Keystone Ranch

Keystone Ranch GC, Dillon. Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1980.

This is a very solid course in the mountains but played mostly in the valley.

The first few holes are rather plain, with the first two in the trees before the third emerges into the open. After that, the front nine is outstanding. The fourth is not a long par 4 but accuracy is at a premium. A creek challenges the right side of the fairway, then cuts across it and hugs the left side of the green.

The fifth is a one shot hole, slightly back uphill to a green set between bunkers with a number of old ranch buildings as a backdrop.

Credit: Keystone Ski Resort

The sixth—a reachable par 5—doubles back with a pond down the left side. The second shot is over a creek that runs down the left side of the green. Even if you don’t try to reach the green in two, there’s interest on the second shot as you’re better off challenging the creek on the left, which leaves a much better angle for your third. There’s ample fairway to the right for you to bail out on your second shot, but the approach becomes very difficult from that angle, over bunkers with water behind.

The eighth features three bunkers in the fairway—you need either a very long tee ball to clear the last one on the left, or a draw to find the fairway.

But for all that the most dramatic hole on the front is the ninth, a short par 4, reachable for some played around (or over) the mountain lake in the middle of the property. The safe play is to the left where an ample fairway awaits, but at altitude a long carry over the lake is feasible—and tempting.

The back nine is a little less interesting, with holes playing largely back and forth along the side of a gentle hill. There’s something to be said for holes like the elegant short 11th, which doglegs gently up the hill past a single pine tree, but while there are no bad holes on the back—and all of them have wonderful views—the run from the 12th to the 16th is pretty vanilla.

Things pick up at the 17th, which is not a long par 4 but has the creek and wetlands all the way down the left side until you reach a boomerang green that wraps around a pot bunker in front. The 18th returns you to the centerpiece lake that we saw at the ninth. From the back tees this is a lengthy par 5 with the water to the left, but move up a box and you get a much more dramatic tee shot over the corner of the lake. Finishing holes with water in play often feel contrived but it’s somehow less of a bother when the water feature is a beautiful mountain lake that existed before the course did.

Though I haven’t played some of the more modern, top-rated courses in the Vail valley, this is among the best mountain golf courses I’ve played. There’s not a silly amount of elevation change, it could be walked if you were inclined (it’s a resort so I doubt they allow it, but the course would lend itself to walking), there’s not an excess of water, there are no silly holes, no sudden rash of bark beetle or other tree kill is going to ruin the course—none of the typical downfalls of mountain golf exist here. Plenty of really good golf holes do.

Colorado 1st Decile [1999]

Credit: Golf Advisor