Granby Ranch and Grand Elk offer challenges, and experiences, that rival many of the state’s best resorts
GRANBY, Colorado (Aug. 20, 2019) – Some 85 miles to the northwest of Denver in Grand County, time moves a lot slower and nature’s wonders abound, so much so that the seal for the county shows mountains and snow.
Here, in an area ringed by snow-capped mountains that seem to scrape the sky, sits a valley known for its inviting vistas, stunning sunsets, endless opportunity for outdoor recreation and friendly locals.
Thanks to the county’s pair of excellent golf courses, a warm-weather day on the links carries as much weight these days as the super ski runs and winter sports for which Grand County is famous.
Since the turn of the 21st century, courses fashioned by the pairing of Tripp Davis and Craig Stadler and the Nicklaus Design team set in the Rocky Mountain valley have augmented tracks designed previously by the likes of Denis Griffith and Dick Phelps. All have helped Grand County establish itself as a golf destination off the beaten path – and all at an elevation of more than a mile and a half above sea level.
With its diversified course offerings all within a short drive of each other, Grand County serves up mountain golfing at its best. Winding through high alpine peaks between Grand Lake and Winter Park, the Grand Links – as the four courses banded together are being marketed – could be the Rocky Mountain State’s best kept golf secret.
We’ve paid three visits to the area through the years, most recently last summer when we were able to play the two best courses in the county – Granby Ranch and Grand Elk, which sit in the saddle of the valley across the street from each other just minutes from most of the region’s growing amenities.
Valley course are the area’s newest Draws
In 2001 and ’02 – with Grand County angling for continued leverage as a year-round tourist destination – the valleys between the mountains were targets for the area’s golf course growth. First came nine holes designed by Mike Asmundson in June 2001 as part of the SolVista Golf & Ski Ranch and called Silver Creek GC. The original front nine is routed through and around wetlands and native vegetation and even runs alongside a train track.
Later, in 2003, Asmundson opened another nine holes that moves up toward the ski slopes and has more elevation changes. When it opened, the course wowed golfers, who found playing through meadows and along sections of the Fraser River irresistible.
But as the development matured as a community, the decision was made to bring Nicklaus Design into the picture and ideas began to percolate about how to enhance the course.
Now called Granby Ranch Golf Course, the Nicklaus team incorporated extensive back-nine renovations, adding two new holes – Nos. 11 and 14 – reducing the distance between some holes and refining the golf experience while bringing more of the wetlands and the Fraser River into the design.
As a result, the two nines at Granby Ranch are like different courses. The back nine is very versatile, and the holes can be played a lot of different ways.
The massive (463-yard) par-4 sixth will test your mettle and your length, while the 597-yard par-5 seventh asks for three good shots and to stay away from water on the left. The front-side closer is a 421-yard uphill par-4 with an undulating green that slopes way on three sides.
But the fun really begins with the 466-yard par-4 10th, which moves right to left and uphill to the putting surface. The closing trio makes you long for more, especially the 455-yard 16th, another dogleg-left that plays over a creek, and the 546-yard par-5 18th, where your drive must carry a large area of native grass before heading uphill to a green protected on right front by sand.
There are no surprises at Granby Ranch, which measures 7,196 yards at a par of 72. It carries a rating of 72.9 and a slope of 127 from the back set of four tees. The putting surfaces have subtle breaks, which make them tricky to read, but overall this is a friendly layout you can score on. Just note the wind, which seems to always blow, and take the proper club – and never bite off more than you can chew.
Across Highway 40 from Granby Ranch is Grand Elk Ranch and Club. Derived from the heathland style of the British Isles, the track is as close to Scottish-style golf as you will find in the mountains of Colorado.
Designed by Davis and Stadler, the course features open grasslands along the valley wetlands and Ten Mile Creek and has huge mountain backdrops. The front nine goes up into the hills while the back nine travels along wetlands.
Grand Elk sits in the Fraser River valley at 8,000 feet in elevation but the land is relatively flat. “The entire back nine is in a river valley, so it is low-profile,” Davis said. “There are not a lot of trees and there is a lot of scrub out there.”
Stadler, who visited the course numerous times and met regularly with Davis to discuss the design, said the resulting layout offers a good test of golf. “Grand Elk’s 17th and 18th holes may be the two finest finishing holes in Colorado,” the “Walrus” said.
“The front nine is more like a ranch-style course and the back nine is shot-to-shot, point-to-point with lots of wetlands,” he added. “It plays fair, but when the wind comes up the course is damn near impossible from the back tees.”
The course has some massive par-4s, including the 450-yard fifth, the 464-yard seventh, the 463-yard ninth, the 441-yard 10th and the aforementioned 474-yard closer.
Grand Elk is a real shot-makers track, with a lot of chipping areas around greens. The resort-style venue also features bunkers that are backed off the greens, and all par-5s are reachable in two. “You will have to hit a very good shot to make eagle though,” Davis said. “The greens on the par-5s are smaller and have more movement.”
The course plays at a par of 71 and at 7,144 yards from its back set of five tees, where it carries a rating of 72.5 and a slope of 135. Davis said the variations in tees provide a test for the low-handicapper or a fun round for the recreational golfer. The greens vary in size and pitch, and the course tends to give the visual impression that a shot will play difficult – that’s more of a perception than a reality.
Davis and Stadler inherited a number of environmental issues from a previous developer and were asked to restore 25 acres of wetlands. The work they did was notable – Grand Elk was named one of the top new courses in Colorado by Avid Golfer’s Reader Poll in 2002.