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Golf on the Slopes

Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 2)

Unlike its nearby rival Red Sky, Cordillera offers on-site lodging, in the form of the luxury Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, and guests of this boutique hotel are the only "public" allowed access to the four courses. While the very high-altitude Summit Course, a Nicklaus Signature design, is considered the must-play, it is Tom Fazio's far lower Valley Course, playing along the valley floor, which steals the show. In between is Hale Irwin's precipitous Mountain Course, worth playing if only for the shocking elevation changes, the rare design that actually lives up to the overused description "roller-coaster ride." There are at least half a dozen other public courses in the Vail Valley, but Red Sky and Cordillera are easily the best.

Keystone, Colorado

It may not be the first destination ski resort off the lips of winter sports fans around the world, but Keystone (keystoneresort.com), the large Vail Resort mountain primarily used by Colorado locals, has one of the richest histories in ski-resort golf. Both of its courses are excellent, and Keystone Ranch, one of the first Robert Trent Jones Jr. courses built west of the Mississippi, was for many years the highest-altitude full-sized layout in the nation at a staggering 9,300 feet, a golf breakthrough when it opened in 1980.

If hitting the longest drives of your life is an enticement, few places on the planet are better suited for the job. After two decades, the Ranch remains one of Colorado's most popular courses, winding through a beautiful and rugged river valley with tall native grasses, sage and a very Old West feel. This is capped on the fourth hole with iconic and historic nineteenth-century ranch buildings behind the green, and surrounding mountain vistas from the valley floor. A round at the Ranch sums up rugged Rocky Mountain golf in a nutshell.

Surprisingly, it is here, not in Denver or Boulder or Aspen or Vail or Telluride, where you'll find the best restaurant in the state. Located in the clubhouse, Keystone Ranch is repeatedly ranked by top food critics as the No. 1 place to dine in all of Colorado.

The nearby River Course, a 2000 Hurdzan Fry design, is as good as the Ranch, and some would argue even better. It has several brilliant holes and is routed through environmentally sensitive wetlands, giving the tract a much more natural flavor, teeming with animals and showcasing high-altitude Colorado flora. The 36 holes at Keystone offer worlds of variety—and quality—just minutes apart.

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

How much is enough for Canada's flagship ski resort? Sister mountains Whistler and Blackcomb anchored the last Winter Olympic Games, they boast the greatest vertical drop of any ski hills in North America, and the resort is consistently rated No. 1 on the continent by almost every major ski and travel publication.

With dozens of shops, restaurants, hotels and bars, from Irish pubs to sushi to world-class French dining, its huge pedestrian village is easily the best on the continent. But when the snow melts, Whistler Blackcomb (whistlerblackcomb.com) is also the 800-pound gorilla of ski-resort golf with not one, not two, but three high-quality courses all within easy reach of the lifts, and two more a short drive away. All five are different enough to offer a wide variety of golf styles and scenery. For true ski resort-based golf, it is hard to argue against Whistler's prominence.

The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Chateau Whistler course, which plays right across the ski slopes, is gorgeous, combining elevation changes and scenic views, with exposed rock ledges, ponds and immaculate landscaping, as well as fields of wildflowers rivaling Augusta National.


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