GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Lost Horizon is a beautiful, rugged, trailblazer-like stretch of four golf holes starting the back nine of Ironbridge Golf Club.
It is for adventurous, ravine-crossing, proficient golfers and begins after a one-mile cart climb in elevation from the clubhouse high above the Roaring Fork Valley floor.
"I think the first golfers who played back in 2003 gave it a wow," Director of Golf Doug Rohrbaugh remembered. "But then they said it kicked their back side."
The softening of Ironbridge
So the new ownership hired PGA Tour star Tom Lehman, a Colorado lover, to "soften" the routing and make it more playable for mid-handicappers and novices.
"One of the first things Lehman pointed out was Augusta National has 44 bunkers, and Ironbridge had around 70," Rohrbaugh said.
So the bunker count went down to 40 and some bunkers that pinched in fairways were eliminated. If a bunker was deemed "enormous," it was whittled down and sometimes eliminated.
"We also created more options for golfers to run the ball on to greens," Rohrbaugh said.
On your first visit, you can't really imagine what is ahead on that cart ride to no. 10. "I think most people have no idea what they are about to see," Rohrbaugh said. "It begins four beautiful holes, and golfers love how quiet it is up there."
Ironbridge G.C. was born in 2003 as an Arthur Hills Master design, but there's history here. It was first the nine-hole Westbank Golf Course that included two-acre lots within view of the Roaring Fork.
Well, hard times followed with bankruptcy and a change of ownership.
Today members and the public can tee it up at Ironbridge. And the club even has an instant celebrity in Rohrbaugh, who qualified this summer for the Senior PGA Championship in French Lick, Ind., and also played in the U.S. Senior Open in Sacramento, Calif., in June. He's had 25 years as a teaching pro and worked as director of junior golf in Aspen.
Pay attention as you enter Ironbridge Golf Club's Lost Horizon
The 10th hole is the most intimidating visual, an uphill drive over a ravine. To be successful you must aim toward the right side of the fairway because everything slopes to another ravine running left of the fairway. Then the green is elevated and contoured sloping toward the fairway.
The next three Lost Horizon holes are pure fun beginning with a par 3 of 161 yards -- a handsome scene, with ravine left, and a rock wall holding the comma-shaped green in place. There are lots of ways to get in trouble.
From a lofty tee box, no. 12 sweeps downhill and turns dramatically right. Don't be surprised if a bear darts across the fairway. A perfect, long fade on this 435-yard par 4 sets you up for an approach over a deep gully to an elevated green that is wide and shallow.
Ironbridge's 13th hole will test your mental prowess. This 621-yard par 5 requires a deep tee shot and then a decision. Do you lay up or go for a green over a huge ravine with the fairway on the other side heading right with a fade toward the putting surface.
"When you emerge from The Lost Horizon to holes 14-18, you get another look with few trees, strategy and views of Mt. Sopris," Rohrbaugh said. "Actually, it is almost like there are three sections to the course with the front nine in a meadow with holes in sight of the Roaring Fork. There are no gimmes."
The front nine's pasture setting has water in play and plenty of ways to get in trouble. Every par 3 is a solid hole and has water in play, a ravine or a flag that can be tucked and almost hidden.
Management is billing Ironbridge as an "Arthur Hills course refined by Tom Lehman." But while the locals refer to it as "the best kept secret in the Roaring Fork Valley," members and management are stressing that time at Ironbridge is a lifestyle.
Is Ironbridge one of Colorado golf's best kept secrets? You bet.
Where to stay, what to do
Book a suite at the Residence Inn Glenwood Springs (Marriott) and enjoy full kitchen, living room, work area, free Wi-Fi and the Mix on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings including complimentary food and beer or wine. A full, hot breakfast is also included in the price.
Check out the Recreation Area with a family pool, hot tub, kids' water park, kids' climbing wall, basketball, tennis, playground area and clubhouse. Take a hike on the four miles of paths, suitable for biking, too. Then throw your fly into the Roaring Fork or the catch-and-release trophy fishing ponds.
The Ironbridge Grill, serves lunch and dinner and is open to the public. An expansive practice area has become a gathering place.
Best of all, just stand on the beautifully manicured and conditioned fairways and do a pirouette. The views of the red-hued mountains, the river and Mt. Sopris will make you think of a John Denver song.