Most people I talk to associate Colorado with Coors beer, the Denver Bronco’s Mile High Stadium and world renowned downhill snow skiing at Vale and Aspen mountains. What many don’t realize is that Colorado is a land of contrasts with a diverse topography that ranges from flat-topped mesas to raging rivers valleys, from lush orchards to desolate desert badlands. Head for the southwestern corner of the state and discover nature at her finest along with endless year round opportunities for any golfer or outdoor sport enthusiast.
We concentrated our tour in the Grand Valley region between Montrose and Grand Junction. This area offers moderate weather with little, if any, snow and boasts at least 275 days of sunshine every year. TourismReview.com recently ranked Grand Junction as number seven in their “Top 8 Sunniest Cities in the USA” which almost guarantees great golfing weather.
Our adventure began in Montrose, about forty five minutes south of our starting point in Grand Junction but definitely worth the drive to experience one of the country’s most unique landscapes and some spectacular golf. Our first stop was The Bridges Golf & Country Club, a Nicklaus design, set along side the foothills of the San Juan Mountains in the heart of Montrose. Open nine months of the year this course caters to golfers of every caliber with four sets of tees ranging from 5,380 to over 7,200 yards on this par 71 layout but be forewarned, the gold tees have a course rating of 73.9 and a slope of 140 so pick a distance that best suits your game. Jack has added some unique features like the third hole with its split fairway and the 15th, an intimidating par 5 with two greens. My personal favorite is the 9th hole, a par 5 with water running all the way down the left that eventually crosses the fairway on your second shot leaving you with a well-bunkered green on the right and water guarding the left. This property was recently bought out from receivership and now offers great conditions with an outstanding western-feeling clubhouse. The Bridges also offers a choice of four well-appointed rooms that could serve as your base camp while you explore the entire area.
The Links at Cobble Creek near Montrose is an 18-hole links-style layout perched 5,800 feet above sea level that can be played from 5,133 up to 6,982 yards, all year long! There are ten lakes and a creek winding through the course ensuring that water will come into play on almost every hole. The greens are large, true and fast with plenty of undulation and the bunkers are some of the best I have played. This is a player friendly course built on sandy soil offering great views of the San Juan Mountains however it is not as photogenic as some of the other courses.
While in Montrose you absolutely must make time to explore the Black Canyon at Gunnison National Park, a breathtaking 2,700 foot deep gorge carved out by the Gunnison River that stretches 53 miles. It’s ideal for white water rafting, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding and nature walking. For Stay and Play Packages in Montrose you can visit their site.
About 22 miles north is the quaint old western feeling town of Delta, best known for The Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world with over 300 pristine lakes to boat, fish and hike around. Here we played the Devil’s Thumb Golf Club an 18-hole municipal course that is tucked in between the foothills of the Grand Mesa, San Juan Mountains, Black Canyon and the Uncompahgre Plateau and quite possibly the most uniquely scenic course in the world. It almost feels like you are playing on a lunar landscape with sixty bunkers and two lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Architect Rick Phelps described his design as a “prairie style” course that was built some 5,100 feet above sea level yet is still open 365 days a year. There are five sets of tees ranging from 5,180 up to 7,176 yards. The first two holes are fairly flat as you start on top of a mesa but once you get to the downhill 3rd hole you will be amazed at the elevation changes in the valley. The fairways are hard as this course is built on the Adobe badlands with a clay and Morrison stone base that dates back to the dinosaurs. My only negative is that the bunkers are shallow with pebbly sand and hard pan underneath. Adult green fees start at $25 – a fabulous deal and definitely worth a visit!
Cedaredge Golf Club, formerly known as Deer Creek Village Golf Club, is 6,100 feet above sea level, located 15 miles northeast of Delta and nestled in the southern foothills of the Grand Mesa featuring two distinctively different layouts. The front nine has more of a resort-style feel with flat wide open fairways, small greens and water that comes into play on eight of the nine holes. The back nine is the exact opposite with extreme elevation changes and tight tree lined fairways. In fact the downhill par 5, 12th is one of the tightest you will find anywhere and is followed up by a tough uphill par 5 with a creek crossing the fairway.
From Delta we drove back north to Grand Junction, the largest city in the region and best known for The Colorado National Monument. This 23,000 acre prehistoric national park offers jaw dropping views of the red sandstone spires with over 50 miles of hiking trails that overlook cherry and peach orchards with 19 nearby wineries to explore and taste. Here we played two more courses.
Tiara Rado Golf Course is an Audubon certified municipal track built at the base of the Colorado National Monument. The front nine is player friendly but non eventful whereas the back nine is more picturesque with water in play on almost every hole. The greens are fast and in good condition and the strategically placed fairway bunkers are always in play. The 18th is my favourite hole and the one of best photo opportunities you will find anywhere. Perched on an elevated tee with a pond on the right, sage brush on the left, the narrow landing area will leave you with an elevated green with ragged red cliffs as a backdrop.
The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa is one of the most unique and dramatic courses that I have ever played. Continuously ranked in “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” since 2005, this layout reminds me of the controversial Michael Stantz designed Tobacco Road in North Carolina. Ranging from 4,890 to up to just over 7,000 yards, Architect Jim Engh offers banked fairways, 41 unique shaped bunkers and dramatic downhill par 3’s. There are eleven elevated tees making it ideal for ladies. Do not miss this course!
There are also seven other golf courses in the area to play with great value that range from $25 to $89 plus cart. You can visit this site for more information on Stay and Play Golf Specials in Grand Junction.
Legendary English rock and blues singer, Joe Cocker now lives on a ranch in nearby Crawford. As I packed to head home his 1974 hit resonated with me as if he were describing southwestern Colorado to a tee:
You are so beautiful, to me
Can’t you see, you’re everything I hoped for
Everything that I need,
you are so beautiful, to me
Golf in the morning followed by an afternoon of kayaking, white-water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, climbing, downhill skiing or simply soaking up the stunning scenery and friendly charm. It doesn’t get much better than this! The Grand Valley is located between Salt Lake City Utah and Denver and is easily accessible by car. The Grand Junction Regional Airport’s current air carriers include Allegiant Air, American Airlines, U.S. Airways, Skywest/Delta Connection and United Express with nonstop flights from Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas/Fort Worth and Salt Lake City.