SILVERTHORNE, Colo. -- As you move through the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 -- which passes through the continental divide -- take a deep breath. Not only have you climbed to 11,000 feet in elevation and might need a little more oxygen, but you're almost in Summit County, a world-class ski destination that's also home to a handful of mountain golf courses, including Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks.
Anchored by the town of Silverthorne, the county is the easternmost ski and golf hotspot on the western slope of the Rockies -- less than 70 miles from downtown Denver and about 90 minutes from Denver International Airport. Convenience is a big draw, plus more affordability compared to communities further west in Eagle County such as Vail and Beaver Creek.
In the summertime, a small collection of golf courses steal the show, anchored by the Raven and also including 36 holes at nearby Keystone Resort, plus a Jack Nicklaus-designed municipal course -- the Bear Nine -- at Breckenridge Golf Club.
The Raven was formerly named "Eagle's Nest" and was designed by Dick Phelps in 1986. It was redesigned and upgraded in 2000 by the design team of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, in association with player consultant Tom Lehman. Today, it still delivers a pure mountain golf experience full of wildlife, scenery and elevated tee shots.
In its current form -- from the tips at more than 7,400 yards (which is long even at 9,000 feet high) -- it's all the golf course you'll ever need. But there are five sets of tees total.
Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks: The golf course
Playability wise, the best aspect about the Raven is the risk-reward tee shots. Most offer options of taking a chance to get in better position on the approach shot, whether it's over a bunker or hugging a tree-line. But there's usually a safe route, too.
Aesthetically, the bunkers steal the show here, often helping to frame their mountain backdrops, and their borders are framed with high fescue grass. The traps, while beautifully crafted, are plentiful, so chances are you'll find yourself in one eventually.
You'll also catch yourself oogling at the scenery, while salivating at wide fairways and downhill shots that should give you a shot at a couple 300-plus-yard drives. The Raven's opening hole heads straight downhill and can nearly be driven from the tee.
While the remainder of the front nine is mostly low-lying, the course does inch up ever so slightly, so that by the par-3 eighth you're on high ground playing downhill. The ninth, however, provides the most dramatic drop: about 300 feet from tee-to-green, which makes this 514-yard par 4 suddenly a shortie for big hitters.
That's not the signature hole, however, which comes later on the back nine. The most satisfying type of signature hole is when it's the longest on the course, right? And the 16th is a 600-plus-yard doozy of a par 5.
The green is 150 feet below the tee, but the descent is so gradual along you barely feel it. You will notice the hole's backdrop, though, which, thanks to a clearing behind the green, makes for one of the finer views on a course full of them.
Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks: The verdict
Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks delivers a quick, high-altitude escape for Denver residents or vacationers staying in either Denver or on the western slope around Silverthorne or about 30 minutes away in Vail.
The club has a small membership, and service and amenities are upscale-level, highlighted by a 12,400-square-foot clubhouse, plus a full practice area, carts with GolfLogix GPS units and two bottles of water in the cooler of each golf cart. And the beverage cart comes around often.