Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Golf in Glorious St George Utah

St. George, Utah is about two hours from Las Vegas and less than an hour from Zion National Park. But St. George holds its own with these two overwhelming attractions by occupying a special niche--great golf at reasonable prices. And there’s no extra charge for the great weather. St. George has its own micro weather system and is usually a warm, dry, wonderful place to play golf.

The Golf Course at Sand Hollow Resort

At Sand Hollow Resort, think green, as in more grass than you’ve ever seen on a desert course. Designer John Fought clearly wants you to hit his fairways and greens. He does get a little cross, though, with those who don’t take advantage of his generosity. That’s why you also better think red, as in the deep orange red of the sand in the 90 or so vast and very deep bunkers that await shots that somehow stray from fairways and greens that are almost too big to miss. There’s also the red of the desert and the surrounding rocks, but at Sand Hollow there are no white out-of-bounds stakes. If you can find it, you can hit it.

The combination of red and green is not only stunningly beautiful--it makes a trip around Sand Hollow challenging, rewarding and, above all, enjoyable. My overall impression of the course is of bright waves of fairway, punctuated by bunkers, sweeping up and down the desert slopes to greens that are huge but not too severe. Every shot you hit rises against the mountains in the distance, or the massive red rocks and cliffs that dot the course, or simply the blue desert sky. A good example is number six, rated the number one handicap hole on the course. A dogleg left, the point where the sixth fairway turns is marked by a beautiful red boulder. Cut the corner by flying it if you can, or play right and look down from a hill top to a green guarded by bunkers on both sides. The flight of a well-struck second shot will be so enchanting that you’ll want to hit it again.

The front nine will make you smile, but eleven through fifteen on the back turn your smile into a thrill. Here is where red rock cliffs, falling 200 feet to the Virgin River valley below, will make you stop and just breathe in the scenery. At the beginning of the round, the starter said, “Pace of play is approximately 4:40--faster on the front nine, slower on the back, giving you extra time to drink in the scenery.” Numbers 12, 13 and 14 play along the cliff, uphill and then back down, bringing visual drama into every shot. But the real payoff is number 15, a breathtaking 160-yard downhill par three that inspires awe as your ball seems to hang in the air forever before falling onto the emerald green.

You may think that no out of bounds, not a single tree, wide fairways--and no water--would make Sand Hollow a bit of pushover. Guess again. The cunningly placed bunkers will take care of that notion, but it’s a challenge of the most enjoyable kind. And if you haven’t had enough fun after 18, Sand Hollow also offers an attractive, walkable nine-hole links style course and an 18-hole putting course called the Himalaya (yes, it’s that steep). The putting course alone may be worth the trip.

The Sand Hollow Resort golf course is a real bargain during the off season (mid-May through September 30)--only $50 including cart and range balls. Twilight fees are even less. The green fee doubles during peak season. Annual passes are available.

If you go:
435-656- golf (4653)

Coral Canyon Golf Club

Coral Canyon Golf Club, located in Washington UT, is just a few miles up the road from St. George. We are in a low lying desert and the design
of this golf course truly reflects its environment. Coral Canyon has its share of drama--both the front and back nines begin on tees 75 to 100 feet above the fairway. These tee shots have hang time that would make an NFL punter proud. But the real strength of this course is its connection to its desert setting.

The challenge here is not only to keep your ball out of the desert that lines the fairways, but also to keep it out of the desert washes that cross the fairways. These washes are strategically placed to challenge your courage to carry them, especially if you haven’t hit your best tee shot. Don’t take these washes lightly. Not just sandy stream beds, they are filled with golfball-eating vegetation. On two of the par fives--two and fourteen--a weak drive will cause you to think long and hard about trying to carry the wash on your second shot. Hoping to avoid this dilemma, you may feel a little added pressure on the tees of these holes. But the most interesting use of these cross-fairway washes is on the 15th, an intimidating par four that requires you to carry washes on the drive and second shot. The hole is flat, so bushes may even interfere with your view of the green. Par is a really good score here.

Coral Canyon’s back nine is particularly interesting because it has 3 par threes, 3 par fours and 3 par fives. This may make things more enjoyable for the average golfer, since par threes and par fives are usually easier to play. Plus, they are usually the most interesting hole designs as well.

The service here is wonderful. Be sure to greet Jan, the outside services person, with a big smile when you arrive. They don’t get much friendlier or more helpful than Jan.

If you go:
Rates range from $48-$105 plus tax and range balls, depending on the season. You may reserve up to 60 days in advance

Accommodations: Mesquite, only 30 miles from St. George, has a couple casino hotels. We found a very nice two-bedroom condo in St George in Sports Village. The condo was clean and well equipped. The complex has a clubhouse, workout room, 3 swimming pools, hot tubs, racquetball, volleyball, tennis and other amenities. The rates are $120 per night in the high season, and $100 per night low season.Talk to the folks at about the four condos they have available in the complex.

There are many things to do in the St. George Area. You are 30 minutes from Nevada casinos and less than an hour from Zion National Park. In St. George you can visit the oldest Mormon Temple in the world and the winter home of Brigham Young, as well as St. George Dinosaur Discovery, where there are some of the best fossil footprints from the Jurassic period to be seen anywhere.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Golf and Dude Ranches of Granby Colorado

Home James met us at the Denver Airport heading 65 miles west of Denver and in less than two hours we had climbed nearly 3000 feet in elevation to our snuggly condo in Granby Ranch. Although we are in the heart of ski country, this area may get more tourists in the summer. We are a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, There are numerous dude ranches and several golf courses in the area and we are close to the banks of the Colorado River. There is also plenty of wildlife roaming the neighborhood including Elk, Black Bear, Antelope, Coyote and Mountain Lions.

Grand Lake Golf Course

Today, Sept 2, I arrived at Grand Lake Golf Course to find there was a 45 minute frost delay. WOW!! That’s early!! This course may have one of the shortest seasons in golf--they are basically open from mid-May to early Oct.Thats short, but for those few months this is open, it’s well worth the trip.
This is a true mountain course, with elevation changes and vistas galore. Sitting a few miles from the southern boarder of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is par 72 playing 6650 yards. However, at 8400 feet of elevation it plays more like 6200 yards, and like many mountain courses, the challenge of the golf can be matched by the challenge of the distracting views.

When it was originally designed, all the fairways were tightly tree-lined but several years ago there was a Bark Beatle infestation and they lost 200,000 trees. Now it looks very links style with sweeping views of not only adjacent holes but miles of mountain views as well. I like it like this.

As you look out over the panoramas of the majestic Rocky Mountains that surround you, you’ll see acres and acres of brown dead trees peppered in contrast to some green areas of new growth. It reminds you of the infestation but stuns you nonetheless.
The carts all have graphic GPS so distances to everything are very clear, but be careful of club selection, 8400 feet of elevation can fool you if you don’t pay attention.
Many of the greens are postage stamp in size but they were in terrific shape and putted very well. Several of the holes on the back nine could be signature holes, particularly number 10 a sweeping downhill dogleg left and number 11,a 180 yard par three from an elevated tee, to an elevated green over a pond.

As we made the turn about, just after noon, the wind showed up and changed everything. Apparently, this is common in the mountains.

I played with two wonderful partners, who I met on the first tee, Art and Rich. Art was from New York, but Rich went to Bloomington High School, one suburb over from me in Minneapolis. Small World!

Grand Lake Golf Course- 970-627-8008
Rates are $64 in high season and $44 in low season plus cart

Home James airport shuttle: 800-359-7536 shuttles to Granby from DIA $75.00 one way
Alpine Resort Properties: 800-551-9943 Two bedroom condo at Granby Ranch was $149 per night.

Pole Creek Golf Club is located just outside of Winter Park CO 70 miles west of Denver. It is a magnificent 27 hole facility and today I played 18 holes (Ridge and Meadow). We played it from 6600 yards but there are 4 sets of tees so you can play any distance you are comfortable with. Remember 6600 at this elevation plays more like 6200 at sea level.

The Ridge nine is fascinating with elevation changes and undulations galore. It starts with a dogleg left, uphill par 4 and then travels up and down along the ridge from there. The par threes are wonderful and the par-five, ninth is spectacular. You can see for miles from the tee box even to many of the ski runs of Winter Park. This 532 yard hole tumbles down the hill, like a water fall and even I was able to get within 40 yards of the green in two. The contrast of the vast blue skies against the shimmering emerald fairways is surreal in its own way.

The Meadow is laid out on a more level portion of the property. Just after 1:00 the notorious afternoon winds showed up and changed everything.

Number 5 is a split fairway, I chose the right fairway, but having played it once I would play the left fairway which gives you a much clearer view of the green. Number seven is an almost horseshoe shaped hole where at first glance it appears you could go straight for the green, but even the longest of hitters can’t really reach it. It took someone with quite a vision to design this hole. So the conventional way is straight over a fairway bunker, then almost 90 degrees dogleg left over a pond and back up hill and further left to an elevated green. I would love to play this hole a couple more times, It is such an interesting and unique design.
There are some spectacular homes dotting these fairways and there are many spots that make you feel like you are looking at the best Golf coffee table book in existence.

Pole Creek Golf Club 970-887-9195
Rates $83-$89 regular season plus cart

Dude Ranches of Colorado
This is my first visit to a Dude Ranch and I can’t help but think about the movie “City Slickers.” Maybe I’ll meet Curley, but I am more hoping to meet Norman, the cow that Billy Crystal helped birth and effectively adopted.

There is something about the outside of a horse: that is good
for the inside of a cowboy”
- anon

If you have dreamed of trying out the cowboy life, and a week away from cell phones, TV and your Blackberry sounds enticing, then Dude ranches may be the place for you.

Drowsy Water Ranch is a dude ranch located near Granby, CO about 90 miles west of Denver and 3000 feet higher in elevation. This has been a working ranch for many years and was bought by the Fosha Family in 1977. This ranch is a family affair in many ways. One couple who is here this week from Indiana has been coming for 28 years. They have brought the kids and now bring the grandkids as well. He said, “I was here the year the Foshas had their first kid and I have seen their entire family grow up. They are like family to me”
Guests are not the only family members; there are the 120 horses with their varying temperaments and personalities who seem to be separate but equal family members. Ken told us the story of two of the horses, Gus and Navajo who hang out together all the time in the pasture and seem to be inseparable. Then there are the friendships that get built here as people bond during their weeks and arrange to come back the following year or years at the same time.

It’s also a family affair in that 75% of the visitors here are families. They have 3 adult weeks after Labor Day and thats it. This week is “art week” where people interested in painting come to paint in the morning and ride in the afternoon.
So what do you do at a Dude Ranch? Well, of course there is horseback riding, but there is also mountain biking, trout fishing, guided hikes, river rafting, yoga, horseshoes, steak frys, songfests and campfires, country dancing, hay rides and more. I forgot to mention the family style meals in the dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This morning started with a full breakfast from the menu and our introduction to trail riding. We walked down to the stable to meet our horse (mine is Gus, the lovebird I mentioned earlier). We got about 1/2 hour of training (how to ride, trot, command them etc)--this was followed by a 1 hour trail ride. The instruction was thorough and outstanding.
The staff here is as friendly and helpful as can be. After a delicious spaghetti dinner it was off to the Teepee for an evening of line dancing and square dancing (with plenty of instruction to help us novices) It was more fun than I would have at first imagined.
Come for a week and you will soon be familiar with words like “Howdy!!” “Come and Get it!” and the sound of the dinner bell.
I can see why people come back here year after year.
Drowsy Water Ranch 800-845-2292. rates are $1820 to $1890 per week

Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch is the oldest continuous dude ranch in Colorado, and in 2012 they will celebrate their 100th anniversary. They are located 105 miles west of Denver on the bank of the Colorado River (the river source is 20 miles upriver) at an altitude of 7500 feet. We are just a few miles down the road from Drowsy Water Ranch. Drowsy Water Ranch and Bar Lazy J seem similar at first (especially when you review their daily activities list) but the similarities stop there. The capacity here is approx 45.

My cabin is called Gingerquill and the Colorado River is right out my front door. It’s raining today, but that does not really seem to matter. It’s so tranquil to just look out the window at the running river. Or just curl up with a book in the living room of the ranch house in front of the fireplace and pretty soon its lunchtime.

There is plenty to do, even if you don’t like riding horses, such as: fishing, white water rafting, high country rides, hiking, steak, shrimp and, BBQ rib cookouts and even a cattle drive (Billy Crystal, watch out). These are for everyone.
Then especially for the kids, there are programs for swimming, arts and crafts, treasure hunts, feeding baby animals and nature walks and more. They have a kids Pow Wow and on Friday nights they have staff skits followed by a kids skit--which the kids get totally immersed in.

There are specific multigenerational family activities as well, like the Wed morning breakfast ride and “GymKahna,” relay races on horses that involve family teams.

The guest books in the rooms are a perfect way to wile away a couple hours on a rainy morning. The stories and appreciation are awe inspiring. Here are three examples
“To the guest who come after us, If this is your first visit, get
ready for the single most magical experience of your life.
This is our third visit”
“Our family came half way round the world from France for
this fantastic week. We plan to return”
“I know I am one of many, but I so feel like family.. This place
is like nowhere else, a place to forget reality for a while and
simply enjoy life”

But the most telling story I heard this week was about a very successful lawyer from New York City who was here with his family. His firm had managed to reach him by phone at the ranch and told him to return to New York for a very important deposition. The senior partner of the firm had asked “can we land a helicopter on the ranch to pick you up and take you to a private jet?” He thought it over for about a minute and said, “Let someone else handle that deposition, I am stayin here with my family”
After he hung up the phone he recounted the conversation to the Ranch owners. “This is the first time I ever said NO to my work colleages.”

One more story is about a family from Arkansas. The kids had never been out of Arkansas before and came to Bar Lazy J. For weeks after the visit the kids begged, “Lets move to Colorado, buy 40 acres and three horses”
Several months later the family pulled up stakes and made the move.

75-80 percent of their guests are repeat guests. Personally I am surprised that there is ever room for new guests.
There is one small 8x8 room remotely located on the ranch property called “Internet Jailhouse” in case you just have to get on line.

Bar Lazy J Guest Ranch: 800-369-6279 Weekly Rates: $1825 (adults) $1295 (7-12 yr old) $1095 (3-6 yr old) They are sold out for 2012 except for 2 weeks in Sept

Happy Trails!!

To get to my next destination, Salt Lake City, I decided to take the train from Granby, CO to Salt Lake City. Its about 10 or 11 hours. But it is the most relaxing scenic day you may ever spend, as the train winds through the canyons along side the mighty Colorado River.-- What a way to travel!