NEW CASTLE, Colo. - When Jim Engh looked out over the land that was to become Lakota Canyon Ranch & Golf Club he saw a challenge. Make that two challenges.
First, the site was physically daunting - canyons and mountainsides were steep and deep. Second, Engh was on an award victory run - every one of his past Colorado golf course designs - The Sanctuary, Red Hawk Ridge, Redlands Mesa, Fossil Trace - and Tullymore in Michigan had won national awards.
When the 7,111-yard, par 72 Lakota Canyon Ranch was finished in 2004, it was another national award-winner and another fun experience that Colorado and travel golfers were now expecting from golf course architect Engh.
"The comments I hear over and over concern the wow factor of the course and just the beauty of playing golf in such a scenic location," said Tom Underwood, director of golf.
Lakota Canyon Ranch & Golf Club: The panorama, the history
The climb to the many elevated tee boxes gives the golfer a historical reward if he pays attention. Make sure to take in the vistas: the serrated ridges of the Flat Tops Wilderness; a poignant, somber remembrance of Storm King Mountain, where 14 firefighters died in 1994; Roan Plateau, the Elk Mountain Range and Burning Mountain, where in 1896 the Vulcan Mine explosion killed 49 men. To the left, near the first tee, is Highlands Cemetery, where those men are buried.
Not surprisingly, Lakota Canyon Ranch & Golf Club has received many awards. Golfweek ranked it No. 1 on its "America's Best 2006 State by State List, Public Access Courses," in the top 20 "Best New Courses" for 2007 and among the 100 "Best Residential Courses" for 2009. Golf Digest placed it at No. 5 on the list of "Best New Upscale Public Courses" in 2005, and in the "Top 100 You Can Play" in 2007. Golf Magazine has named it one of the "Top 100 You Can Play."
At Lakota Canyon, Underwood said, no one will walk up to a tee box and say, "I've played a hole like this before." He thinks there are 18 very diverse journeys - including a front nine that has three par 5s, three par 4s and three par 3s.
His favorite is the par-4 16th, a 418-yarder that doglegs to the right and plays across a ravine twice.
"I really like the kidney-shaped green guarded by a typical Engh-shaped bunker that is deep and wide," Underwood said. "This hole can be a bear."
The finale is a hole you'll either love or hate. This 557-yard par 5 appears to have a split fairway, but Engh says no. The tee shot needs to go 225 to 250 yards before a ravine halts the green grass. The fairway resumes to the right, but there is an aggressive, shorter sightline to the green where a huge native area sits between you and eagle or double bogey.
Perhaps the best view comes at the 583-yard, par-5 11th. From a course high point, you can bomb it down the ski slope fairway a long way, but things narrow the farther you go. And if you go for the green in two the target looks narrow with muscular, thick-rough mounds on the left and water, sand and native areas on the right.
Lakota Canyon Ranch & Golf Club: The verdict
This is a typical, scenic Jim Engh-designed golf course with bowled fairways and receptive but tricky greens, and dastardly deep bunkers that wiggle like a snake on the move. That said this is not a course for golf traditionalists. You won't find any holes where you just jump on the tee box and without thinking bomb a drive down the middle.
What is especially appealing about this golf course is the accessibility. It is just 10 miles west of historic Glenwood Springs. Just take the I-70 exit at New Castle and go north less than one mile. This I-70 corridor is that ribbon of interstate that takes you from Denver close to the ski areas of Copper Mountain, Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen. The drive through Glenwood Canyon is as impressive a stretch of interstate as there is in the world.
Lakota Canyon Ranch is open nine months out of the year, and its PGA Professionals provide lessons for individuals and groups on its extensive practice range.
Stay-and-play golf packages are available with the historic Hot Springs Lodge in Glenwood Springs. The package includes 18 holes of golf, golf cart, lodging, unlimited admission to the Hot Springs Pool (world's largest mineral hot springs pool), and continental breakfast at the Glenwood Hot Springs Grill. When making reservations golfers can ask for preferred tee times.
For dinner, try the Colorado rack of lamb at Riviera Restaurant just a few blocks from the Hot Springs Lodge.