The Golf Club at Ravenna in Littleton, CO
Tee Time: July 24, 2013, 10:55, 81 F, light wind, overcast
Designer: Jay Morrish (2007)
Playing Partners: None
Tees: Gold, Par 71 (71.5 rating/140 slope/6,689 yards)
Course Handicap: 12 (9.5 index)
Stats: 94 (48-46); 43 putts; 9/13 fairways; 8/18 greens; 3 penalty strokes
A few miles south of Littleton, Colorado is The Golf Club at Ravenna in a private country club that wanders through the foothills of the Rockies. A new course that opened in 2007 and a Jay Morrish design, there is a lot to like about Ravenna. It presents a tough challenge but offers a set of tees for every skill set. The fairways are pretty hittable but sand traps are well positioned to take in any errant shots. The greens will be what you remember most about playing this course. They’re as well-maintained as any, smooth and consistent while also soft and receptive to well struck irons. But there are swales aplenty and the surfaces are as quick as Augusta’s on an Easter Sunday. And even though it’s understandable that everything will break towards Denver, which can be seen way off in the distance to the north, it’s still hard to watch a putt you swear should break off the ridge away from the valley and stubbornly refuse to.
That’s just what you’ll remember about playing here. The real standout asset here is the scenery. Dramatic views of the valley, foothills and even the course itself are available on every tee. The par 3s here are as pretty as any. The sedimentary rock cliffsides and outcroppings set against the sage and pine makes for a painting quality backdrop. The reds and sands juxtaposed with the forest greens and lavender flowers are gorgeous and easily take your mind off all those tough three-putts the greens will offer up. And the houses lining the course are fun to dream about. Even the deer seem to wish they lived here. I found four just lounging in someone’s backyard on a lazy summer afternoon, probably just happy to be away from the coyotes for a while. Who knows what goes on in this sparsely populated community at night. The only evidence I could find were the deer and coyote tracks from their midnight chases. C’mon guys, you can’t show the courtesy to rake after yourselves?
The course opens with a sharp dogleg right where half the fairway is hidden from view. Accuracy is more important than distance as being in the fairway for a short wedge approach to a well guarded green is important to start the round off right. You don’t wanna mess with the greenside sand here. The slanted, 520-yard 2nd is unfortunately not reachable, even after a 300-yard drive in the thin, mile-high air. Even from 200-220 yards out, an uphill climb of over fifty feet goes over a nasty front bunker to a slick green. Laying up to a comfortable distance is the wise move, but less fun… The first of Ravenna’s five amazing par 3s is the 168-yard 3rd. It plays long over a deep canyon that is easy to avoid but still messes with the mind. The 320-yard 4th is probably the least exciting hole on the course, but with a small green can’t be taken lightly. The 550-yard 5th is amazingly only the 3rd longest par 5 at Ravenna. Playing gradually downhill, it requires a bomb of a tee shot to carry into the fairway over 200 yards over the long prairie grass waving in the incoming breeze. From there, reaching in two is possible and your best chance at getting home and putting for eagle. There is a dip in front of the green between the fringe and the bunker about 30 yards out, but the real challenge to attacking this hole is the wind. The long par-3 6th is basically two greens. Directly in the middle of the putting surface is a giant hump like a dromedary camel (not the Bactrian, dual-humped camel), that makes anything on the opposite side a guaranteed 3-putt or 4-putt like I did. I probably should have chipped over the fringe but I didn’t want to tear up a course I was fortunate enough to be a guest at. The craziest hole is the 322-yard 7th, a split fairway with trees and other trouble right smack-dab in the middle, flanked by sand traps and narrow landing areas. From the fairway it’s pretty easy though… The long 9th, at 218 yards is like a Ryan Braun-ed (ie. roided up) version of the 3rd, over another canyon to a back-to-front green that looks much longer than it plays.
Try not to get lost as you make the turn. You actually drive up the 16th hole, across the street, down a cart path, past Grandmother’s house and then you reach the 10th tee. From there it’s a tight walk between fairway bunkers 453 yards to a green guarded by deep sand traps. It is the longest par 4 on the course and it plays into the wind, making it a de facto par 5 as the 1-handicap rating would suggest. The 413-yard 12th is longer than it looks off the tee. A good tee shot will bite off a big chunk if you catch a downslope of the rolling fairway that appears like a moving caterpillar with humps curving from tee to the nasty false front of the green. The 446-yard 13th brings back the water that will be in play for the 14th as well. Another example of well-placed fairway bunkers, missing them can make the green approachable, but most likely this is a green that is best steered clear of lest the lake get too close for comfort. The beautiful, 563-yard 14th is simple from the tee, but from there it gets interesting. Carrying the second shot across the lake and creek makes for a better angle into the green, but then again, there is that lake and creek to carry. Going down the right side is safer on the 2nd shot, but the approach is then over the lake to a shallow green, which adds to the degree of difficulty. Take in the view from the bridge with the serene rush of the water cascading down the small waterfall before attempting to make a birdie. The 15th is fun, but gets the unfortunate distinction of being the last hole you’ll play before the unforgettable closing trio. Rolling down to the right, the horse saddle green is effectively three-tiered and nasty. The drivable 17th (if you have 328 yards in your bag that is) has the widest landing area which is good because from there it plays uphill to a front-to-back sloping green that is only attackable with a wedge. The closing 18th is a boomerang par-5 of 579 yards. The drive needs to be shot right down the pipe to a tight fairway with deep problems to the right and a par-killing sand trap to the left. If you’re positioned just right, you can bite off a huge chunk on the second hole, but there is a tree that stands in that line to prevent too much aggressiveness. It probably did me a favor by not giving me the option to go for it.
It’s tough to get on at the Golf Club at Ravenna. I was fortunate to be offered a tee time by GM Bob Geppert, who is a busy man and I couldn’t find him at all to say thanks, but I did tell the staff to give him my regards. Even getting in the gate was what I imagine the guards at the White House is like. But once inside, it is a great, unique experience. There aren’t many settings that can offer the atmosphere that this amazing course in the Rockies does, with views aplenty and memorable holes. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, they offer cold water bottles and apples at the 6th hole and the restaurant staff is as quick as the greens. Speaking of the greens, they are something else. After 15 or so holes I started to get a feel (after I was on pace for a 50-putt round…) which was perfect timing because the grounds crew watched me try to sink a downhill 10-footer for birdie. I didn’t make it but impressed them by leaving it within inches on a green they knew was no picnic. Still relatively new, having only opened in 2007, I expect this course to really gain in recognition and appreciation in the coming years.
#16, Par 3, 216 yards, 15-handicap, My Score: 5
Layout: A; not one hole is like any other and each is its own challenge. Uphill, downhill, right, left, hilly, flat. There’s everything, and the closing 3 holes are among the best trio of holes I’ve ever experienced.
Amenities: B; the best driving range I’ve ever seen, with real greens that show just how your wedges are playing, and it makes it feel more real when you hit a long iron to a green and see it trickle towards a pin. It’s so much easier to take that feeling onto the course. A nice putting green, and a cool dining room under the tent I hear gets crazy loud in the thunder.
Staff: A; a friendly, knowledgeable group that knows their golf and makes everyone feel welcome, even me, the unaccompanied guest.
Difficulty: B+; fun in the fairways, but anything around the greens is treacherous. Just putt those expert greens at half speed and you might get close. So that makes three Jay Morrish courses I’ve played for a nice average of 92.5. You have my number, sir.
Scenery: A; I bet it’s even nicer in the clear air of early spring with snow still on the hills circling the course. But still, as I wrote in that second paragraph, you can’t deny that view. Downtown Denver miles off in the distance, a panorama of the entire valley to the north and the deep gorges and canyons created by the sedimentary rock throughout the course.
Value: B; $120 as an unaccompanied guest, it’s worth every penny, especially considering that most high season rates in the area are that or more (such as Broadmoor’s $200 or greater greens fees). And for all that you get elite private club amenities, service and pace of play.
Overall GPA: 3.55 (B+); if you ever get the chance to play out here, call in sick and take it. It’s a real taste of golf in the Rockies.