TELLURIDE, Colo. -- There's getting away from it all, and then there's Telluride. There are no commercial flights into the local airport anymore, but you can bet many of its full- and part-time residents -- which include none other than Oprah and Seinfeld -- have their own planes.
For the rest of us, it's either fly into Montrose-Telluride Regional Airport an hour away or into a major airport such as Denver International some 350 miles to the north and rent a car. In my case, Telluride was early in my 2015 epic summer road trip that started in New Mexico, weaved through southern Colorado, covered Utah and ended back in northern Colorado.
Of course, Telluride is known more for its skiing than its golf, but Telluride Golf Club certainly holds its own. Given the standing here -- especially in the all-inclusive Mountain Village -- even if the golf was a step down from the skiing, it would still be exceptional compared to the rest of the civilized world. After all, the members and guests at Telluride, where condos start in the $1 million range, are used to a certain standard, which is as high as the altitude of Telluride's 10,500-foot signature restaurant, Allred's.
With only one golf course, Telluride doesn't exactly qualify as a "golf" destination, but golfers who come here in the summer can do plenty of other things -- such as white water rafting, fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking or just relaxing -- in addition to the golf. So it should come as no surprise that the club has a thriving membership (many of whom are also members at some of America's most prestigious clubs) as well as resort play, which comes from the hotels at Mountain Village such as the Inn at Lost Creek, which the Telluride Ski and Golf Club owns.
Before I stepped out on the course, though, I knew one thing for sure: Telluride Golf Club was going to be scenic, but that was just the beginning.
Telluride golf surprisingly good
As it would turn out, the timing of my visit was most fortuitous. I arrived just in time for the member-guest, and the good folks at Telluride Golf Club graciously extended an invitation for me to play.
Immediately, of course, I had sympathy for the golfer who drew the short stick as my partner. That person turned out to be Lars Carlson, who moved to Telluride three decades ago when he was 23, became a ski bum for a while before embarking on a successful real estate career in the area. He's also a former club champion, so I was feeling pretty good about his ability to carry me and my lofty seven-handicap in competition.
I met Lars for the first time at breakfast right before the first round. We are about the same age, except he's taller and fitter. In fact, Lars, who is apparently as good a skier as he is golfer, looks like a lot like actor Sean Bean.
Lars actually undersold the course to me. He told me it was a good resort course (there is no designer of record, although Tom Weiskopf did much of the early work), but it didn't stack up to the great courses of the world. True, except Telluride Golf Club is surprisingly better than advertised.
The 6,574-yard par 70 opens with a 377-yard, downhill par 4 that is drivable considering the altitude is more than 9,000 feet. It's the first of many memorable holes, including the quirky seventh, a 235-yard par 4 (from the blue tees) that plays over water. It’s much harder than it looks. Why? Because most everyone tries to drive the green, and there are all kinds of bad things that can happen. During the member-guest, there were teams that made 2 and teams that made 8.
Elevated tees, water hazards and plenty of doglegs are all surrounded by the 14,000-foot-plus peaks of the San Miguel Mountain Range. Most of the fairways are pretty wide, and the par 5s are scoring opportunities. Then comes the seemingly innocent par-3 17th, which plays from a tee about 150 feet above the green. It's only 137 yards, so strong players are hitting some kind of wedge. It's breathtaking in every sense of the word, including the climb of 92 steep steps to get the top. Yes, there's a bench at the top so golfers can rest for a minute or two before playing the hole.
Telluride Golf Club is also an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, set on Turkey Creek Mesa, designed to take advantage of rugged terrain formed by Telluride's glacial retreat thousands of years ago.
Recently, the club also hired Dale Abraham as director of golf and instruction. I had a very interesting conversation with Abraham, the 2013 Southwest Section PGA Teacher of the Year, about Aimpoint Express, a relatively new method of reading greens, which he has been teaching his members with great success.
And now for the big surprise
The member-guest was a two-day tournament consisting of four formats. The first day was a two-person scramble for nine holes, followed by better ball. Lars (a four-handicap) and I didn't exactly tear it up the first day (we were playing in the first flight), but we didn't shoot ourselves out of the tournament either, finishing with a 66, 4-under-par net after Day 1.
The second day was the real test, where you could make your move or completely get blown out of the event. It started with aggregate scoring on the first nine holes (adding both scores together) and ended with nine holes of modified alternate shot. Somehow both of us shot 36 gross in the aggregate portion and were 2-over in alternate shot. When the dust cleared, the teams in front of us had stumbled. We had won the men's division, but lost by two-tenths of a stroke to the ladies' winners in the overall net championship.
Lars was solid throughout; somehow I played over my head. Maybe it's good not to have expectations.
Winning hardly the only highlight
The cool trophy I got was just a bonus on this stop. The Telluride experience is like none other. Staying in Mountain Village is difficult to describe but here goes: Once you get there, cars aren't needed. A series of gondolas not only connects you with different parts of the resort but also the town of Telluride, which is on the other side of the mountain. You can dine at several places in Mountain Village or choose to take a gondola up to Allred's, which is an exceptional dining experience. The views of Telluride below are unforgettable.
The four-star Inn at Lost Creek has just 32 individually decorated guestrooms, which feature fireplaces, washers and dryers, and my personal favorite, steam showers. In the winter, guests can ski right of the hotel to the slopes. In the summer, they can enjoy free concerts every Wednesday right from their balconies.
The highlight of the stay, however, was reserving the private hot tub on the roof. There, couples can lock the door behind them, pour a glass of wine and relax under the stars for an hour or so while reviewing the highlights of the day.
Or, in my case, relive the member-guest at Telluride Golf Club.