Four Mile Ranch Golf Club on Cañon City: No frills, just fun in southern Colorado

CAÑON CITY, Colo. -- Four Mile Ranch Golf Club, designed by award-winning Colorado architect Jim Engh, is an Arizona-like journey for the senses.

It traverses rumpled fairways and perplexes you with boomerang putts, void of traditional bunkers and loaded with blind shots inspired by Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland -- one of Engh's favorite spots to worship the game.

Opened in 2008, Four Mile Ranch was once a 1,640-acre working cattle ranch. It has a panorama that includes the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Wet Mountains, Greenhorn Mountain, Skyline Drive, and in the distance near Florence is the Federal Supermax prison -- home to Richard Reid (the "shoe bomber") and Ted Kaczynski (the "unabomber"). The area is home to 10 state and four federal prisons.

For golfers, Engh's 7,053-yard, par-72 moonscape beauty is a lot more fun than jail time. You can, however, be stymied by the natural white-shale hogbacks and the rocky terrain of piñons and junipers once you hit one sideways. You will also get some atypical lies in the fairways that have as much roll as an ocean tide.

So how did a boondocks location survive the economic downturn?

"Golfers love the course design and pristine conditions," said Billy Bernhardt, general manager at Four Mile Ranch. "They come here frequently from all over the state because Four Mile is a special place. They love the exceptional layout and the experience. They can play a comfortable four-hour round."

Four Mile Ranch Golf Club starts with a beauty

The beautiful first hole is one of Bernhardt's favorites. It is 418 yards from the tips and makes you focus on hitting the left side of the fairway. Hit it too far left and you are in a white shale and sagebrush hoodoo area. Go too far right and you have a tricky approach over treed outcropping.

"It's a visually intimidating first hole from the tee box, but a good tee shot and a well struck iron into the green can produce a birdie," Bernhardt said. "A bad shot and you are starting out with a tough putt."

Zero in on the aiming pole at the 563-yard, par-5 sixth. This fairway is particularly resplendent with rolls and swales, but it is wide. It is the approach to a hidden green that makes you pay attention. The green is surrounded like a fortress with the semi-arid rocky dirt, but the green is bowl-like, causing friendly rolls to the pin.

You can drive the green on the 353-yard, par-4 eighth. It's a risk/reward hole with one massive white-shale hogback to negotiate.

"You can hit a drive onto the green, but if you miss it left or right it brings in a big number," Bernhardt said.

Then there's no. 12, a 166-yard par 3 with a reverse-Biarritz green (a huge swale dissecting the middle of the green). Love it or hate it, you will be thinking before you hit. Four-putters will exit the green muttering nastiness. Those who conquer it will exit feeling proud.

"The best view on the whole golf course is the 482-yard, par-4 no. 13," Bernhardt said. "You have to hit your tee shot long and through a shoot over a canyon, but it's a special view in the fall when all the trees are changing colors."

Engh borrowed Lahinch's Dell hole at no. 14, a 217-yard par 3 that only has a directional pole to guide you to a hidden, generous green with curved corners and slopes that sometimes propel wayward shots back to the hole.

Four Mile Ranch Golf Club: The verdict

"Golfers don't come here for the steak dinners," Bernhardt said, "but eventually we will expand and have a clubhouse. Right now we just have to stay patient and good things will happen in the near future."

Bernhardt, a Cañon City native, is available for golf lessons, and the practice range is like none you have ever seen -- just dirt, aiming poles and hogbacks.

The good times are already here. This could be the most fun you will have on a golf course in southern Colorado, and the no-frills atmosphere is perfect for the Chevrolet crowd and the Bentley boys. With a tee time booking you will do a double take at the bargain.

Needless to say, the area is in the wild, with Colorado Springs 45 minutes away and Pueblo 35 minutes. Denver is two hours away. But Four Mile Ranch is also close to one of Colorado's biggest tourist draws -- Royal Gorge. A wildfire almost got the attraction in summer 2013, burning part of the world-famous bridge and many of the individual tourist buildings, but it also signaled a time to rebuild, making the attraction even bigger and better when finished. The Royal Gorge Railroad is back running on a daily basis.

Perhaps Cañon City's major plus is the weather. Known as the "banana belt" of Colorado, it is normally 10 degrees warmer in the winter than other state locations and 10 degrees cooler in the summer. The golf course is open year-around and normally any significant snowfall melts in one day.

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.

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Four Mile Ranch Golf Club on Cañon City: No frills, just fun in southern Colorado