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Golf in Grand County, Colorado: Escape summer heat up in Colorado ski country

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Pole Creek Golf Club
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Pole Creek Golf Club's lush meadow includes holes surrounded by Pole Creek. (David R. Holland/WorldGolf.com)

Pole Creek Golf Club, Headwaters, Grand Lake and Grand Elk are four golf courses in cool Grand County, Colorado, that won't disappoint, especially if your pocket book doesn't want to be strained in a 65-degree, summer golf vacation getaway.

GRANBY, Colo. - Deep in the heart of Colorado ski country you can get chill bumps from just hearing that your view is the Never Summer Mountain Range.

But if you are seeking a "cool" golf getaway in the dead of summer - trying to escape sweltering regions of the U.S., welcome to Grand County, home to Winter Park, Granby, Fraser, Tabernash and Grand Lake. This is down-home Colorado at its finest, with no less than six world-class dude ranches and four excellent golf courses. Valet parking is non-existent.

Grand County Adventure: Getting here is half the fun

It's only a 90-minute drive from Denver, but the scenery is majestic. Whether you are coming through Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park or along wiggly U.S. 40 over Berthoud Pass you will be rubbernecking all the way. And even Amtrak's California Zephyr skirts the edges of one of the golf courses - Headwaters, where the back nine is near the ski slopes of SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch.

Grand County is home to two of the 10 Colorado roads designated as National Scenic Byways: Trail Ridge Road and the Colorado River Headwaters Byway. Trail Ridge Road is America's highest continuously paved road. The 48-mile-long road overlooks peaks ranging from 12,000 to over 14,000 feet and 11 miles of the route zig-zags above tree line in the alpine tundra. Travelers encounter forms of life and climatic conditions also found at the Arctic Circle - so you have to come in the summer - the road is closed in winter.

The Golf Courses of Grand County

Envisioned by Jerry Jones, the guy who invented the highly successful "Ski The Summit" pass in the 1970s, Grand Elk Golf Club (7,208 yards, par 71), opened in 2002, was built as an outdoors getaway for golfers, fishermen, skiers, hikers and lovers of the outdoors.

The Craig Stadler-signature design routed by Tripp Davis, wanted a down-home attitude, too. That's Stadler's personality - a PGA Tour veteran who moved to Colorado just to be close to skiing, hunting and fishing.

Davis calls Grand Elk a heathland-styled golf course because it reminded him of historic Gleneagles in Scotland with a gentle roll of the mountain foothills located in a valley with rivers and streams. But gentle surroundings don't equal an easy golf course - you have several opportunities to fire at greens just over a stream or wetlands that are difficult to see because of tall willowy shrubs or native grasses. The GPS comes in handy here.

Across Highway 40 from Grand Elk is Headwaters Golf Course, a Michael Asmundson design that opened nine holes in the summer of 2001. It's a gentle front nine for the most part with some wetlands and holes that skirt aspens and pines, then the back nine, opened in 2003, rolls up toward the ski slopes through sage valleys highlighted by panoramic views of The Continental Divide. Nicklaus Design has done extensive back nine renovation, adding two new holes - 11 and 14. Next is a redesign of holes one, four and seven.

Nothing is hidden at Headwaters, which measures 7,250 yards at par 72, but you will appreciate the GPS system. The greens have subtle breaks, which make them tricky to read, but overall this is a friendly layout you can score on.

The preeminent golf journey, however, is Pole Creek Golf Club, a 27-hole masterpiece. Pole Creek's Meadow and Ranch nines (7,107 yards, par 72) were designed by Gary Player and Ron Kirby and the newest nine, The Ridge (3,603 yards, par 36), was laid out by Dennis Griffiths in 1999.

This is a slice of Rocky Mountain heaven - Golf Digest gave it acclaim immediately when it opened in 1985, proclaiming it as one of the Best New Courses in the U.S. And a brand-new clubhouse opened this spring added to its excellence.

But what you might like best about Pole Creek is the down-to-earth staff, helpful rangers, earthy facilities and friendliness. The scenery is awesome with tree-lined fairways, elevation changes, dramatic doglegs and breathtaking views of the 13,000-foot Continental Divide and Indian Peaks Wilderness. Holes play down the valley, back up and have crossings of Pole Creek. Seven lakes and ponds will definitely challenge you.

Wrap up your golf vacation with one of Colorado's true hidden gems. Grand Lake Golf Course is a 6,570-yard, par 72 that was cut through huge stands of 50-foot tall lodgepole pines, just minutes from spectacular Grand Lake, a trout fisherman's paradise. Henry Hughes designed the front nine in 1964 and Dick Phelps arrived in 1978 to complete the 18 holes.

Situated at a lofty 8,420 feet, it's polished up with ParView GPS system, but sadly the pine beetle has attacked its lush forest that once tantalized drives with thick growth lining the fairways. But the new thinned out look almost makes it a new course. Now you have to deal with the thick rough that has grown lush with the added sunlight just off the fairways.

Stay and play in Grand County

Available at www.golfgrandcounty.com, golfers can purchase the Grand 4-Pack and play 18 holes of mountain golf with cart and practice balls at Headwaters, Pole Creek, Grand Lake, and Grand Elk.

The best alternative for lodging is a comfy stay in a condo with full kitchen and some even have hot tubs. Alpine Resort Properties can handle your rentals. Visit www.alpineresortproperties.com or call toll free (800) 551-9943 x221. Another alternative is Destinations West, www.mtnlodging.com or call (800) 545-9378. Prefer a motel? Try the Best Western Alpenglo Lodge in Winter Park, (888) 726-8088, www.wplodging.com.

Dining choices include Fontenot's Cajun Cafe, the Sly Fox at Grand Lake, Pole Creek's Bistro and the Seven Trails Grille at Granby Ranch.

More photos

Grand Lake Golf CourseHeadwaters Golf CourseGrand Elk Golf Course - Hole 9

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Pole Creek, Winter Park, CO

    Elliot DeBear wrote on: Jul 21, 2009

    Could not agree more. Pole Creek is considered the best public course in Colorado. I have played it twice in two different years. This course is one of the most beautiful tracks I ever saw. Magnificent views of the Rocky Mountains. Large elevations that give spectacular views of the course from the tee boxes.
    27 holes of Classic Mountain Golf on three distinct courses: The Ranch , The Meadow and The Ridge . Pole Creek's design was conceived by Denis Griffiths, who incorporated existing lodgepole pine, valley meadows, sagebrush and a variety of water hazards including five lakes to create a diverse course appealing to a wide range of golfers.
    The Ranch 9 and The Meadow 9 wander through lush fields, while The Ridge 9 showcases what golf pro JT Thompson calls "the most spectacular view in Colorado."
    Bring a camera.


  • Grand County Golf

    Shawn wrote on: Jul 18, 2009

    My family has been coming here since I was six. This has to be one of the hidden gems of down-to-earth golf. I love the writer's observation of no valet parking. Hit the nail on the head. Pole Creek is a favorite, but they are all worth playing. Thanks.