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When Colorado's Keystone Resort isn't a world-class ski resort, golf is the star attraction

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Keystone Resort - River golf course - hole 18
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The mountains are always present from the 18th hole on the River Course at Keystone Resort in Colorado. (Courtesy of Keystone Resort)

KEYSTONE, Colo. -- While much of the U.S. is sweltering in hotter-than-a-branding-iron summer heat and drought that can't sustain a weed, there is a place high in the Rocky Mountains where one can come to cool off and forget about air conditioning.

Keystone Resort is located in the heavenly cool of 9,100 feet and has two courses -- Keystone Ranch Golf Course and the River Course. Here you can tee off in 75 degrees, and the landscape is green and a haven for Colorado's lush wildflowers.

And off the golf courses, Keystone Resort has everything a summer on-the-road family would ever want. One can take fly-fishing lessons, hike the nearly 60 miles of trails, go mountain biking, whitewater rafting and attend festivals, films and concerts in a place that has 300 days of sunshine each year.

But when Keystone isn't a world-class ski resort, golf is the star attraction.

Jim Banks, head golf professional at the Ranch, says he continuously hears about the stunning views and the fun of the challenging, quick and contoured greens.

"It is hard to get bored looking at the sweeping vistas from Mount Baldy to the south to Red Mountain, Swan Mountain, the West Gore Range, Buffalo Mountain and Uneva Peak," Banks said. Add Soda Creek crossing and the property and the scenery is as good as the golf.

Steve Corneillier, Keystone's general manager of golf and recreation, looks at the River Course like a proud papa. As a veteran employee, 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. And our two courses are like brother and sister -- you can see how they are related, but they are also two different contrasting styles."

The Ranch Course at Keystone Resort

On grounds where the Ute and Arapaho Indians once hunted buffalo, Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed the Keystone Ranch Golf Course, a 7,090-yard par 72. The clubhouse is a former ranch house dating back to the 1930s, where the settlers were cattle ranchers and also farmed lettuce.

Start the Ranch deep in the lodgepole pines before the layout emerges into open range after the first two holes. LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez lives part-time in a house next to the first green.

The sage meadows remind you of a Scottish "links" design and includes 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.

Grab the camera for shots of golf holes with old ranch buildings in the background. Example -- the par-3, 190-yard No. 5. And don't let breezy conditions quicken your swing on No. 9, only 368 yards from the back, but it includes a carry over a lake.

Eighteen is a daunting finishing hole of 589 yards over the lake. "And once you get to the green there are contours and a little bowl that makes it hard to knock it close on the approach," Banks said.

The River Course at Keystone Resort

Inspiration might be a good word to describe the opening tee shot at Keystone's River Course. The fairway looms 100 feet below, snow-capped peaks surround you and the Snake River is just three holes away. The opener is a fun par 5 of 551 yards.

Environmental award-winners Dana Fry and Dr. Michael Hurdzan presented generous landing areas on The River Course, a 6,886-yard par 71, with muscular mounds that tend to make the fairways seem more narrow than they are. But open green fronts allow you to bump-and-run.

The first crossing of the Snake River is a par-3, 222-yard test. A bunker looms on the right side of the green, and anything right of that is in the river.

While the front nine plays close to the Snake, the back nine is threaded through a lodgepole pine forest with lofty elevation changes, deep bunkers and water hazards. In all, this gem cost about $12 million, includes 74 bunkers and five watery spots.

Keystone Resort: The Verdict

Keystone never fails to put forth the best of the Rocky Mountains. It's upscale but down home and friendly. If you can't find something to do and enjoy at Keystone then you're not trying.

The golf courses are two of the best along the I-70 corridor that is a mere hour and a half west from Denver. You will be challenged trying to club correctly because of the high mountain altitude and 15 percent addition carry, but anyone who can't enjoy this beautiful spot is a grouch.

Both golf courses are beautiful but no pushovers, especially from the back tees.

Lodging at Keystone Resort

Keystone Lodge & Spa is a AAA Four Diamond Award-winning resort offering 152 guest rooms (including 14 loft suites). The Lodge features a luxurious, 10,000-square-foot spa and the Bighorn Steakhouse.

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. For more information, see www.keystoneresort.com.

Dining at Keystone Resort

Try the Black Bear Grill in Keystone, and don't miss the Ski Tip Lodge. It 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.

More gourmet dining can be found at the Keystone Ranch Restaurant in the same historic building as the Ranch Golf Clubhouse. It has been heralded "as quite possibly the finest ski resort restaurant on earth" by US News and World Report magazine.

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Keystone Resort - Ranch golf course - hole 5Keystone Resort - River golf course - hole 16Keystone Resort - River golf course - hole 6

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.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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