n the heat of midsummer or
the blazing color of early autumn, there’s no roadtrip Mr. McMulligan and I
would rather take than the ride over Berthoud Pass into Winter Park and onto
the golf courses of Grand County.
From the Denver area, it’s typically no more than 90 minutes
to the first tee of Pole Creek, Grand Elk or Granby Ranch golf courses. But in
the heat of summer, that’s a welcome 10-degree drop. And in September or early
October, it’s the scene in the Wizard of Oz where black and white
cinematography blooms into technicolor.
Short ride, long way from home. The beauty of it is that
Colorado golfers don’t have to fly or book far ahead for this special destination.
You could be there this afternoon.
If you’re thinking about it, here’s what to consider.
the road may not be long, but it’s winding. Most will take I-70 to I-40 and go
over the Berthoud Pass. We always make a late tee time on arrival day and make
sure we have a leisurely drive. Always check on construction, because there are
lots of potholes and only a few months to fix them before the snow crowd blows
The season is
short. This crazy weather year, courses didn’t open until mid-May, then closed,
then opened and boasted excellent conditions through summer. They’ll stay open
as long as they can, but not past mid-October.
If you want to
play either of the crown jewels, Pole Creek or Grand Elk, make reservations. Pole
Creek is the recreation district’s course and has special deals and rates for
locals; it has active clubs and, maybe because author and funnyman Rick Reilly
said it was his favorite course, draws groups. So it’s always busy, though $124
and up for visitors, depending on the day and time. You can reserve now for
whenever you want to play.
homeowners get memberships and have priority times, and homes continue to be
built there. Again, rates tend to be upwards of $100, but you’ll have to wait
until a week out to get any tee times the owners have not taken.
Also at $100 for
a weekday high-season round, Granby Ranch almost always has last-minute
tee-times available. Without the infrastructure of the other two courses, it
cannot compete at those rates. But, weekends need to be booked two weeks out.
Pole Creek and
Granby Ranch, by the way, have very good food, staff and service in their
restaurants. Even a nongolfer might enjoy a meal at either one.
As for lodging,
you’ll find lots. So, be picky. We’ve stayed at the bed-and-breakfast-style
Winter Park Chateau, which has new owners and has been renovated to high praise
from reviewers; it’s in the heart of town.
We’ve opted for
vacation rentals at a Winter Park Village condo, in a home walk-out in
Tabernash and in a new condo in downtown Winter Park.
we’ve had great experiences with condos in Cozens Pointe, a small new
development on the hill above Fraser.
Fraser and Winter Park have many properties on your favorite vacation rental
site. There’s a new Gravity Haus in Winter Park that’s getting very good buzz
and would be ideal for an overnight or weekend.
Just take care
and read reviews if going the hotel route. Consider whether you want to eat out
or in, walk or drive, have action or peace.
will drop for autumn weekdays, when some restaurants close or curtail hours.
Unfortunately, even then, the courses are so busy, golf stay-and-play packages
are elusive. Know anyone who lives at Grand Elk?
There was no golf in the Winter Park-Granby ski country until 1985, when Pole Creek Golf Club’s
Ranch and Meadow nines, designed by Denis Griffiths, gave visitors something to
do in the summer. The Ridge nine came along in 2000. The course continues to
win accolades every year, inside Colorado and beyond.
In 2001, Granby
Ranch opened, known then as Headwaters. Like the surrounding ski property, it
has struggled through the years, and at times seemed likely to revert to cattle
ranch. But, somehow, the course itself today is a gem, though without a
clubhouse, on-course restrooms or drinking water.
In 2002, Grand
Elk first opened. And I say “first opened” without redundancy, because since
that opening the homeowners rescued the course and took over. Nowadays, the
best “stay and play” in Grand County is to buy a home in Grand Elk, which
includes golf club membership.
I’d say I’m an
average female golfer, a short hitter aspiring for bogeys and hoping to make up
my doubles on the par 3s. The thing I love most about Pole Creek, Grand Elk and
Granby Ranch is the natural beauty around all three courses.
The elevated view
from Ridge 9 tee at Pole Creek is one of the best in the state, especially when
the leaves turn and clouds diffuse the light. The big sky views at Grand Elk go
for miles. And I really love how the serene front nine at Granby Ranch wanders
down to the river, with not a house in sight and the Amtrak Zephyr rolling
through everyday en route to San Francisco.
Granby Ranch is
the most playable of the courses for women, while Grand Elk’s back nine opens
with three of the most penal holes for any level player, especially those made
nervous by small targets and carries of any length. Pole Creek’s Ridge 9 is
great fun, the Ranch 9 extremely difficult and the Meadow 9 absolutely engaging
except for one hole, No. 7, that ruins my scorecard on every visit. We call it
“Jaws,” maybe because of the way it swallows up golf balls.
But, that’s my
story. Mr. M, on the other hand, has a single-digit handicap and a beautiful
game. He sees a golf course differently, and I’m giving him a whole 500 words
to spend on these three gems:
Mr. M: “Pole Creek has
always been the best in Grand County and one of the best mountain courses in
Colorado. It forces you to hit a variety of shots. Some holes are easy, and
some holes are really hard. You have to be on your game. And then they added
the Ridge nine, which is just spectacular.
“I think the
agronomy today is better, in that they’re recovering from winter faster, and
the conditions are staying good longer. And the greens are a little faster than
they used to be.
“On the Ranch
nine, the hole that catches your attention the most is the fourth hole (435
yards from the back, 409 from the whites). You hit from between the trees to a
pretty wide fairway, but if you don’t hit a good enough drive you have a long
carry over water to a double-decker green surrounded by sandtraps. And if you
go too far, you’re in the creek. It’s almost like an island green.
“On the Meadow
nine, everyone talks about Jaws (par-5 No. 7 winding around pines and pond),
because it’s such a hard hole. You have to hit three fantastic shots, and you
still might not par it. Then the next hole is long (433 from the blues, 399
whites) and always plays into the wind, to an uphill, tiered green.
“There are so
many good holes on the Ridge 9. It starts so dramatically with an uphill par-4.
Even a single-digit handicapper might par that thing once out of 20 times. And
of course it ends with the death-drop par-5 ninth that everybody loves and
probably doesn’t par or birdie as much as they think they do.
“At Grand Elk, I
think the scenery is beautiful – big sky, different kind of look to it, classic
Colorado ranchland. It has a lot of good holes. I really like No. 6, a long
par-3 that gives you plenty of bailout room on the left side, and that’s the
way you should play the hole. And 17 and 18 are good finishing holes, a short
par-5 and a long par-4. The greens are always really good here.
“The good and the
bad about Granby Ranch… well, it’s the poor stepchild of the county courses,
with no bathrooms or water or cart paths. … The front nine is bucolic, river
bottom, reeds and marshland – really quite fun, you can get rolling and score
well. There’s the train, and the headwaters of the Colorado River, and it feels
Western. The back nine is a totally different experience. Canyonland golf, with
some blind hills to go over. So it’s an enjoyable, dramatic golf course to
I have to stop
Mr. M there, or he’d go on and on.
If you like
fishing, there are streams and rivers. If you like water sports, there are
Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby, with Grand Lake a little farther along.
We even have a special little beach where we like to put up our feet.
Cyclists love to
take the Winter Park gondola to the top and ride down. We just took the gondola
up – feeling safe enough even a super-windy afternoon – and walked around the
top, wishing we’d brought a picnic.
Hikers will find
plenty of trails. We went into the Fraser Experimental Forest on our last visit
and hiked around St. Louis Creek. Stunning. Stopped at an overlook and were
warned about mosquitoland ahead of us. Appreciated the kindness of fellow
One night we
decided to try a new restaurant we’d poked our heads into only the night
before. It was closed! We saw someone in the kitchen and banged on the window.
Turned out, the staff wanted to go to a concert that night in Denver. “Come
That pretty much
sums up the mountain vibe. The housing crisis has replaced COVID as a deterrent
for seasonal staff, so you can’t count on a restaurant being open during
scheduled hours, and a shop might close for lunch or not open at all.
Just roll with
it. At least there’s no need to pack a sportcoat or heels! Even golf clothes
feel kind of dressy when out and about on the towns of Grand County.
You walkers, enjoy the rides. Carts and range balls come with all the green
fees. Pole Creek’s Ranch and Meadow nines are considered walkable, but the
Ridge nine, not so much. Grand Elk has some long walks between holes, and
Granby Ranch would be walkable except that it has the longest cart ride from
front nine to back nine we’ve ever seen! … Bug repellant! Sunscreen! … Remember
the altitude – 8,810 feet at Pole Creek’s highest point. Hydrate. … Any women
who figure out how to play Pole Creek’s Meadow No. 7, please shoot me an email!
McMulligan, created by golf journalist and CGA member Susan Fornoff, is the
CGA’s on-the-course advisor on how to have more fun on the golf course. She
answers questions in Dear
Molly and will be sharing more of her travels. Mr. McMulligan, Keith
DuBay, is also a journalist and a much better golfer than Molly. (And, BTW,
they got engaged in 2015 on the ninth tee of Pole Creek’s Ridge nine.)