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Friday, December 02, 2005

Redlands Mesa G.C., Grand Junction Colorado - How a great routing and interesting green designs improves and already great setting


2325 West Ridges Boulevard
Grand Junction, CO 81503
Architect: Jim Engh
Par - 72
Excitement Level – 11/12
Difficulty – 6/12
Conditioning – Four and 1/2 stars
Cost - $75 Peak
Yearly memberships – No
Value – Five stars
Overall rating – Four and ½ stars

Tees Yards Rating Slope

Monument 7007 71.7 135
6486 69.4 130
5838 67.2 115
4916 69.0 115

One look at Redlands Mesa and most golfers fall in love.

Holes play along the edge of striated red rock canyons. Tee boxes hang on narrow pinnacles. Green settings overlook the dramatic vistas of the majestic Colorado National Monument. Prominent golf writer Ron Whitten described it as “a fantasy golf calendar come to life.” Redlands states a solid case for the mantle of the prettiest setting in the country.

But contrary to popular belief, architect Jim Engh did not win Best New Public Course in 2001 for Redlands simply because he built a golf course on the edge of the Canyonlands. Sure the world rhapsodizes about the natural setting, but an architect would have to trip over himself to build a mediocre golf course on this property.

Engh, however, knew he had an opportunity to build a course that was a cut above, rife with multiple playing options and interesting design features as well as natural beauty. “Jim gets a lot of great sites, but he also does a fantastic job of routing them. He makes the most of every tee box and every green” says fellow architect and long-time buddy Tim Nugent.

There was so much more for Engh to balance at Redlands compared to other sites. Rolling, rugged topography can sometimes limit the ability of an architect to sequence the holes the way he would prefer. “Some architects believe that when you get a great setting, you take a minimalist approach to it” Engh explains. “On mountainous sites where there are dramatic features, you want to preserve them as much as possible. It’s a difficult balance because the topography has many extremes, but those also make for some of the best golf holes. I don’t mind difficult sites for that reason. I get a chance to work out a creative solution.”

Indeed, Engh built a career out of building great courses on difficult parcels of land with unusual limitations. At Fossil Trace he built a course in the face of twelve years of environmental opposition, scattered wetlands (which cannot be filled) and a small, irregularly shaped property. At Lakota Canyon Ranch and Sanctuary he built courses that defy gravity as holes cling to rugged mountainsides like moss on a rock. Similarly, Redlands Mesa’s site is so gorgeous, the old adage of “there were 100 golf holes here, we had to find the right eighteen” is true. Engh definitely crafted a course that plays like a classical symphony - a warm comforting beginning, soft peaks over the course of the round and a rousing crescendo to wind it up.

Yes, Redlands has superlative strategic choices over the course of eighteen holes, brains as well as beauty. But unquestionably the greatest achievement of Engh at Redlands from an architectural standpoint is the creative, varied and gorgeous green settings and backdrops. Just as Dr. Alistair Mackenzie let the wide variety of backdrops for green settings shine as the centerpiece at Cypress Point (because to overdesign would have cluttered such a virgin parcel), so too did Engh maximize the green settings at Redlands in the same way and not put in cliched nonsense like waterfalls and faux mounding that would clash with the scenery. Here is a breakdown of the last eleven green sites and their backdrops:

8 Downhill with green set at base of rocky alcove which wraps around the back.

9 Uphill with green set at base of clubhouse.

10 Downhill with green set in front of panoramic view of entire prairie extending for miles.

11 Green set at base of ridge which cuts along right side. Canyons open like picture window beyond the green.

12 Downhill to green set at a backdrop of rocky outcropping on left, open view of Canyonlands extending for miles to right.

13 Level shot to green at base of rocky hill.

14 Level shot to green set at base of rocky grotto surrounding two sides.

15 Slightly uphill to green fronting extensive view of prairie.

16 Uphill to green set at base of rugged rocky slope.

17 Level shot from severely elevated tee to green set in between two towering cone-shaped spires of boulders.

18 Uphill to green set at base of towering rocky hill with the clubhouse looming on top.[1]

Like Mackenzie at Cypress, Engh knew enough to dial down the difficulty and design of the holes just enough so as not to take away from the natural setting. Sure, Engh has not yet become the hero of millions of TV golf fans and sure he moves more earth than Mackenzie ever could with the rudimentary building technology he had (or lack thereof), but his fundamental principles are the same and emanate from the same great UK courses that inspired the Good Doctor.

Monday we'll go over more holes in depth.


Redlands looks like Sedona Golf Resort in Arizona, but has much better golf holes, better bunkering (unique styling and more strategic placement) and a stronger routing which takes in all the buttes, mesas and craggy outcroppings. There isn’t a single hole that is weak, connective tissue or an after thought. If there is a drawback at all, the housing complex lines far too many fairways on the front, but the back nine is just you, the course and the red rock monuments.

Along with nearby Lakota Canyon Ranch (in Newcastle, CO forty-five minutes directly east on Route 70), the pair are a fearsome one-two punch. The large undulating greens are similar at both sites, but the fairways are less hurly-burly than nearby Lakota. Red sandstone striated rocks replace the jagged buttes and wrinkled flattop mountains for a setting.

Because Engh had to move between 400,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of earth at both courses, they are not “minimalist” in the true sense of the word, (heck, he built the three giant cones of earth to make the 17th at Redlands alone) but he also didn’t crowd the picture with flashy or gaudy features like waterfalls, island greens or chocolate drop mounding. Happily, unlike Lakota, there are walking trails from the teebox to the fairway and the walks between tees are nowhere near as long or hilly. Lakota is pretty much unwalkable. The front at Redlands is easy, but have an extra energy bar or two in the bag for the back. Being a mile above sea level does impact a player’s stamina, more so when climbing hills all day.

Writer Ron Whitten, who also likes the course greatly, worries that some holes look too much like holes Engh used at other courses. For example, he says the par-5 13th looks too much like the 7th at Hawktree (Engh’s course in North Dakota) and 15th at Sanctuary. That may be, but it is not noticeable to most eyes since it’s highly unlikely many people will play both Hawktree in North Dakota and Redlands in Western Colorado (they would have to be a remarkably intrepid traveler). As for 15 at Sanctuary, the course is so private, it only has two members, the owner and his wife, so again the resemblance will only be noticed by a precious few, who will like the courses despite this casual similarity.

Lastly, it’s a great price at $75 or less. It won’t cost you $40 in golf balls either. Look for Redlands in a future version of the Links golf video game.

[1] Tom Doak laid out the green sites at Cypress Point in a similar fashion in The Anatomy of a Golf Course. It was an insightful look into just one of the factors that an architect has to consider and balance when designing a course.

The eighth is pictured below:

Redlands General Manager and Director of Golf Eric Feely agrees that eight may be the best par-3 on a course-full of excellent one-shotters. “Club selection is very difficult. Like number 12 at Augusta, the eighth features swirling wind conditions. A severe drop shot to a green nestled in a rocky grotto, it’s anything from a wedge to a 7-iron depending on the wind. Don’t be short as the chips are uphill from long rough.”

“My favorite par-5 is 13” Feely says with conviction. “At 540 yards, it is the perfect risk-reward hole. With a large bunker and water in front and high rough behind, this very shallow green is well guarded.”


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