Western Colorado Golf, Wine and Scenery: US 50 is the road to fun

Black Canyon, Gunnison, CO

The view from the South rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, 30 miles east of Montrose (Image: Howard Mitchell, ©2013, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s Note: This article is the result of a sponsored press trip hosted by the various tourism offices: 

Visit Grand Junction

Delta County, Colorado

Visit Montrose (Colorado)

Quick–what is the first thing that comes to mind in thinking about Colorado?

Odds are that wine, brewpubs and terrific golf are not what most people think of, but that’s exactly what visitors get when they travel the road on U.S. 50 from Grand Junction to Montrose, Colo. savored in an early October visit to the western side of the state.

Protected on the east by the San Juan Mountains and the Eastern Range of the Rockies and on the west with the convergence of three mountain ranges, Grand Junction sits in a majestic valley overshadowed by the red rocks of the Colorado National Monument. In that valley watered by the Colorado River lie orchards, terrific golf courses,  breathtaking scenery and, surprisingly, many vineyards and wineries.

Flying in to the accessible Grand Junction airport from Salt Lake City shows the variety of terrain found in western Colorado: from barren rocks in dry high desert to lush meadows in a valley. A hikers’ and cyclists’ paradise, the flatter areas quickly rise to mountains that would challenge Lance Armstrong—with or without steroids.

Starting in Grand Junction, the 62-mile stretch of U.S. 50 that leads southeast to Montrose, Colo.—just two hours west of the Telluride ski slopes–offers activities for the sophisticated traveler as well as a path away from the tried-and-true.  It’s a place to retire, a place for a second home—whatever is on the traveler’s menu.

Challenging tee shot on #9 at The Bridges.

Challenging tee shot –keep it left on #9 at The Bridges. (Image: Howard Mitchell, ©2013, All Rights Reserved)

And then there’s the golf.  Lots of it.

There’s so much to do—on and off the course– that the normal 1500-word piece won’t do. Instead, your Exploration Travel editor—always wishing to offer a full travel experience—has kindly allowed the author to take you on the road in a four-day trip to introduce you to western Colorado. Come along for the ride!

Day One: Grand Junction 

Grand Junction is the ideal starting  and ending point for a week’s worth –at least—of delights of an often overlooked area of the state.

“We have dozens of wineries here, and lots of cycling,” says Mistalynn Lee Meyeraan, an irrepressible ambassador for all things Grand Junction. “When I was younger (and maybe she is only on the early side of 30!), I used to bike from winery to winery for tastings.  Needless to say, we flamed out after the eighth or ninth tasting! I’ve been to all of them.”

The largest city and the heart of a metro area of about 147,000 people on Colorado’s Western Slope, Grand Junction is a contraction: it lies in a large fruit-growing valley overlooked by some of the most rugged and spectacular terrain anywhere. The Bookcliff Mountains loom on the north of the Grand Valley and the red rocks of the Colorado National Monument sparkle on the west, especially at sunrise and sunset. A major mountain biking destination with many single-track trails, it’s the logical first stop to acclimate to Colorado’s high desert area.

Named for the junction of the fast-moving Gunnison River with the Colorado River (once known as the Grand River in its upper reaches until it was re-named in 1921), Grand Junction seems larger than its population might imply. A stroll down Main Street and its environs shows a city committed to the arts, with seriously eclectic pieces of contemporary “street art” dotting the area. (a “sculpture” with a man sitting in a bathtub with a cigar stuffed in his mouth is particularly amusing).

Downtown Grand Junction

A part of downtown Grand Junction (Image: Howard Mitchell, ©2013, All Rights Reserved)

The restored Avalon Theater, built in 1923 has hosted major acts over the years while offering residents a variety of first-rate film, concerts and other performing arts opportunities in a sumptuous environment.  During the walk, a stop at Enstrom Candies, just off Main Street— is famous far beyond Grand Junction for its homemade toffee, made-on-premises candy, ice cream and other treats, and will reward your sweet tooth cravings.  Have lunch or dinner at the Rockslide Brew Pub (4th and Main Streets, downtown) where owner Mike Bell and his staff ply guests with restaurant-brewed beers made on premises and food for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Request the seasonal beer list for particular variety.

Even without visiting wineries, tackling the hiking and biking trails at the Colorado National Monument or the Black Canyon National Park, this alone makes for a full afternoon, and no one has even left the city limits yet to hit the golf courses the next day.  Golfers will need their rest, because in Grand Junction, the plan is to play two courses in one day

Given that it almost always will be sunny in the Grand Junction area, enjoy breakfast outside and then tackle the city-owned Tiara Rado course, which is worth visiting if only for its spectacular views of the Colorado National Monument as well as the ubiquitous Grand Mesa that grace almost every hole. Expect to take in a lot of wildlife, too: quail, pheasants, owls, herons, deer and all three species of bluebird found in the United States are commonplace.

The golf is fun, too.  Opened in 1971 and updated in 2011Tiara Rado is well-maintained—watch out for the fast greens– short (just 6,182 yards from the championship tees with a slope of 120) and sporty, with frequent roaring creeks crossing the fairways and trees lining the generally spacious fairways. Less ambitious golfers will take the blue tees with its 4,967 yards and a slope of 113.

Designed by Tom Kolacny, Tiara Rado is a fitting warm-up for golf in the afternoon. After lunch on the Tiara Rado patio, it’s an easy 7-mile drive to one of the Top 100 courses in the United States.

 

Black Canyon Visitor's Center view

The view from the Black Canyon’s visitors’ center (fellow writer in picture!) (Image: Howard Mitchell, ©2013, All Rights Reserved)

Welcome to Redlands Mesa 

“Positioned beneath the slopes of jagged buttes … in the shadow of the towering pink and red sandstone face of the Colorado National Monument, Redlands Mesa is like playing golf along the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with a couple of sojourns to the Garden of the Gods thrown in.” –Golf Digest

Part of a master planned golf community located five minutes from downtown Grand Junction, Redlands Mesa is a stunningly beautiful and challenging “thinking man’s” course that stretches 6,486 yards from the blue tees, with eleven elevated tees and many greens—consistently fast and rolling– flanked with bunkers. In 2010, Colorado Golf Magazine recognized it as the #1 public golf course in the state, and has consistently ranked in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses since 2003.

Hole #17, for instance, is a 200-yard par 3; the hole has what the club says is the most “memorable” tee shot on the course. Not only is there normally a cross-wind, golfers at the tee must negotiate a tee shot with a 150-foot vertical drop from tee to a large green surrounded by a rock amphitheater and a deep bunker to the right of the fast-rolling green, requiring a shot to “stick” or face rolling off. Pull the tell shot or shank it and the ball’s in the rocks that surround the green.

The ninth hole on some courses is often an easy one, as golfers think about grabbing a sandwich at the concession stand before the back nine. Not so at Redlands, though this is rated the 8th-handicap hole.   Here, the tee shot must carry a large ravine and avoid the out-of-bounds (and the desert) along the right side, and the second shot requires the average golfer to make a long second shot to avoid bunkers right and left of the green. The green narrows significantly at the back to allow for some difficult pin placements.

(An additional challenge: this is a course that respects its wildlife: signs inform golfers that rattlesnakes are in the native areas that line the course, but they are part of the environment and they will leave you alone if you do the same to them.  Seeing the signs makes golfers careful not to sit on any rocky ledge at tee boxes, lest a snake lurk underneath!)

Almost as spectacular as the scenery are the homes that abut some of the holes; others sit on hills high above a green or fairway; home sites range in size from one-third acre to 2.39 acres, and prices begin at $55,000—and up!

Cycling is big in Grand Junction

Cycling is big in Grand Junction (Image Howard Mitchell, ©2013, All Rights Reserved)

In conjunction with leading hotels in Grand Junction, Redlands offers “stay and play” packages that offer reduced greens fees, breakfast and hotel stays.

After the round, savor the birdies over drinks and dinner at the Red Canyon Grille, which offers a full menu overlooking Redlands Mesa and the course.  If sushi and Japanese fare are preferred, Sakura Asian Bistro offers steaks, sushi, hibachi-style dinners, tempura dishes, teriyaki dishes and more.

The next day, the visitor to Grand Junction visitor center has a choice: explore unforgettable natural history, visit wineries or head east on U.S. 50 for more stunning golf and scenery.

(This is part 1 of a 3-part series – watch this site for the next two articles!)

For more information about the golfing opportunities in Grand Junction and the Western Slope, please visit the Grand Junction Tourism Office website!

To learn more about the special packages offered by various hotels, please visit the Grand Junction Tourism website!

About Howard Mitchell

Howard R. Mitchell III is a principal at Capital Communications Alliance, a public relations and public affairs consulting group with regional and national clients, including some experience in the travel industry. A native of Columbus, Ohio, a former television and radio news reporter in Indiana and Missouri, he has written extensively on behalf of clients in a number of industries. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Virginia and a master’s in journalism from Ohio State University. . He resides in suburban Cincinnati. ( He would say he’s not a terrific dancer.) Contact him at howardm@one.net

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