Texas/Colorado Trip 2004
Chris Wilczynski is a senior design associate working for Arthur Hills in Toledo, and a friend of mine. Last winter he recommended that I go play a course called Ironbridge C. C. ( www.ironbridgeclub.com ) located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
He hasn’t really recommended many courses to me, so I immediately planned a trip to Colorado for the wife and me. I thought while we were out there we should pick up the other two Hills designed courses that we hadn’t played. They are both located in the Denver area. That would mean I’d taken care of all 5 of his designs in Colorado and I could check off another state. ( He only has one course in Louisiana, Missouri, and Mississippi, so I’ve checked them off already.)
After the trip was planned and on the calendar for early June, we talked to my 92 year old aunt who lives in Abilene, Texas. She wanted us to visit. When your only living aunt is 92 years old you shouldn’t wait too long between visits. I got out my atlas and discovered that Texas was closer to Colorado than Kentucky, so I decided to put the two trips together. I hope that explains it for you people who didn’t think Texas and Colorado went that well together. Of course it helps me that I have a wonderful wife who will spend 20 days on the road with me and play 15 different and difficult golf courses...And that’s what you want to hear about... the golf courses. Let's move on!
Chris was right to recommend Ironbridge ****. It was the best course on a trip full of different and great courses. Ironbridge is private, so Chris got us on, but I believe your club pro could also.
The 402 yard par four 10th at Ironbridge
The course runs mostly along a river valley just south of Glenwood Springs. The entire course is lush due to nightly watering from that river. There are some pretty nice houses being built on the slopes overlooking the course but none are in play. After a pretty tricky front side with lots of water, trees and sand, Art brings elevation change into the picture on number 10.
By the way, I found out from Chris that the cart path from the clubhouse to the 10th tee cost 1.2 million dollars to build! It goes up the mountain and they had to use a crane to lift 7 steel culverts into place. I have no idea how they got the crane up the mountain.
Holes 10 thru 13 are on the mountain, very dramatic and extemely difficult. I was 6 over par on those 4 holes and pretty damn proud of it.
The 13th at Ironbridge in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Number 13 is a 600 yard downhill par 5 that requires (even with the perfect lay-up) a 150 yard carry to clear the ravine between this mountain and that one over there where the green is. I kid you not, they were hard holes. My wife walked around the ravine and still had a 9! After 13 you get to drive back down the 1.2 million dollar cart path to the welcome sight of that river valley.
MT. Sopris is the backdrop for the 356 yard par four, 14th
Number 14 is a straight and level short par 4 with a river on your left, and a mountain rising on the right. Mount Sopris is in the distance right behind the green. After where we’d been it looked easy! It must have been easy, I made my 4th par of the day.
If you are ever driving out I-70 west of Denver with your clubs in the car, I recommend you stop. Ironbridge will be among the nicest and most difficult courses you will find.
On the way to Texas, we started the golf at the Bear Trace @ Chickasaw ****. Like all the Tennessee Bear Trace courses ( www.beartrace.com ), it is well designed and was in great shape. The other good thing about the Bear Trace courses is that they are all in remote areas and almost never crowded. We had a 3:20 round.
In Arkansas and Oklahoma we checked out course designer Randy Heckenkemper by playing three of his designs. Stonebridge Meadows *** is located in Fort Smith, Arkansas home of the Arkansas Razorbacks. We played for $25 a couple there because I went to WWW.EZLINKS.com and bought the tee time on-line. We were way early but they didn’t care. Then south of Tulsa we played the highly rated Forest Ridge Golf Club ***1/2 ( www.forestridge.com ). It is a very nice club in real good condition, with nice homes on the front side, but just wilderness on the back. If you’re in Tulsa, which seems to be a pretty nice town, we strongly recommend The French Hen **** for dinner.
We finished with Randy's design work at Chickasaw Pointe golf resort ***1/2, which is right on the Oklahoma, Texas border overlooking Lake Texoma. We liked that one best of the three due to no houses and rolling terrain that I didn’t know Oklahoma had. We got some nice pictures with Lake Texoma in the background
In Oklahoma City we played my 45th Art Hills course. Rose Creek *** (www.rosecreekgolf.com )opened in 2003, and is another good subdivision design from my idol. The red clay soil of the area is not the best for growing grass so the course will get better with time. The layout uses a creek along 5 holes on the front side that was a magnet for my ball. On the back side he used ponds to drain the red clay and catch my golf balls. It’s a nice design that I didn’t play very well.
After a long weekend in Abilene, we headed west and got back to golf. There is quite a story behind The Rauls Course *** at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. A (rich) guy named Rauls put up the money and they got creative (some might say bizarre) designer Tom Doak to build a course on the campus in a big flat square field. It’s all flat in Lubbock ! Except of course for the new (2003) Rauls Course. When you dig down in west Texas you get oil...or just more dirt depending upon your luck. So Tom had them dig down 8 feet to get dirt to make rolling terrain. The Rauls course is hard as a rock and the ball rolls forever. I almost drove the 340 yard 1st hole, but my ball rolled on the wrong side of a swail and I was beside the green ! It’s very close to goofy golf but it’s the best they have in Lubbock.
Next we got to the rough country of northern New Mexico. Black Mesa *** (www.blackmesagolf.com ) is a much heralded 2003 design from Baxter Spann.
Mr. Spann...What are the chances of the average golfer hitting that fairway?
Baxter works with Ken Dye, who designed Paa-ko Ridge, which is one of my favorite courses, so I was looking forward to Black Mesa. I intend to write Baxter Spann this winter (during my near hibernation) and explain the problems with his design specifically, but let me say this. I predict Paa-Ko Ridge will be great in 10 years, and Black Mesa will be redone, or out of business. If you’re in the Albuquerque area, play Paa-Ko Ridge.
The second best course on the trip is called The Rio Grande Club **** (www.riograndeclub.com ) and grand it is! It is located in South Fork, Colorado, and opened in 2003.
They are just finishing the beautiful clubhouse and the club will no doubt end up being private. There is plenty of Texas money evident in the South Fork area, like private air fields and dude ranches. It was $85 for both Ironbridge and Rio Grande, but those two courses alone made the long trip worthwhile. The Rio Grande Club starts out off a cliff, but then you follow the Rio Grande River for the front side. I know you thought the Rio Grande separated Texas from Mexico, and it does, but it starts out small and a lot better looking in Colorado. There’s your Texas/Colorado connection right there!
The back side of the course leaves the river and decides to climb some mountains. There were actually some scary cart rides between greens and tee boxes. The course was designed by Redstone Golf out of Denver and I haven’t been able to find out much about them. They did design a very nice course.
Head down the 528 yard par five 18th and visit the Rio Grande clubhouse
After golf in South Fork we drove over to Lake City in search of fine dining. The restaurant we had read about was closed, but our innkeeper sent us up the road to Bruno’s ****, and we were pleasantly surprised. Chef Bruno was once in the French Foreign Legion. Then he became a doctor of medicine. Now he’s a chef with a European wife running a great restaurant in tiny Lake City, Colorado. Get out a map and try to find Lake City. I dare you. Then make up some story about a couple of Kentucky hillbillies bantering with Bruno and his heavily accented wife (think how we sounded to her!) and you’ve got the makings of a novel. Bruno’s cooking was French, and that’s beginning to be a strong signal for me. They’re politics may suck, but I can’t beat their cooking.
When we finally got to Denver we played the two Hills courses and two by Jim Engh, who is also on my A list of designers. Legacy Ridge ***1/2 is a 1994 Arthur Hills design in a nice development north of Denver. We played on a crowded Sunday in almost 5 hours, but we were paired with two nice young fellows and Jason happened to be from Murray, Kentucky. The course was in great shape with very fast greens. I could have shot in the seventies if I hadn’t had so many three putt greens. The other Hills course is called Heritage Eagle Bend *** (www.heritageeaglebend.com) and it is part of what is called an “active adult community”. I don’t know if that means old folks home with golf course or that you can’t have kids. It was crowded with old folks, but they weren’t too active because it took us almost 5 hours again, and it was Tuesday! The course had all good holes and was in good shape, but it lacked the scenery of western Colorado. That shouldn’t matter to an avid golfer like me but it was late in a long trip.
Fossil Trace **** (www.fossiltrace.com ) is a 2003 design by Jim Engh, located in Golden, just west of Denver. C-470 is a new road around Denver that seems to go right to the course. Jim is from Colorado so maybe he knows somebody. Golden, as you may know is the home of the Coors brewery. In fact they only sold Coors products at the course so I was forced off my Bud Light diet for the day. I shot 81 on a pretty tough course so I may have to switch brewerys.
"The Wife" tees off at Fossil Trace in Golden, Colorado
We played with a couple of visiting Coors VIPs. Jack was a 7 handicap and he started well, but my steady play wore him down and I kicked his ass pretty good on the back side. The course was decorated with rock walls full of fossils and some abandoned steam shovels, and in very good condition. There was some target golf involving elevation changes, and the greens were fast. We elected to go back to the hot tub rather than visit the brewery. You’ve seen one factory, you’ve seen um all.
By the way, in Denver we stayed in our first Drury Inn. If you drink you’ll go for the three free drinks every night at happy hour. If you don’t drink you’ll go for the great hot breakfast buffet with eggs and bacon, etc. If you don't drink too much, you can enjoy both! I’m already a commodore in the Drury Inn club. Also in Denver we found the best restaurant on this trip, and it was guess what French! Tante Louise means Aunt Louise in French. We didn’t meet her but we met one of the owners who greeted us like long lost friends. We had a white French wine that I won’t attempt to spell or pronounce. We shared a wonderful baby spinach salad and an equally good pork tenderloin entrée which left room for desert. My wife had apricot sorbet with fresh raspberries on top while I had a pile of fresh berries with a fancy French sauce and name. You don’t have to know French to get the good stuff. Ask what it is and if the word “cream” is in the answer, get it; that’s the good stuff. Also remember that if you want a long life, don’t smoke or go to French restaurants very often.
On our way out of Denver we stopped in Castle Rock to play the Jim Engh 1999 design called Red Hawk Ridge ***1/2 ( www.redhawkridge.com ). The course was in excellent condition, but will be remembered for no trees and very deep thick rough. Miss a green by 10 yards and if you’re in that rough it will be a tough par. I could not chip out of it.
The 18th at Red Hawk Ridge in Colorado
My wife called it “Velcro grass” because it grabbed your ball; then your club. It grabbed everything. Several of the western courses seem to have tougher grass; tough to get a club through. I now call grass around here “lazy grass”.
Colorado is a great state for golf. Some parts have trees and water and some parts don’t. Almost all of Colorado has elevation changes, and they sell beer everywhere. The thin air does allow you to hit the ball further but they seem to make the course longer. It affected me most on approaches to the green. I went over a few until I realized what was happening.
Moe celabrates a successful trip with a final round at Gateway National
Our last out on this trip was at Gateway National ***1/2 ( www.GatewayNational.com ), which is in Illinois, but just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri. It was designed by Keith Foster and opened in 1998. It is mostly open with bent grass fairways and greens. It would be very tough from the back tees at 7100 yards. I liked being back with “lazy grass” and had an 81 from 6400 yards. On several holes we got pictures with the St. Louis Arch in the background.