Architect Jim Engh is no stranger to the “Best in State” rankings with a number of his stellar compositions featuring prominently in recent years.
One of an octet of courses that Engh has designed in the Centennial State, Lakota Canyon Ranch and Golf Club lies just outside New Castle, below the Flat Tops Wilderness Area at an altitude of over 5,000 feet above sea level.
The layout is part of a residential development that opened in 2004 and it was one of the architect’s most challenging sites to work on due to the difficult topography.
Fairways are strung out in two loops of returning nines along the sides and bottom of deep, narrow valleys so storm drainage was a major factor in the design specification. Many of the holes feature elevated tee boxes where golfers face everything that lies between tee and green.
A pair of back-to-back par fives on the front nine are feature holes whilst, on the more built up back nine (housing overlooks either side of the fairway at the 18th) two of the final four holes are long par threes where a good score could be severely threatened.
The name Jim Engh may not be a known entity as others in the design field but his impact on golf in Colorado is significant. The North Dakota native has lived in the State for a number of years after working for a time in Europe. Engh has been most successful in working challenging sites where major grade changes of the terrain are prevalent.
Lakota Canyon is a rollicking adventure -- filled with holes that entail major decisions for golfer to make throughout the round. The layout commences with four holes that take golfers away from the clubhouse. Make note of the par-3 3rd -- Engh created a large putting surface designed in the shape of a reverse letter "C". The internal contours are superb -- a three putt is a near cinch if your approach is careless.
Two of the other first four holes are par-5's and the 4th is exceptional as players will have to decide how aggressively they dare play one's tee shot to a fairway that tapers considerably the longer you hit the ball. The green is neatly tucked around a hillside and is elevated with falloffs. It is a hole which separates those who can execute and those who cannot. Amazingly, there are no bunkers on the entire hole and it shows clearly that sometimes less is indeed more.
Engh follows with another par-5 at the 5th -- this time reversing direction down the hillside and again the challenge is clear -- the deeper the tee shot the more precise the play. The hole is reachable in two shots for strong players but the execution to the narrow green must be well-played.
One of the more underrates holes at Lakota is the 6th -- just under 400 yards and calling for a precise shot from the tee. Players able to favor a left-to-right ball flight will gain immeasurably here. The fairway runs out at roughly 300 yards so position not brute strength is the operative word here. The green is another gem -- angled from left to right with a solitary bunker on the right side that keeps your attention.
From time to time Engh does go overboard on the shaping of holes and the par-3 7th is a good example of this. There's no need to go excessive when the land presented by Mother Nature is present. Be sure to walk back to the championship tee at the par-4 8th -- you may need a bit of oxygen to climb the hill to the tiny pad that's there. The hole is again under 400 yards and the positioning of three fairway bunkers must be respected. The prudent play is to hit short of them and approach from that position. Be mindful of the right side of the green has a fall-off so pinpointing one's yardage is crucial.
The par-3 9th is a good hole to close out the side -- the green is especially narrow in front and getting one's approach to the deepest end is a challenge because far too often players come up short given the prevailing wind in your face.
The inward side starts from an elevated tee -- one of several at Lakota -- and the par-4 is again just under 400 yards. Strong players will need to pay attention to a tiny bunker just short of the green. Hitting less than driver is the smartest option for nearly all so that the proper approach angle can be realized.
The par-5 11th must be seen from the championship tees to appreciate the full challenge. The hole goes downhill and, like others at the course, has a fairway that tapers considerably the longer you hit the tee shot. Working the left side provides the biggest gain but it entails the greatest risk as desert vegetation awaits the hapless player who misfires.
The par-4 12th is Lakota's longest par-4 at 473 yards. Engh smartly added a solitary center-placed fairway bunker and it must be avoided. Being able to shape the tee shot from right-to-left can gain major dividends as the fairway works that way. At the 13th and 14th you encounter two short par-4's. The 13th plays slightly downhill and it's wise to proceed with caution from the tee. There's little gain in being overaggressive at either hole.
The par-3 15h features a water carry but the more pressing element is avoiding the greenside bunker which blocks the center section of the putting surface. When the pin is placed on the far right side the carry and shape of the approach will need to be exact.
When you get to the final three holes you play a solid mixture of a par-4, par-3 and par-5 conclusion. The 16th is the only other par-4 besides the 12th that plays beyond 400 yards. Given the altitude of Lakota Canyon it's hard for architects to design long par-4's that can be equally challenging for high and low handicaps. The 16th turns gently to the right and the fairway does narrow the longer the drive is played. It is a must to get the tee ball in the fairway on this hole. Engh positioned the green in a way that tee shots finding the more demanding right side of the fairway will command a much better angle. There is a long greenside bunker that protects the entire left side -- show the proper respect or be prepared to pay a major price. The green has numerous good pin locations and when placed hard left is quite challenging to reach.
At the par-3 17th -- you play one of Engh's favorite design elements. You start from an elevated tee and the green is in the distance. Although the hole is clearly manufactured I really like the green design. The green is designed like the letter "Y" -- with the two extended areas in the respective corners providing for very demanding areas to reach. Even the frontal area can be hard to hit as a lone bunker guards that area quite closely.
The concluding hole at Lakota is a stellar par-5 -- ripe with decisions the moment you set foot on the tee. You start from an elevated platform to a fairway that bends ever so gently to the right. The fairway cuts off at roughly 175 yards to the green. Those who can hit for distance and accuracy can decide if going for the green is worthwhile. The shot is all-carry to a very thin and long green. When the pin is cut tight to the front it takes a very high shot with total control to stay on the putting surface. For those opting to play safe -- Engh created a separate fairway to the right but it doesn't mean an easier 3rd shot awaits. The player must then hoist a top quality wedge to a green that provides very little depth from that angle. One must carry a desert wash that holds tight to that side.
I see the 18th as just a fantastic hole -- eagles are possible -- so are double-bogeys.
Lakota Canyon has easy access to reach via I-70 and best of all the prices charged are very reasonable given the costs to play courses higher up in the mountains during peak season. Credit Engh for a quality design and one that should get even more attention than some of his other efforts like nearby Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction. The fun aspect of golf comes with having an array of shots / holes you just can't wait to try again and again. Lakota Canyon certainly provides that and much more.
by M. James Ward