WALCOTT, Col. (July 31, 2017) – There’s just something about playing golf in the mountains. If you’re someone who likes to mimic a sure-footed goat and play at the higher elevations, you know what I am talking about.
With that in mind, the Vail Valley of Colorado is on the top of the short list of places in the world where golf can be played in astounding natural beauty on some of the planet’s best courses. Mountain-golf nirvana is just a 100-mile dash west of Denver, an easy two-hour drive through scenic peaks, passes and tunnels.
Golfing at altitude means you’re always one well-struck drive away from the longest drive you’ll ever hit. In the mountains, elevated greens and rolling fairways work to your advantage, although even low handicappers will find themselves clubbing up from hole to hole as the rugged terrain dictates.
During a recent trip to the region we were lucky to tee it up on several great tracks, including Red Sky Golf Club’s Fazio and Norman courses. Red Sky Golf Club is situated among the peaks in the town of Wolcott at an elevation of 7,650 feet, which makes you feel as if you are on top of the world.
Emerging from sage and aspen groves and weaving across 800 acres of historic Colorado ranchlands, Red Sky Golf Club offers golfers majestic panoramas and exceptional golf in one extraordinary alpine playground that boasts two award-winning golf courses and unsurpassed amenities.
Red Sky’s two layouts have been constant award winners, ranking as high as the top two courses in Colorado by some publications. The private courses can be challenged by golf tourists staying at Vail Resorts and other select hotels in the region.
A former sheep ranch, Red Sky’s design has been certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program member. The two courses are separated by a massive ridge, which serves as a migration corridor for deer and elk.
Great care has been taken to preserve the landscape, including transplanting or re-vegetation of more than 25,000 native plants during the construction of the Fazio Course alone. Approximately 80 acres of sod were applied to each course, reducing the amount of fertilizer necessary for seed grow-in while protecting the nearby Eagle River from silt erosion, which is common when hydroseeding.
The Fazio front-nine (which opened in 2002) has a desert feel, while the back is a true alpine experience with aspen-lined fairways. Meanwhile, the Norman 18 (which debuted a year later). has more length than the Fazio, and greens complexes are simpler. Putting is easier since the greens aren’t severely sloped.
The Fazio Course is considered generous from tee box to green, but its massive, undulating greens will test your prowess with the flat stick. The layout – which literally seems to hover above the landscape below – presents a beautiful panorama of Vail’s back bowls, with scenes of aspens and junipers, twisted mini-groves of scrub oak, uphill and downhill holes, red-rock outcrops, wildflower meadows and a highland lake, which enters play.
The Fazio Course sports a par of 72 and extends 7,113 yards from its back set of five tees, where the course is rated 72.1 with a slope of 134.
Hit it long but straight on the 606-yard fifth hole, a tough par-5, especially if the prevailing wind is blowing in your face. After teeing off over a wetland, golfers must avoid the native grass that creeps in from the left. The green is guarded by several deep bunkers.
The Norman Course rolls out at a brawny 7,580 yards from the tips at a par of 72, but its signature characteristic is the tightly-mown bentgrass greens surrounds. These taunting contours will frustrate you, but at least once during a round that you will hit an “awful” shot that will roll up right next to the pin.
Carrying a rating of 74.2 and a slope of 144, the Norman Course boasts boulder-strewn water features and scrub-oak-filled deep arroyos. The track takes full advantage of the natural terrain and plays through craggy outcroppings, rugged gulches and wildflower-festooned meadows.
Despite its length, birdie is in reach at the beautiful 479-yard par-4 third. From an elevated tee, big hitters may choose a 3-wood as the downward sloping fairway ends in a pond. Golfers are then faced with a challenging long-iron approach shot over water to a raised green with a significant slope from back to front.
The Norman Course is everything a mountain course should be, with drop-dead vistas and plenty of elevation changes and strategy. It is also none of the things a mountain course should not be: with no crazy off-kilter fairways that kick good shots into trouble or extreme rises and drops.
Fair is the word at the Norman Course, but be cognizant of the length from the back tees, which will beat you up even in the thin air. Overall, the Norman Course presents more of a challenge tee to green due to longer length, and it’s more penalizing if you miss the fairway.
Fairways on both courses are lined with more native trees and grasses than luxury homes. The entire 800-acre property has only 87 housing lots, a fact not lost on golfers who relish the feeling of a secluded, mountainside golf experience.
If alpine sunshine and green grass make you think of golf, then Red Sky Golf Club is a must on your next trip to the Vail Valley. Its 36 holes are so good that former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who can play and live anywhere, bought a house here.