Road Trip: Grand Golf Blossoms in Grand County 

Grand County has some of the best golf you'll find in the state, with a little something for everyone.

Authored by Susan Fornoff

Photo by Brad Torchia

His favorite golf course in the world, he told me, was a place called Pole Creek Golf Club.

I’d played Pebble Beach and Spyglass on the golf-glamorous Monterey Peninsula, and the Ocean Course on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, but I’d never heard of this one.

There were other courses near it, he said: Grand Elk, one he had not yet come to appreciate. Grand Lake, the bargain in the region after beetles had killed many of its strategically placed trees. Headwaters, which he found a bit quirky.

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Quirky? Hmm, that’s actually a word that might have been applied to the two of us: single people meeting online and dating long distance in their 50s. Quirky or no, it’s how I ended up on my first golf trip to Grand County with my now-husband, Keith. Coming from California, I marveled at the bighorn sheep on the mountainside near Empire, and delighted in the cold, crisp air at the top of Berthoud Pass, elevation 11,307 feet. “Please drive gently,” I asked a bit nervously, and he carefully followed switchbacks up and down 6.3 percent grades.

We stayed in a condo within walking distance of Headwaters and just across Hwy. 40 from Grand Elk. Both days, we drove back to Tabernash to play Pole Creek and I could see what he loved: three nines, creatively routed along five lakes, over valley meadows, and under lodgepole pines. The best combination of nines starts with either the Meadows or the Ranch and finishes on the Ridge, where the final hole presents an astonishing view of the Continental Divide from the tee.

Subsequent visits showed Pole Creek’s changing colors. In spring, wildflowers abound; in fall, the aspens put on a golden show. But year-round, there is also a feeling at Pole Creek, a love of the game and nature, and a friendly mountain spirit in every human interaction from check-in to 19th hole.

I could see there was much more to the towns of Winter Park, Granby, and Grand Lake, so that first fall the two of us took an impulse trip for an end-of-the-season round at Grand Lake’s fun and walkable 18-holer, and then picnicked afterward by Shadow Mountain Lake. Heading home, we passed a vacancy sign at what looked like a lakefront restaurant, and turned the car around. Off the main building that contained Mustachio’s on the Lake, an Italian restaurant that was closed that day, was a wing of four rooms, each of them furnished simply but with a luxurious view of Lake Granby. We chose the Cowboy Room and took a bottle of wine to the patio, where rain began to fall. No problem—we two prepared golfers donned our weathers and enjoyed the view. Our stunning reward: a double rainbow over the lake.

The next day, the sun shone and we played Pole Creek in all its autumn glory. We’ve since discovered outstanding greens and friendly members at Grand Elk, and try to go back every year for the fall Chilly Open, a combination golf tournament and chili cookoff. We’ve fallen in love with the front nine of the former Headwaters, now called Granby Ranch, which meanders through meadows that are occasionally visited by Amtrak’s California Zephyr rumbling through to Chicago or California.

The Granby Ranch back nine—yes, it’s a bit quirky, but no more quirky than two golfers in their 50s who decide to marry. The proposal to walk down the fairway of life came with the view from that last hole of the Ridge nine at Pole Creek. Now when someone asks us, “What’s your favorite course?” we answer in unison, and start dreaming about our next golf trip to Grand County.

Photo by Brad Torchia

Where to stay for Grand County golf

Golf season in Grand County tends to run from mid-May until early October, depending on the weather. You’ll find tee times as far out as a month. None of the four golf courses (Pole Creek, Grand Elk, Granby Ranch, Grand Lake) has a hotel attached, but, in addition to Mustachio’s on the Lake, there’s an abundance of short-term summer rentals throughout Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch is tucked away a bit, and that’s the appeal. You finish golf, make your way to this luxury property, and need not do another thing all day. Or you can ride horses, go ziplining, or fly fish.

The Winter Park Chateau looks like a Victorian chalet, but the nine guest rooms have modern furnishings. Laura’s delicious breakfasts will fuel up your golf game, and you can walk to in-town spots for dinner.

The Vintage Hotel is a well-priced, 114- room property on the southernmost edge of Winter Park that has a pool and is just a gondola ride away from the restaurants and bars in Winter Park village.

Where to eat

We’re partial to building a picnic at the Safeway in Fraser and taking it to a favorite lake, but there are plenty of places to dine in the Winter Park area. Here are three unique options:

The seasonal cuisine at Pole Creek Golf Club’s Bistro 28, a local favorite, warrants a dinner reservation and demands a long linger as a “19th hole.”

The craft cocktails will draw you down the steps off U.S. 40 and into the Idlewild Spirits Brewpub and Restaurant, but once you settle in and look at the menu, you’ll want to try the food, too.

For breakfast, lunch, or dinner amid spectacular surroundings, count on Heck’s Tavern at Devil’s Thumb Ranch.