Mountain Golf 2003: Red Sky Golf Club

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Golf 0503

Wolcott, Colorado

Situated 30 minutes west of Vail and 15 minutes from Beaver Creek, Red Sky Ranch, an exclusive $100 million community, is as eye-catching as a turquoise Western belt buckle trimmed in gold. And its new golf club is already the equal in prestige of both of its famous neighboring ski areas as a summer golf destination. Developed by Vail Resorts, Red Sky's Fazio Course, which debuted last June, is a 7,113-yard tour de force etched across a former sheep ranch. Visually stunning, the course is marked by lush bluegrass fairways and exceptionally large, slick bentgrass greens. Routed at more than 7,000 feet above sea level, the front nine switchbacks its way up a mountainside in a high-desert setting of sagebrush-covered hills. Elevated tees serve up breathtaking views of Castle Peak to the west and Vail's fabled Back Bowls in the Gore Range to the east.

Though Tom Fazio's trademark playability is evident throughout-there are five sets of tees on each hole, and corridors were built wide to accommodate all styles of play-the front nine is marked by a pair of gargantuan par fives. The 606-yard fifth, routed atop a mesa, is a monster. Angled directly into the prevailing breeze, it cannot be reached in two by mortals, even with the 15 percent distance boost due to the thin air. On the plus side, there are no hidden agendas. All hazards are in plain view.

For example, the third, like the 12th, is a short "reachable" par four where the reward for driving the green must be weighed against the risk of missing it. Suffice it to say, the direct routes at both are perilous.

After negotiating back-to-back par threes at nine and 10-the latter showcasing Fazio's signature filigreed bunkers and sculptured landforms-players depart the high desert for a series of intimate, self-contained holes carved from aspen, juniper and serviceberry. An alpine lake and tall evergreens highlight the proceedings. Among the featured holes on the incoming nine is the 16th, a prodigious par four that tops out at 505 yards and tumbles downhill from a skybox tee through a chute of trees. It's rated the second most difficult hole on the course, but at full stretch, it may be the toughest two-shotter in the Vail Valley.

According to Fazio, "Red Sky not only provides the opportunity to play great golf, but also to encounter dramatic Rocky Mountain landscapes in their pure environmental forms." What Fazio fails to mention are the loads of dynamite that were required to make way for the course. "The rock blasting here was unbelievable," says Director of Golf Jeff Hanson. "We knew these were the Rocky Mountains, but we didn't think they were that rocky." To Fazio's credit, more than 23,000 sage plants and another 2,200 juniper and serviceberry bushes were salvaged during course construction and later replanted as part of a $1.6 million revegetation program.

Anchoring the Fazio Course is a magnificent guest clubhouse, a rustic yet elegant log structure that blends into the environment and offers both indoor and outdoor dining. Out the back door is a superb 40-acre practice facility with a 350-yard double-ended range, trouble-shot and short-game practice areas and a new Chuck Cook Golf Academy.

Slated to join the Fazio Course this summer is Red Sky's Greg Norman Course, the Shark's first foray into the Rockies. Listed at a whopping 7,500-plus yards from the tips, the Norman Course, situated high above the Fazio layout and divided from it by an imposing ridge, is set in a deep, bowl-like valley. Holes crisscross through aspens and junipers, with craggy red-rock outcrops, deep gulches, a fast-flowing river and wildflower meadows framing the fairways. In other words, it's a true wilderness experience-with plenty of teeth. The Fazio Course can be negotiated from the forward tees by golfers who play the percentages and manage to avoid three-putting the slippery greens. The longer, narrower Norman Course will present a much firmer test. Whhy? Because Norman, like Jack Nicklaus early in his design career, tends to build courses that meet his own scintillating standards of play.

The club's enlightened policy dictates that members and resort guests play the two courses on alternate days. The flip-flop system is a boon to visitors who want to experience both layouts. By national standards, the $200 green fee is as rarefied as the air. But then, Red Sky club memberships start at $175,000, and home sites-just the dirt!-average $750,000.

GREEN FEE $200. Includes GPS cart and range balls. Rate is $175 before June 1 and after Sept. 30.

THE DEAL Red Sky is open to guests of Vail Resorts properties, including The Pines Lodge (rooms start at $129 per night, 800-547-8082, vbcrp.com) and the new Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek (rooms start at $295 per night, 800-576-5582; ritzcarlton.com).

CONTACT Red Sky Golf Club; 970-477-8425; redskygolfclub.com.

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