RED HAWK RIDGE G.C. - Castle Rock, CO
RED HAWK RIDGE G.C.
2156 Red Hawk Ridge Drive
Castle Rock, CO 80109
Architect: Jim Engh
Excitement Level - 8/12
Difficulty - 6/12
Conditioning - Four stars
Cost - $75 high, 3PM twilight $50
Value - Four stars, (four and 1/2 at twilight)
Overall - Four stars
Castle Rock, Colorado has four superlative course all within shouting distance of each other. The public access gem is Jim Engh's Red Hawk Ridge, an excellent sister course to nearby Fossil Trace, a mere half hour to the northwest.
Built in 1999, Red Hawk is Engh's first solo public course. Much of Engh's design philosophy was forged here. First, like Fossil Trace, Red Hawk is a muni. Since it is owned by the town of Castle Rock, it is friendly and affordable. Next, Engh shows his propensity to break the routing mold which stifled design for so long. There are five par-3s and 5 par-5s (just like Fossil Trace.) Both courses also end with reachable par-5s guarded by water hazards. Once again, Engh makes the most of the strunning natural setting by setting tee boxes on pulpits overlooking panoramic views and setting green backdrops against a variety of gorgeous scenery.
Speaking broadly, the best holes are on the back. The driving-iron and pitch 8th with its green set at the base of a volcano shaped butte can be driven, but the shot from the tee is totally blind, uphill 100 feet, and must carry a dense scrubland of trees and a blind bunker to a pedestal green. "I'll let someone try to reach one of my par-4s under regulation, but I'm certainly not going to make it easy for them" Engh says with conviction.
Starting on ten, strap yourself in because every hole is excellent. The biggest attribute is Engh's Mackenzie-like talent for setting the greens against a gorgeous backdrop. An arroyo crosses in front of the green guarding the tenth, with its green set against the town below in the distance. The green at the par-3 11th sits in a bowl beneath serene native grasses. 12 and 13 climb toward the top of the property along high ridge. "I set the the par-5s in the valleys below the ridge lines and used the ridges for the par-3s. That's where they fit most naturally on the land."
One exception to the "ridge rule" is the 75 foot downhill drop shot at the scenic par-3 14th, which is guarded by a stone-lined bunker and a scrub filled drop behind.
The most controversial hole, the 528 yard par-4 (528 yard par-4!) 15th - 465 for us mere mortals - aroused the interest of the USGA. At first they thought the free-thinking Engh - who has more than a little of Mike Strantz's creativity in him - had pushed the envelope to far. But since it is all downhill and set at 6500 feet above sea level, it can easily be reached with a drive and long iron or fairway club. "Plus the prevailing wind can aid players too" Engh said. The hole actually works quite well and is a stiff but fair challenge. The USGA came around to his way of thinging as well.
The finish, 14-18 is world class featuring a 5-3-5 finale with loads of strategic options to keep everybody in the game for their match.
If there are any places where Engh got a little puckish, the back right pin placement on four (four paces of green and guarded by water) and back left on 17 (again, a target maybe eight paces in diameter - four on each side of the hole.) Those spots are tight, but playing devil's advocate, both holes are short and players should have pitching clubs or 8-9 irons in their hands.
Being a municipal course, Red Hawk gets singificant play and foot traffic on the greens can make the front nine a little bumpy. But overall, conditioning is superb for a muni. The high rate of $70/75 makes is pricier than Fossil Trace, but at $50 for twilight, it's still a good bargain. Here's hoping management will extend twilight from 3PM to 2PM or even 1:30. It's a must play if you're in Colorado and is well worth a long drive or even a stop for your week long golf vacation.
Just a block away, private course Castle Pines (home to the International and the hopelessly unpopular Modified Stableford scoring system...have YOU ever played Stableford in one of your matches?) sits near Engh's ultra-exclusive but gorgeous Sanctuary G.C. Sanctuary is so private it has only one member, the CEO of Remax.
The other public course in the neighborhood, Castle Pines Ridge is a well maintained if predictable Tom Weiskopf deisgn which bears more than a passing resemblence to his good work at Troon North. The condidioning and especially the greens are pristine...five stars. The bunkering is typical Fazio-esque cloverleafs. One bunker actually had FOURTEEN individual noses.
The best holes are the narrow uphill risk reward 6th, the long par-3 7th, the driveable 8th and the par-4 9th which is so severely downhill, you can putt to the green form 150 yards out. The back is drop dead gorgeous, but is a mix of world class holes on one hand and some unworkable holes on the other. Expert golfers love the narrow, uphill long par-4 10th, but I find it too claustrophobic. The gorgeous 245 yard par-3 12th may be the best "Use a driver par-3" Weiskopf ever designed and is worthy of inclusion in a list of the country's best golf holes as are the fantastic par-3 17th and the incredible uphill par-4 18th with its drive of a cliff over an arroyo filled with sandstone monuments. The scenery is breathtaking. However 15 and 16 are a poor effort. As houses crowd the course at many points, these were where Weiskopf had to endure the greatest tradeoffs in the routing.
Last add - word is the course may replace the dreadful thick mud-colored sand in the bunkers. Imagine playing out of dry sand that feels as though it was sopping wet. To the courses credit, they do recognize its few shortcomings and makes excellent efforts to constantly improve conditions. It shows in the stellar fairways and greens. CPR is one of the few courses that is worth a $100 price tag (except for 15 and 16), and is an even better deal at twilight.