Nestled near the infamous Vail and Beaver Creek Resort regions in the Rocky Mountains, Red Sky Ranch offers two scenic mountain courses, the Fazio and the Norman. I come to soak up John Denver’s Rocky Mountain high as a golf enthusiast.
I booked a two-night Stay & Play package to play both these outstanding courses. As an upscale semi-private club, they limit public access to guests of thirty-five Vail and Beaver Creek properties. Play alternates between each course between public guests and the private membership. This sensible approach allows the public to play both courses while providing membership with privacy and access alternate days. In addition, they built two rustic ranch clubhouses. One for exclusive use of members near the Norman course and the second is a public clubhouse near the Fazio course. The same applies to the two top-notch practice ranges.
First-class service and conditioning is a hallmark of Red Sky Ranch. The staff has a fantastic positive attitude. Everyone wants to make your visit a good one. Even the gardeners trimming the beautiful flowers at the clubhouse entrance were engaging when questioned. This is a top rate service organization.
The exquisite playing conditions impressed me while the incredible mountain scenery marveled me. They treat visitors like members starting with the valet service at the bag drop. I would have liked to see GPS on the golf carts though.
Both Red Sky Ranch courses rank high. Golf Magazine ranking of public access courses puts the Fazio course at #3 and the Norman course at #1 in the state of Colorado.
Norman course opened in 2003. It plays 200-300 yard longer from each teeing area and is more challenging than its older sibling, the Fazio course. I liked the 10% distance boost I got by playing above 7000 feet altitude. But don’t think if you play 6300 yards at home, that you should play from the 7000+ yard tips here. Give yourself about 5% more when determining the course yardage to play.
The Jouflas Family has owned and ranched this land since 1926. Peter Jouflas was a Greek immigrant who arrived in western Colorado in the early 1900s and was grazing sheep. Today, his descendants still live in the area from Wolcott to Grand Junction. They have worked with the Vail Resorts Development Company to manage the growth while launching the upscale golf club and million dollar homes nearby.
Greenbrier – Old White TPC Course
From the public clubhouse it’s a long lonely ride to the first tee at the Red Sky Ranch Norman course. As you hustle up the ridge, it’s worth a stop to admire the panoramic views. The Fazio course laid out below with the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Then continue on for another mile until you find the starter near the private members clubhouse.
They design most in the flat sites at the base of the Vail valley. The Norman course routes through scenic hillsides and gorgeous Aspen trees providing impressive scenery. Given the higher elevations with the ridge, the views are even more spectacular than the Fazio course. It’s also more compacted than the Fazio course and has fewer homes. The elevation change from the 14th tee at the top of the ridge to the 3rd green is four hundred feet. It’s a consistent climb from the tenth hole to the fourteenth to begin the back nine. Norman’s designed required major earth-moving and reconstruction of the landscape. They preserved much of the local existing vegetation by removing it and replanting it after the hole layouts. Multiple rock outcroppings add to the beauty and challenge.
As is classic Norman style, you’ll find large fairways, large par 3 greens but postage stamp par 5 greens. The frequent forced carries are easy. But large fairways don’t always translate to easy landing areas as they are often sloping. Putting yourself in the right spot is important for the approach. What looks like a good tee shot can be in a bad location or penalized.
Red Sky Ranch conditioning is superb. Fairways are as good as you’ll find. They were renovating the bunkers on the back nine when we played but those completed were excellent. Norman created some gigantic bunkering. A two-hundred yard bunkers frames the left side of the seventeenth fairway. There are no fairway bunkers on nine and eleven. On hole twelve and thirteen there are ten.
Norman makes it tough to run the ball on the green on seven holes (3,4,7,9,13,15,18). He adds green bunkering that narrows access or ending fairways outright with barrancas other obstacles. False green fronts (and backs) are common. Hence, to me it’s an approach shot course.
Then there are the greens which are generous and receptive to good shots. Perfect tour quality, true and fast like glass, they have serious breaks that are very difficult to spot. Unlike the Fazio course with the tiny fringes, the Red Sky Ranch Norman course has 10-20 yard wide fringes. Hence it’s less likely the ball will run out into the deep rough and there are ample opportunities for greenside recovery shots.
Red Sky Ranch Norman course does not start gradually. Hole one is an uphill par 4 that is 400 yards or more. A long iron/hybrid or fairway wood may is likely for the approach.
Then hole three requires an approach over water with rocks & brush short of the green. It’s all carry to a small bunkered green.
A diagonal bank of boulders frames the water on the medium length par 3 hole five eliminating any recovery shot potential.
The medium length par 4 hole seven has seven bunkers short of the uphill green demanding yet another strong approach shot.
On the long par 4 ninth hole a bunker and a pond guarded by a trove of boulders terrorizes the front left of the green. Your medium length approach cannot be short left or the ball can go anywhere.
Then the short par 3 tenth plays uphill with anything left or short in serious trouble.
Holes twelve and thirteen have unusual connecting fairways with shared fairway bunkers in opposite directions. That’s cool.
The par 4 fifteenth hole is less than 300 yards but very well protected by six bunkers short of the green.
While the first hole starts strong as a long uphill par 4, the finishing hole is more gentle. A medium length downhill par 5, a good iron second shot sets up a wedge to the large green. A bunker left coupled with a small waterfall emanating from the rocky stream with the member clubhouse behind is beautiful. But it’s a simple wedge to finish the round.
The Norman Course at Red Sky Ranch is tough and scenic. Play the Fazio course for fun and the Norman course for the challenge.
Explore other Rockies/Great Plains golf course profiles from Quintessential Golf Magazine.