Red Hawk Ridge GC, Castle Rock. Jim Engh, 1999.
This was the first Engh course I played at a time when I knew nothing about him or his style, so the course was quite a shock. Even some of the tropes the he uses quite often are really eye-opening when you see them for the first time, which is worth remembering.
Even in Colorado, where he’s done quite a bit of work, not everyone will play a lot of Jim Engh courses, or even go search for pictures of them online, so they won’t necessarily know that a hole like the 11th—a par 3 with a 44-yard deep hourglass-shaped green set in a bowl with steep slopes surrounding the back and sides of the green—is a virtual template for Engh. Just in Colorado he has similar holes at Fossil Trace, Harmony Club, and Four Mile Ranch similar to this. But that doesn’t ultimately devalue the drama of the hole, where the depth of the green makes picking the right club vital and shots off line may either be kicked back onto the green or stay on the hill leaving a very difficult chip—the sort of rub of the green situation that drives some players crazy but which are everywhere on Engh courses.
The Engh courses I’ve seen tend to be very up and down experiences—there are very good holes and other holes that simply don’t do much for me. Red Hawk Ridge takes this idea quite literally—with the exception of just a few holes in the middle of the front nine all the holes play either up or down the steep ridge that gives the course its name. The ridge is really too steep to play along but the constant up and then down does get wearisome after a while.
I do appreciate Engh’s willingness to let downhill holes play short and uphill holes play long. Too many designs, whether they be on hills or in windy areas, have long holes that play downhill or downwind while shorter holes do the opposite—the effect is that all the holes end up playing effectively the same length, even if they look different on the card. Pete Dye was a big proponent of having long holes play into the wind and short holes be downwind and, here at least, Engh takes the same attitude.
The first is a 508-yard par 5 that plays significantly downhill. If you’re just looking for a stress-free swing on your opening hole you can lay up short of the huge bunker at the corner and you may still have a chance to reach this first green in two, but big hitters can try to carry a bunker on the left side and, if they succeed, end up with just a short iron in for their second shot.
On the other hand, the other par 5 on the opening nine is the 7th, a 648-yard hole that plays significantly uphill the entire way—a three-shot hole for almost everyone.
The back nine par 5s continue the theme. The 16th is 571 yards and steeply uphill. The 18th is back downhill but just 533 yards. The green, set beyond a pond and a lobed Engh bunker is very reachable if you can keep your downhill drive straight and in the fairway.
Then there’s the 13th, a counterpoint that proves the rule. It’s one of the holes that plays steeply uphill, but at 508 yards, some big hitters may still be able to reach it in two shots. Those who aren’t will at least have manageable approaches to this small, round green.
I also like the pair of short par 4s that end the front nine. The eighth is 308 yards, steeply uphill, but the green is only 250 yards away on a direct line from the tee. However, that direct line is completely blind and requires an uphill carry over a hillside of scrub oak, which also threatens behind and to the right of the green. If you choose the safe option, you can play out to a wide fairway to the right, then play an uphill wedge to the green over a deep bunker.
The ninth is 364 yards to a wide fairway that’s uphill initially. Long drives can crest the hill and catch a downslope and actually get near the green, which is offset to the left side and narrows steadily along its length. The further right you are in the fairway, the more difficult your angle for an approach to a back hole location.
Beyond the topography, some other things hold the course back. Many of the holes are closely guarded by scrub oak, which is native but is a very severe penalty—a nearly certain lost ball. And while the par 3s are beautiful three of the five greens have a very similar shape, with greens that are wide on the right and tape dramatically away to the back left. It’s also entirely unwalkable, which is a shame for a muni course.
But ultimately this is a remarkable golf experience—a resort type experience at muni rates, and certainly worth checking out for Engh fans or anyone who enjoys a little quirk in their golf course diet.
Colorado 3rd Decile