KEYSTONE, CO – Long before the ski runs were carved and the golf holes placed into the environment, Keystone, at an elevation of 9,300 feet, was an 1880s stagecoach station on the way to Denver, heading over towering Loveland Pass.
A little rustic inn served as the stop for travelers and it’s still here. They call it the Ski Tip Lodge and if you could look back in time, there was a day when you might have said “howdy” to Henry Fonda, sitting in a rocking chair in back, overlooking the Snake River, relaxing after a day of hiking in the cool Colorado summer.
Today, the Ski Tip Lodge is a Keystone landmark. It’s a bed and breakfast and home to a gourmet restaurant that is a must for any vacationer.
But modern-day Keystone is much, much more. It’s a world class ski resort, carefully designed to make every single member of the family happy. The kids won’t have a chance to get bored. Even golf has a special program for the youngsters.
It’s also home to two championship golf courses, the newest one opened in June 2000, named The River Course at Keystone, and The Ranch Course, which opened in 1980.
“It is hard to get bored looking at the sweeping vistas from Mount Baldy to the south to Red Mountain, Swan Mountain, the West Gore Range, Buffalo Mountain and Uneva Peak,” said Jim Banks, head pro of the Ranch Course. Add Soda Creek crossing the property and the scenery is as good as the golf.
Steve Corneillier, Keystone’s General Manager of Golf & Recreation, looks at the River Course like a proud papa. A veteran employee for three decades, he nurtured the dream-to-reality project with a vision of environmental stewardship to a playable and enjoyable golf course that might not be matched by any other mountain golf course — anywhere.
“Our goal was to make this golf course appear as if it was air-lifted in,” said Corneillier. “We didn’t want the golfer to see any disturbance to the landscape. There’s a breathtaking view from every hole.”
This vision was the reason he selected golf course architects Dana Fry and Dr. Michael Hurdzan. The duo are known worldwide for their environmentally-sensitive approach to design and Hurdzan was rewarded as Golf World magazine’s 1997 Golf Architect of the Year.
“Our two courses are like brother and sister,” Corneillier said. “You can see how they are related, but they are also two different contrasting styles.”
The River Course
The River Course measures 6,886 yards from the black tees for par 71. It cost almost $12 million and features five to six sets of tees allowing play for any level of golfer. It includes 74 bunkers and five water hazards.
Fry and Hurdzan provided generous landing areas, but mounding keeps fairways from looking as wide as they are. After a spectacular elevated tee shot on the first hole, it takes you only two holes to cross the scenic Snake River, where a par-3, 222-yard test awaits.
Then your journey provides some scary target golf combined with mountain scenes that will cause you to shoot as much with your camera as with a wedge.
The back nine is more elevated and includes incredible mountain vistas and a glimpse of Lake Dillon. Lodgepole pines frame the fairways and wildflowers — poppies, daisies, lupine and flax — are popping up everywhere for an added dash of color.
You could ski down the par-4, 509-yard, 16th hole. It features a 194-foot vertical drop from the tee to green with leveled-off collection areas for the tee shot. The 18th is another elevation drop par-5 with 12 bunkers to navigate on a trip of 520 yards.
“The 18th is my favorite hole,” Corneillier said. “From the tee box you feel as if you can see all of Colorado in the stunning 360-degree panoramic view. It’s a 130-foot drop and the exhilaration you feel after you tee off on the final hole makes you want to start the whole day over again. The River Course really is Colorado at its best.”
The River Course design also features biking and hiking paths which creates a multi-purpose recreational opportunity. In winter, Keystone’s Cross Country Center will headquarter out of the new River Course clubhouse and provide cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on the area’s pathways.
The Ranch Course
The 7,012-yard, par-72 course was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and is located where Ute and Arapaho Indians once hunted buffalo. The clubhouse is a former ranch house, standing for more than eight decades. Here the settlers were cattle ranchers and also farmed lettuce.
After the first two holes are played in the trees, the Ranch Course pops out into sage meadows with a Scottish “linksland” design with 68 bunkers, a nine-acre lake and a total of six water hazards. The greens are a combination bent and poa with bluegrass and rye in the fairways.
Old ranch buildings provide a backdrop on the par-3, 190-yard No. 5. No. 9 is a challenge from the back, especially if the wind is gusting. The hole is only 368 from the rear, but it’s a major carry over the lake when you are against the wind. If you clear the water you will be faced with a short iron for a possible birdie.
Corneillier says No. 17 is Jones’ favorite hole. From the back this par 4 is 422 yards with a forced carry over native grass and wetlands. It’s only one of the holes on the Ranch Course side that makes it a sterner test of golf over the new River Course.
“The Ranch Course is course is wonderful,” said Kyle Ueberroth, a Keystone vacationer. “I have played several courses in Colorado including Cherry Hills. Keystone is a far more challenging course. It’s like Carnoustie in the mountains, but much better.”
Kids get a spotlighted program at Keystone
SNAG (Starting New At Golf) is all about having fun while learning the basics of golf. SNAG is a player friendly, development program designed for new learners, both children and adults. The program makes it easy and fun to learn the fundamentals of putting chipping, pitching and full swing by using over-sized clubs (rollers and launchers) to hit tennis-like balls at sticky targets (flagstickys).
The program develops playing ability quickly and effectively. SNAG equipment and training tools are specifically designed to simplify the learning process.
SNAG is available at Keystone Ranch most days during the golf season — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday & Thursday from 4 – 7 p.m. and all day Wednesdays (junior clinic participants play for free.)
$5 per round
$15 per family up to 4 Snagsters + $2 per additional family member Includes equipment
Call for more information and to confirm availability (970) 496-4250.
Where to Stay
Keystone Lodge & Spa is an excellent place to bunk down. Be sure and check the web site (www.keystoneresort.com) for specials. River Run is a European-styled village with shops and restaurants on the first floors and condos on the upper floors. It includes underground parking, which is great for winter ski trips. Keystone’s gondola ski lift is a short walk away. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Story By David R. Holland