Red Sky Ranch’s Fazio course- Hole #6

Texans vacationing in Colorado… I get it, it’s a well-worn cliché. To be perfectly honest, I never can tell if the locals are celebrating our enthusiasm for the Centennial State or merely tolerating us. My apologies, but so much about an escape to the majestic Rocky Mountains just feels like home– or, at least a comforting home-away-from-home.

From the cool, crisp mornings to the majestic alpine views and hikes along a roaring creek, you can’t help but be inspired by nature when you’re face to face with the ageless Rockies. My favorite childhood vacations were Full-Griswold-Mode road trips across this ruggedly beautiful state. If a landmark was in that dog-eared travel guide, we stopped there. If the stream was running, we took a dip in it. If a chipmunk was minding its own business, we chased it. Time stood still on those trips and whatever was going on back in the city might as well have been happening in another galaxy.

Now that our kids are sturdy enough for “real” travel, it’s my turn to play Clark Griswold like my dad faithfully did for us in that reliable old Mercury. On our recent trip to the idyllic Beaver Creek Resort village, however, we discovered the singular genius of booking the Colorado Mountain Express airport shuttle from Denver International. An uncommonly jovial and informative driver took us on the two-hour drive westward in a pristine, wi-fi equipped SUV. No arguing over GPS routes or cramming too much luggage into a rental car was necessary. Our only worry was not shanking the Starbucks order at the halfway pit stop just past Idaho Springs.

With a full day still in front of us, we checked into the posh Osprey at Beaver Creek, a boutique hotel just steps from both the stunning Beaver Creek village and the Strawberry Park Express Ski Lift. Wellness and a cozy, familiar warmth are hallmarks of the guest experience at the Osprey. Depending on your mood, the elegant, shady poolside area and a small pub called the Osprey Lounge (featuring a solid offering of local craft brews) compete neck-and-neck for hottest spots at this quaint chalet.

A short walk from the Osprey’s port cochere is the open-air Beaver Creek Resort village, modeled after the quintessential Swiss alpine village of St. Moritz. An inviting and lushly-adorned collection of shops, galleries, restaurants and entertainment venues, the village is nerve center of Beaver Creek. At once, this complex feels like a friendly small town and Disneyland for adventure seekers. Our crew quickly gravitated to the bevy of kids’ activities near Beaver Creek’s expansive great lawn like the Bungee Trampoline, gem panning, Climbing Wall and mini golf course. Months later, my kids still think they may have struck it rich.

An inspiring dinner of pan-seared scallops over rich risotto, hand-made pastas and decadent Italian wine at local favorite, Toscanini capped a perfect first day. OK, tiramisu and berry-topped crème brulee were the real cappers. You got me.

Up before dawn the next morning, it was on to the eye-popping Beaver Creek Golf Club, a strategic Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed carved along the exhilarating slopes of Beaver Creek Mountain. This layout has one of the coolest opening sequences of holes in recent memory as the first four holes beckon you into a mountain-framed forest, accented by an ever-present gently-running creek. RTJ Jr. makes you play the angles with numerous diagonal targets—even on the course’s more open holes– but it’s the scenery that carries the day on this unforgettable 6,784-yard delight. Plan for multiple photo opportunities and save your best for last as this course closes with two demanding par 4s that climb their way back to the stately clubhouse.

One of the finest perks of staying at one of the properties within Beaver Creek Resort is access to the top-ranked Tom Fazio- and Greg Norman-designed courses at the outstanding Red Sky Ranch Golf Club in nearby Wolcott.

At more than 7,600 feet in elevation, the 7,113-yard, par-72 Fazio Course at Red Sky Ranch showcases seemingly-endless panoramas of neighboring mountain ranges as the routing plunges through sage-lined hillsides and into a lush Aspen forest. The landscape is dramatic but, in classic Fazio fashion, the challenges are all right in front of you. Ample fairways, bold bunkering and large greens all showcase stellar conditioning. “Tour-quality” hardly does the putting surfaces justice. Tee-to-green, the manicuring is beyond perfect. “These greens have a lot of character and it takes some folks some getting used to putting on greens that roll this perfectly. They really roll beautifully,” says head golf professional Chris Lai.

Red Sky Ranch’s Norman Course is a more daring and daunting design from tee to green. Forced carries over juniper groves, meandering arroyos and sagebrush put a demand on shotmaking. However, the greens and Bentgrass green surrounds are gentle and allow for creative short game shots.

At a staggering 7,580 yards from the tips, this course can seem overwhelming and overwhelmingly beautiful at the same time. Many holes play downhill and the course seems to get more manageable as the round continues. The aspen grove framing the back of the par-3 10th green is post-card worthy and is a perfect sneak peek into the wonderfully scenic holes that follow. “The second nine on the Norman Course is my favorite nine-hole stretch in Colorado, followed by the back nine on the Fazio,” Lai says.

If you fancy yourself a connoisseur of mountain golf, Red Sky Ranch is bucket-list material.

Beyond the superb golf, the best tip we got was to carve out an afternoon to go nuts at the Epic Discovery adventure park located in the Vail Ski Resort. If all we did was ride the thrilling Forest Flyer mountain coaster over and over, it would have been worth the gondola ride to the 9,000-ft elevation. Throw in zipline rides, tube slides, ropes courses and climbing towers and you’ve got one of the most clever twists on an amusement park you’ve seen in a good while. This attraction is a must on a visit to the Vail Valley.

Back at the village of Beaver Creek, we’re lounging near the popular and expertly-groomed ice rink and having one of those chill family moments we never seem to get enough of when a local busker starts his evening set. I hardly notice as he coolly shuffles from John Mayer to Bob Marley to John Denver. I have to turn around, though, as he eases into the under-appreciated John Prine rarity “Storm Windows.”  Down on the beach, the sandman sleeps… He’s won a fan. Time don’t fly it bounds and it leaps. I see my kids growing more long-legged and wise and I can’t deny time’s wild persistence. But for right now, nestled here in the rapturous Rockies, it always seems to stand perfectly still.

One more easy morning hike along the soothing creek that frames this luxe mountain community and we’re ready to reluctantly pack for the journey back to Denver.

To end the trip on a relaxing note, we made a one-night stop at the stately Omni Interlocken Hotel in the booming Denver suburb of Broomfield. Two large outdoor pools kept us entertained and soothed in the impressively-landscaped setting until it was time for dinner and pre-season football viewing in the resort’s energetic Tap Room. One of the most expertly-operated golf complexes this side of Pinehurst awaits two miles from the hotel footprint. The Eldorado, Vista and Sunshine nines showcase a variety of hilly and demanding holes laid out by Graham-Panks International. Mountain views and wide panoramas make for a memorable round. The 390-room Omni Interlocken specializes in corporate groups and conventions while keeping the guest experience fun.

I suppose there are skiers and snowboarders who could not imagine spending any season other than winter in this outdoor paradise. For me, though, summer’s when Colorado shows its true colors. Reflecting on our time in Beaver Creek, we can’t help but wonder what we’ll come back to explore in future summers. To plan a Vail Valley adventure of your own, visit Beavercreek.com.

By Carl Mickelson

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