Great views and great golf at Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club in New Castle, Colorado

NEW CASTLE, Colo. -- Sitting at 5,500 feet in elevation, Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club is a wild ride of elevation changes, downhill tee shots and fun for the golfer's senses, situated 10 miles east of beautiful Glenwood Springs.

Make sure to take in the vistas: the saw-toothed ridges of the Flat Tops Wilderness; an emotional, somber remembrance of Storm King Mountain, where 14 firefighters died in 1994; Roan Plateau, the Elk Mountain Range and Burning Mountain, where in 1896 the Vulcan Mine explosion killed 49 men. To the left, near the first tee, is Highlands Cemetery, where those men are buried.

From countless promontories, tee shots dive into steep canyons with sloped, forgiving fairways that roll out to approaches offering the chance to play to the right backstop on complex, contoured greens for a tap-in birdie.

Sounds like a fun routing that you could post a career-low on, huh?

Not so fast.

Lakota Canyon Ranch G.C.: Easy or not so easy?

When this 7,111-yard par 72 was finished in 2004, it was another national award-winner and entertaining experience that travel golfers were expecting from Colorado-based golf course architect Jim Engh, who spends much of his time today around the world, building courses in China, Mexico and the Canary Islands of Spain.

"One of the things that makes Lakota so challenging is the green complexes," said Allan Long, of Colorado Springs. "The greens are big and bold and very undulating in spots, and although Engh has incorporated some design features to help get a missed shot back toward the target, the player needs to hit the proper section of the greens to score well at Lakota."

The "proper section" is the key. Hit correctly into a bowled area, and the ball rolls close. Just miss the bowl, and the next putt will be curving and must traverse a ridge.

Top holes at Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club

Five par-3 holes will leave you wanting more. No. 3, a 170-yarder downhill, is spectacular with at least three different sections to a complex green.

You might be able to see all the way to Silt and Rifle from the elevated tee of the 205-yard, par-3 ninth. A mis-hit long and right is dead -- into wilderness. Pull it left into a slope, and you might get a kick to the pin. Left-center is the spot to aim for.

Perhaps the best view comes at the 583-yard, par-5 11th. From a course high point, you can bomb it down the ski slope fairway a long way, but things narrow the farther you go. And if you go for the green in two, the target looks narrow with muscular, thick-rough mounds on the left and water, sand and native areas on the right.

"No. 16 -- a 418-yard par 4 -- is my favorite hole on the course," Long said. You need to hit a good drive, but once in the fairway, the enjoyment really begins. The look at the green site the player gets on the approach is fantastic.

"You must go over a canyon that bisects the fairway to a green that is guarded by a long, squiggly bunker and a hazard on the left. The green is situated in a spot where it looks like it was just placed in its location like a puzzle piece. It's just a great hole from start to finish."

Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club's 18th is a risk-reward hole that you can play the traditional way by hitting your second to the fairway right of a canyon and hitting a short iron in, or if you hit a good drive, take on the risk of going for the green in two over a native area with high grasses.

"The fact that you really can't see the landing area around the green only adds to the excitement, but a well struck shot will be rewarded with a good chance for birdie or eagle," Long said. "It's just a pulse-quickening hole and a good test to end your round."

Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club: The verdict

Jim Engh-designed courses are pure fun, but with the panoramas, the downhill tee shots and the green complexes that form bowls, you will have to think. And if your legs aren't burning after a day of climbing out of those sunken putting expanses, then, most likely, you are a marathon runner.

Engh should do a victory lap for Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club, but escalators would be helpful for senior golfers. But that's not going to happen.

First, the site was physically daunting -- canyons and mountainsides were steep and deep. Second, when Engh finished this one he was already on an victory lap. Every one of his past Colorado golf course designs -- Sanctuary Golf Course, Red Hawk Ridge, Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, Fossil Trace Golf Club -- and Tullymore in Michigan had won national awards.

Don't miss it, especially if you enjoy the downhill tee shot and five memorable par 3s. The tee boxes are like pedestals, and you will love the hang-time as your drive seeks the fairway.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.
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Great views and great golf at Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club in New Castle, Colorado
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