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River Valley Ranch Golf Club in Carbondale, Colorado: A memorable Rocky Mountain experience in God's high country

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
River Valley Ranch Golf Club
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Seven holes at River Valley Ranch either traverse or border the Crystal River. (Courtesy of River Valley Ranch G.C.)

CARBONDALE, Colo. -- River Valley Ranch Golf Club is one of those Rocky Mountain experiences that reminds adventure seekers about the great advantages of living in God's high country just 30 miles from John Denver's Aspen home.

The Jay Morrish design includes all the scenery you could ever want. There are views of the 12,953-foot Mt. Sopris, a towering peak and centerpiece of the Roaring Fork Valley. There's also the rock-strewn rippling Crystal River that traverses the golf course and its Gold Medal waters known for rainbow and brown trout. More fishing is abundant minutes away in the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers.

How about winter fun? Aspen and Snowmass have all the ski terrain one could want.

Opened in 1996, this 7,348-yard, par-72 layout is a shotmaker's course with plenty of risk-reward options and multi-fingered bunkers. You will be rewarded more for accuracy than distance as seven holes either traverse or border the Crystal River.

The course plays at 6,200 feet, lower in elevation than many I-70 mountain corridor layouts, which means River Valley Ranch might reach a toasty 85 degrees on a summer day and allow play during eight months of the year.

Rye fairways are lush and rolling, and the bent grass greens are smooth and quick, some with lots of undulations and others with subtle breaks. Dodge the no-man's land left of the northern holes to avoid the semi-arid roughness of sagebrush and pinion pines.

Carries over the Crystal River are required on tee shots at Nos. 1, 8, 10 and 18.

The par-3 holes are excellent. The third is a Redan-styled shot of 224 yards. You can leave it short and right and have a chip, but anything too far right is dead and four bunkers protect the left. Leave it too short or pull it too far left and you are in water. The 16th is a downhill 237-yarder with a carry over native grass. If you pull or snap it too far left, the native grass will punish.

Grip it and rip it at No. 17, a 623-yard par 5. Then finish the day with a beauty over the river. It's a par 4 at 452 yards and a slight dogleg left from the tee. If you can draw it, the slanting fairway will give you an extra kick and an approach shot of less than 150 yards. Hit it on the green, then two-putt to finish your round with a par.

Then, turn back south to take in the view of Mt. Sopris one more time.

River Valley Ranch Golf Club: The verdict

"River Valley Ranch is a real challenge to the better player while being very playable for the mid- and high-handicap player," said Allan Long of Colorado Springs.

What stands out most about River Valley Ranch is just the sheer beauty of the area. You might see the flight of a bald eagle or wildlife at any turn. Then the holes that skirt the Crystal River -- or demand a carry over it -- are just beautiful.

"Number 14, a 421-yard dogleg left par 4, is one of my favorite holes on the course," Long said. "On the tee shot, the player must contend with water down the left side and determine how brave they want to be. To add to the difficulty, a fairway bunker guards the right side of the landing area while a stream crosses the fairway about 100 yards from the green. The hole is a birdie opportunity, but the player really needs to carefully choose their shot selection, or a high number could enter the equation as well."

The course has a nice practice driving range, but it is a bit short (for professional players) and they only allow irons to be used there. The practice putting green and chipping areas are good too. Professional teaching is available.

Lodging near River Valley Ranch Golf Club

You can stay at the brand-new Courtyard by Marriott located at 105 Wulfsohn Rd. in Glenwood Springs, just 12 miles from River Valley Ranch. Call (970) 947-1300 for reservations. The ultra-modern lobby features The Bistro, S-Bar for cocktails, the video information GoBoard, work and social spaces, and a Starbucks kiosk.

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River Valley Ranch Golf Club - hole 1River Valley Ranch Golf Club - hole 18River Valley Ranch Golf Club - contoured greens

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Got to love it

    Jeremy wrote on: Sep 27, 2011

    Great story about RVR and why all of us that live in Colorado are blessed. Can't imagine living in Texas or Arizona in the summer -- drought, heat. Or even better not having to play in Ireland during a sideways rain storm. Colorado is the best.