room of the old homestead, overlooking the Rockies and the Ranch Golf Course. Call 970-496-4386 or 800-354-4FUN for reservations.

Directions: From Denver, Keystone is located 90 miles west from Denver International Airport. Take I-70 west through the Eisenhower Tunnel to Dillon, exit 205. Continue six miles east on U.S. Highway 6. Or you can take scenic Loveland Pass (U.S. Highway 6) by getting off at exit 216 (just east of the Eisenhower Tunnel). To reach Keystone this way, continue west on U.S. Highway 6 for 15 miles up and over Loveland Pass and the Continental Divide.


The Ranch Course was the only Colorado course included in the Links Magazine "Must Play 50," receiving the listing because "it boasts the finest high-altitude course in the U.S." Golf Digest's list of Top 10 courses in Colorado.


Conditions: A-
Layout: A
Service: A+
Practice Fac.: A
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A
Resort Hotel: A
Value: A-
Overall Rating: A

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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