Ask most out-of-towners what pops into their mind when they hear the words "Steamboat Springs" and they'll tell you skiing. But they'd be forgetting the other six months of the year, when the Yampa Valley is as green as the rough at Augusta National. With two newer championship courses entering maturity and two older courses that continue to improve with age, Steamboat boasts plenty of options for top-notch golf. At Home editor Brent Boyer recently spent time with the directors of each Steamboat course, talking golf and, in particular, profiling a hole of their choosing.
Catamount Ranch & Club
The course: Catamount Ranch & Club first opened for play in 2001, and the Tom Weiskopf-designed course has drawn raves ever since. "I think the thing that makes Catamount so special is that it has a little something for everyone," says Jim Miller, director of golf. The opening three holes have a links feel as they weave along the valley floor. Holes four through nine run along picturesque Walton Creek and mighty stands of cottonwoods. And the back nine will blow you away as the course winds more than 800 feet into the mountains, each hole providing stunning, endless vistas of the surrounding mountainsides, the Yampa Valley and the Flat Tops Wilderness. But if you hope to experience any of it, you better make nice with a club member. The private course also hosts several charity tournaments throughout the summer.
The hole: Miller loves hole No. 12's setting as much as he does its play. "What's most spectacular is you turn the corner and there's nothing around the hole but a backdrop of about 10,000 pine trees and the Flat Tops," he says. Playing only 341 yards from the tips, the par-four 12th is reachable in one for long hitters. Most other players, however, will use their tee shot to try to navigate past and through the myriad fairway bunkers that line the hole. Thick rough lurks to the left, and the green is perched well above the fairway, leaving players a tricky approach to a putting surface they can't even see.
The strategy: If you want to go for broke, aim your tee shot to the left of the greenside bunker at the left of the hole. There you'll find at least enough room to settle your drive. Most men should be able to clear the bunker in the middle of the fairway with their tee shots, but that will leave a tricky wedge to get on the green. Take a little extra club and get as much loft as you can, Miller advises. The green is wide but narrow, and a slightly long play will be aided by the green's back-to-front slope. Too long, however, and you'll be chipping from the steep hill beyond the green. The ladies' tee box is only 182 yards from the green, making an eagle putt a very real possibility. But the bevy of bunkers makes it a risk-reward scenario.
Steamboat Golf Club
The course: Don't let its nine-hole layout or laid-back vibes fool you. The Steamboat Golf Club presents a very real challenge for most golfers. Narrow, tree-lined fairways punish the golfer who thinks this 43-year-old course will provide a confidence boost before rounds at other local courses.
"It's not a risk-and-reward kind of golf course," says course manager Wayne Garrison. "It's a go-for-par kind of course."
Summer rates this year are $28 for nine holes or $38 for 18 (playing the same nine twice). A cart is an additional $10 per rider per nine holes.
The hole: The par-4, No. 5 hole is this course's gem. Or, as Garrison describes it, "the giant killer." "Many tournaments have been lost and won on hole No. 5," he says.
A slight dogleg left and a tree-lined fairway leave little room for error. An old, lightning-struck tree blocks the middle of the fairway off the tee box, and it's out of bounds along nearly the entire length of the right side of the hole. The front of the green is protected by water, and the back of the green constitutes a steep, shale-lined slope.
The strategy: There are several options, but only one provides any real hope for par. Players who are competent with their driver need to clear the creek (165 yards) and split the fairway to leave a mid-iron to the green. A slight draw is ideal for right-handed players. But the approach isn't easy, either. Cross your fingers that the pin placement is back left, which is the safest and deepest part of an otherwise narrow green.
Lighter-hitting men may have to play their tee shot as a mid-iron, meaning they'll also have to lay up on their second shot before going for the green on their third stroke. Women have an easier tee shot over the first creek but also may have to lay up in front of the second creek before playing onto the green.
Sheraton Steamboat Golf Club
The course: This 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones II-designed course was Steamboat's golfing paradise for nearly 25 years before Haymaker and Catamount Ranch & Club offered championship course choice to Yampa Valley residents and visitors. But make no mistake - the Sheraton remains mountain golfing at its finest.
It's hard not be in awe of your surroundings on a course that winds around and through groves of aspen and pine trees and the cascading Fish Creek. The course never feels too narrow, but most greens are protected by some of the Sheraton's 66 sand bunkers. Playing a round at the semi-private course will cost $130 during the week and $140 Friday through Sunday.
The hole: Director of Golf Brian Thorne likes No. 18 for its possibilities. "I like that you tee off through trees and you get a chance to score on your last hole," he says. "If you hit three good shots, you get a real chance at birdie."
The par-5 finishing hole is long and relatively straight. From the elevated, tree-flanked tee boxes, the fairway opens up and gradually climbs a modest slope before leveling off and inviting players to attack the green. But the green is protected by large bunkers at the left, front and right, and trees and out-of-bounds areas lurk beyond the bunkers and at the back of the green. The green drops off sharply on all sides.
The strategy: A strong drive will put some players in position to be on the green in two shots with a 230-yard approach. Landing your tee shot on the left side of the fairway is ideal. But many players will have to use a low iron or fairway wood after their tee shot to play safely up to the end of the fairway. From there, it's between 80 and 100 yards to the center of the green. Thorne advises players to always "take a club less when going for the 18th green." Anything but a perfectly placed approach will roll off the green and into trouble. And putting is a chore on this undulating surface.
Haymaker Golf Course
The course: Now in its 11th year, the city-owned Haymaker Golf Course has firmly established itself as one of the best public courses in the state - and probably the best links-style course Colorado has to offer. Designed by Keith Foster, Haymaker capitalizes on the natural contours of the Yampa Valley floor and tall native grasses to bring a flavor of Scotland to Northwest Colorado. And with greens fees that can be a fraction of what you'd pay at other top-notch courses, playing 18 at Haymaker will leave enough green in your pockets for another box of Pro Vs.
The hole: The No. 11 "is more inviting than fearful," says Director of Golf Hank Franks. Water snakes along the right side of the fairway and then all but encircles the green, which essentially is a peninsula stretching out into the small lake. The tee boxes are elevated, and with the tips playing less than 350 yards from the pin, big hitters are encouraged to grip it and rip it, particularly with plenty of fairway and rough on the left side. A couple of deftly placed fairway brows add to the difficulty but seem to come into play much less than one would think.
The strategy: Pull out your driver and aim for the farthest fairway brow. A good smack should clear the brow, and the natural contour of the fairway will funnel your ball toward the green. The farther left in the fairway you play your tee shot, the less water you'll encounter on the approach. For those who want to play it safe off the tee, it won't take more than a mid iron to land near the 150-yard mark. But from there you'll be playing over water (depending on pin placement) and must display a soft touch and spot-on distance to stick your ball on the narrow, sloping green. A concealed bunker lurks just behind the left side of the green, which is split in half by a modest ridge. The green falls back toward the tee boxes. Leave yourself an uphill putt if you want to make birdie.