Not to bash the birthplace of modern golf, but even The Old Course at Scotland’s most prestigious club doesn’t quite compare to our duo of true ski resort clubs: Copper Creek Golf Course, an 18-hole course found at the base of Copper Mountain, and Keystone golf club, a collection of two 18-hole courses just east of Keystone Resort.
Both clubs feature wildly different styles of play — pretty typical for the Rocky Mountains — and both are challenging for golfers of any ability, from total newcomers to veterans with a three-stroke handicap. This is mountain golf at it’s absolute finest. It almost makes you wish that winter would never arrive — almost.
COPPER CREEK GOLF COURSE
Copper Creek has a well-earned reputation as a local’s club, and it holds true. On a typical afternoon you’ll run into families, ski club coaches, husband-wife duos and the occasional pro snowboarder taking a break from clinics at Woodward Copper.
That doesn’t mean Copper Creek is a beat-and-battered par 3. No, the par-69 course has a little of everything spread over 18 holes: water hazards, sand bunkers, grass bunkers, elevation changes and, for the first few holes, fairways that pass right over the top of runs just above the Super Bee lift at the East Village.
“Within Summit County we like to consider ourselves a little more family friendly,” said Jeff Inouye, operations supervisor at Copper Creek who’s been at Copper for 16 years. “We accept walking all day, we see lots of families in the afternoons — it’s a little bit more laid-back.”
Just don’t let the scorecard fool you. The course seems short at par 69, but the holes are spread across a surprisingly difficult — and often unforgiving — collection of long par 3s and hazard-strewn par 4s.
“It is still a very challenging course,” Inouye said. “One of the things I say to everyone is to not let the yardage fool you. Don’t select your tee box based on the yardage — a lot of people get in trouble because they play from the tips. They struggle.”
The first par 5, hole 6 (494 yards from the tips), is a perfect example. It’s the shortest of the course’s three par 5s, but it’s lined by a road on the left and three water hazards on the right, including one that sits about 60 yards from the green. Feel free to go for eagle with a good drive, but only if you feel comfortable tempting the water.
Inouye’s personal favorites are hole 5, a 339-yard par 4 with another water-lined green, and hole 18, a 415-yard par 4 with a difficult fairway and plenty of drop from tee box to green.
Then, of course, is Copper Creek’s claim to fame: hole 16, a 332-yard par 4 with the highest tee box in North America (for a full 18, that is). It sits at an elevation of 9,863 feet on a hole that drops nearly 100 feet from the tips to the green.
BIKES ON COURSE
New this season at Copper Creek is a fleet of golf bikes. The eight bikes are built to hold clubs on a rear mount, with six gears for uphills and thick tires for riding on the fairway. The machines are relatively new — they debuted in the mountains at Vail Golf Club two years ago — and they’re already winning converts, like 71-year-old Copper resident Don Sather.
“I’m sure someone who bikes a lot will find it very easy,” said Sather, who’s more into hiking than biking when he’s not playing a round. “They’ll make the hills that I don’t because I’m just not a biker. It’s really not a workout — it’s just pretty comfortable.”
Sather admits the bikes aren’t quite as social as riding side-by-side with friends in a cart, but when carts aren’t allowed on the grass after heavy rains or early in the season, the bikes are a perfect alternative to walking.
“There’s enough diversity on the course that, even though it’s not long and you don’t have incredible hills like The Raven (at Three Peaks in Silverthorne), there’s a little of everything,” Sather said. “There’s water, there’s some sand, and I just enjoy getting out to practice the game in the sun, and now getting a little exercise on the bike.”
The original course at the house Max Dercum built is Keystone Ranch, a par 72 designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. that first opened for play in the mid-’80s.
The front 9 is a traditional links-style course in the alpine meadows between Keystone and nearby Summit Cove, with pine-lined hills on all sides and a large lake smack in the middle.
The back 9 is a typical mountain course, with elevation gains and drops on tough and tight par 3s and par 4s before opening up to long par 5s and par 4s that skirt the shores of the lake.
Hole 5 isn’t one of the most challenging holes on the course — in fact, it might be one of the easiest par 3s at 190 yards from the tips — but the green is guarded by a thick wetland meadows in front and a collection of cabins in the back. They’re the namesake ranch homes at Keystone Ranch, and, for a second, it’s easy to forget you’re playing a championship course, rather than a manicured field in the heart of alpine farm country.
THE RIVER COURSE
Built in 2000, this par-71 Hurdzan-Fry design is the epitome of mountain golf. The front 9 faithfully follows along the banks of Swan River before giving way to a back 9 with stunning elevation changes and rolling, lolling hills, like the 194-foot drop on hole 16, or the well-guarded green on hole 18 with views of Lake Dillon, Red Mountain and Buffalo Peak. The terrain is similar to the extreme design at the other Hurdzan-Fry course in Summit, The Raven.
The club’s signature hole, hole 7, is the kind of par 3 you play with money on the line. It’s relatively straightforward, with only the creek and two small bunkers guarding the large and slightly sloped green. At 195 yards from the tips, this one is made for birdies with a good tee shot — and it just might be your first ace with a perfect one.