Peak Performer: Red Sky Golf Club Begins its 16th Season

Red Sky begins 16th season as it finished its previous 15—at the apex of Colorado mountain golf—and it keeps climbing higher.

Peak Performer: Red Sky Golf Club Begins its 15th Season

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

Not exactly on a maritime route, Red Sky Golf Club turns the ancient couplet’s second verse into more of a red herring.

Morning or night, Red Sky has been a golfer’s delight since its Fazio course opened in 2002. Its Norman course debuted the following year, creating an unprecedented one-two tandem along the slopes south of I-70 in Wolcott, 11 miles west of Beaver Creek.

Like Eagle Springs Golf Club, which sits directly across the highway, Red Sky Golf Club is private. But unlike most private enclaves, Red Sky allows guests of three-dozen partner lodging properties in Vail and Beaver Creek—primarily ones owned by Vail Resorts—access to the “guest” course, the designation of which alternates daily between the two layouts.

Vail Resorts owns and operates the courses, which it developed as part of the 800-acre Red Sky Ranch property. The site of a former sheep ranch, the golf facility is so rustically elegant and impeccably appointed that it reportedly took 20 dye lots just to settle on the right color of cement so the cart path would blend naturally with the surrounding sage, soil and rock.

Red Sky Golf Club - one of the premier Colorado mountain golf courses

Even the on-course bridges and comfort stations reflect an uncompromising attention to detail. At an early outing on the Fazio Course, a company representative quipped that the quality of the two courses, clubhouses and amenities proved that Jim Thompson, then president of Vail Resorts Development Company, was the only man who could exceed an unlimited budget.

Talk about money well spent. Both Norman and Fazio courses appear on those coveted Top 100 lists in national magazines, as well as atop the CAGGYs awarded by this publication. The excellence of the Red Sky experience—from the solicitous service, tight organization, creative cuisine and faultless course conditions—never varies. And the views, especially from the higher-elevation Norman Course, never get old. All of which explains why Colorado AvidGolfer will stage its annual Schomp BMW Corporate Cup for the 12th consecutive year at Red Sky June 2-3.

No less a corporate golf icon than PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has been a member since the club opened. “In my judgment, the Vail Valley has the best collection of golf courses of any other mountainous region in the world,” says the commish, who will be spending more time in in Colorado after his contract expires next June. “One of the reasons we continue our residence in Colorado is because we have access to great golf, like the Red Sky Golf Club.”

In addition to becoming a must-play for golfers, Red Sky deliberately plays host to the animals that use Bellyache Ridge—which separates the two courses—as a wildlife migration corridor. This sense of environmental stewardship, coupled with the ecologically sensitive manner in which both courses operate, has qualified them as Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.

The Fazio
Architects with two very different styles created the courses at Red Sky. That contrast makes the experience unforgettable.

The Fazio is the shorter and “gentler” of the two, though at 7,113 yards (72.1/134), from the tips, it’s no cupcake.

Your round begins with a 446-yard par 4 from an elevated tee that overlooks the western portion of the Vail Valley. The first birdie opportunity awaits not on the monster par-5 second but on the 336-yard par-4 third—provided you don’t let Fazio tempt you into driving the green on this water-lined risk-reward beauty.

Red Sky Golf Club Wolcott, Colorado

The 5th rates the 1-handicap, mostly for its 606-yard maximum length but Fazio also compensates for the absence of bunkers along the wide fairways with a wicked gaggle of them around the green.

The architect blends a variety of hole styles into the front—shortish uphill and downhill par 4s on nos. 6 and 8 and a pair of strong par 3s on holes 7 and 9. All defend par with fiddly greens that make purchasing a yardage book a must.

After winding along the sage-covered front nine, the course climbs into scenic, dramatic aspen groves. The slopes are more dramatic and the views more breathtaking on this side. The go-for-the-green 12th sits at course’s highest point.

You can go for it in two on the the downhill, par-5 15th, which at 539 yards from the back is only 34 yards shorter than the downhill par 4 that follows it. The beautiful, plunging par-3 17th features a small pond to the left of a green bisected by a diabolical ridge.

Fazio’s closer, another long par 5, is reachable but sneaky. Keep to the left of the fairway—that is, unless you enjoy the fragrant juniper and sage into which shots along the right bounce.

“The Colorado Rockies provide a setting and a landscape that frames every golf hole in a distinct and grand way,” Fazio says of his third Colorado effort. “It is an honor to have my name highlighted and be part of the Red Sky family.”

The course begins and ends at the guest clubhouse, which serves a delectable lunch at the SummerThyme Restaurant. The scrumptious breakfast burritos at the halfway house belie its name, Bellyache Grill.

The Norman
Whereas forgiveness comes into play on the Fazio course, it doesn’t enter into the conversation on the Norman, which stretches almost 7,600 yards and carries a slope rating of 74.1/146. This brawny beauty starts with a challenging par 4 with no bailout off the tee and ends with a long par 5 with trouble left and in front of the green.

In between are some of the most spectacular challenging holes in Colorado golf. As long as you play the appropriate tees, you’ll remember more than the jaw-dropping views.

Those start on the second, a slightly downhill deep-bunkered par 3 with a stunning panorama behind it. The same vistas appear from the series immediately following it—comprised of a long par 4, 5 and 3. A nice breather—and birdie opp—comes on reachable par-4 sixth, but the 562-yard (from the blues) par-5 8th is the number-one handicap hole for a reason. A true three-shot hole, you need both length off the tee to carry the junk and accuracy on your approach to avoid a big number.

1st hole of Norman Course at Red Sky Golf Club

Before making the turn, tips players get to wrestle with the 559-yard par-4 9th. The rest of us get a 107-yard head start on the hole but everyone has to contend with the arroyo that cuts across the front of the green.

The aspens framing the par-3 10th make the hole a visual stunning anomaly. The creek and deep bunkers guarding the diagonal green make it even more memorable. You won’t soon forget the green on the right-dogleg par 4 13th, either. It appears to perch, an infinity-edged tableau, above the entire Vail Valley. Stunning.

Heading into the final gauntlet you can understand why Norman says he feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to build a course like Red Sky Ranch. The holes may be hard but they’re not unfair—the 13th, 14th and 15th are all gettable birdies—and they all make optimal use of the surrounding grandeur. Given the eyeful from the back tee on the 283-yard par-3 16th, it’s okay to consider laying up.

Norman, who owned a ranch on the White River near Meeker, believes what he’s done at Red Sky “truly showcases this magnificent part of the world.” No argument here.

Only members have access to the clubhouse at the Norman course, but the public can enjoy Executive Chef Tim McCaw’s cuisine every night in its Silver Sage restaurant.

Community Involvement
Red Sky involves itself in the Vail Valley, annually hosting numerous charity events. Every August since 2012, the course has welcomed wounded warriors from the Vail Veterans Program to five days of tournament play with members, PGA golf clinics, individual instruction, group meals and other activities. “It’s a feel-good event for the entire community,” says Vail Veterans Executive Director and chairman Cheryl Jensen.

As with other Vail Valley courses, Red Sky will host 9-hole events and field a 10- to 12-member team in the PGA Junior League Series for players ages 13 and under. For boys and girls ages 11-13 and 14-17, Red Sky will host the first event in The First Tee of Eagle County Tournament Player’s Series.

Wounded Warriors Vail Veterans Program

Kids 17 and under can also participate in  one of two four-day camps this summer. Golf fills the morning, and after lunch comes ziplining, river rafting, horseback riding and mountain biking.

Slightly older players will compete at Red Sky this September 25-28 in the Golfweek Women’s Conference Challenge. The top teams from 18 NCAA Division I conferences compete for three days on the Fazio course. “And they walk that sucker,” Hanson marvels.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. Ridden or walked, no other golf facility in Colorado features two more spectacularly different golf courses of such high caliber in this glorious of a setting.

Wounded Warriors Vail Veterans Program

The Academy
Red Sky Golf Academy prides itself in top-rate golf instruction. Housed inside a classic log cabin, the Academy features an indoor, heated hitting bay with a Trackman Launch Monitor and state-of-the-art video analysis. The academy is open year-round, so even when others are enjoying the back bowls of Vail, PGA Director of Golf Jeff Hanson (above) and his staff give lessons to members and non-members.

During the summer, 30-year PGA Tour veteran Larry Rinker serves as the director of instruction. One of the most sought-after short-game wizards, he follows up all lessons with email V1 Video Reviews posted to your own V1 Online Locker. A spacious practice tee sits adjacent to the Academy, comfortably accommodating individual lessons and corporate events. The manicured short game area features a picturesque 5,000-foot putting green surrounded by several bunkers to work the short game.

Red Sky Golf Academy

For stay-and-play package information: redskygolfclub.com; 8888-500-5170.

This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.


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