Four Mile Ranch Golf Club, designed by award-winning former Colorado architect Jim Engh, is a scrubby desert-like journey for the senses. It traverses rumpled fairways, presents countless backboards and perplexes you with boomerang putts, and has a few blind shots inspired by Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland — one of Engh’s favorite spots to worship the game. It is void of traditional bunkers.
It is incomprehensible to me that Engh, a golf-course architect of the year, has not completed a USA golf course since 2015.
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 economic downturns and a botched pandemic? It is a blast to play and is loaded with mesmerizing holes. It has a loyal following of non-traditional architecture lovers.
“Four Mile Ranch is always a course I look forward to playing because it holds the player’s interest from the opening tee shot to the last putt holed. It’s a thrill ride packed with wonderful landforms, big, bold features and some wild green complexes that will keep the player engaged all day long. As much as I enjoy Four Mile Ranch for its challenge, I enjoy coming back time after time simply because it’s just a really fun golf course, and one that is never boring,” said Allan Long, Director of Event Services-Ice Hall at the Broadmoor World Arena.
Four Mile Ranch Golf Club starts with a beauty
The beautiful first hole is one of the 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.
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.
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.
Many say the best view on the whole golf course is the 482-yard, par-4 no. 13, 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.
“I always seem to gravitate towards the incredible set of par-3’s, and the risk-reward par 5’s,” said Long, a former college golfer at Arizona. “The par-3 holes feature a great deal of variety, and the green complex on number 12 has to be seen to be believed. The Dell hole-inspired 14th hole with its blind shot always gets my attention.
“Engh did a great job with the design of the par 5’s. If you’re going for the par 5’s in two, the approach shots are a thrilling combination of risk-reward options where blind shots are the norm. However, if you take the more traditional route, you normally have a good look at the green site.”
Four Mile Ranch Golf Club: Don’t expect frills
Golfers don’t come here for the steak dinners because a fancy clubhouse is nowhere to be found. And there’s no piped in music at the range — just dirt, aiming poles and hogbacks.
The good times are in the 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.
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 runs 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.
Story by David R. Holland
Four Mile Ranch photos by Rene Tate and David R. Holland