The Norman and Fazio courses at Red Sky Ranch and Golf Club are new millennium offerings that opened within a couple of years of each other and such is their undoubted quality, they both feature prominently in modern Colorado State golf course rankings.
The Norman course appeared in 2003, a year after the unveiling of the Fazio layout, and it plays longer – by almost 500 yards – and tougher than its older sibling, as a back tee slope rating of 146 (against 134 on the Fazio course) confirms.
Greg Norman is on record as having this to say about his course at Red Sky Ranch:
“The Norman course at Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club was my first design in the Colorado Mountains. I first toured the property in 2000 and was struck by the authentic mountain feel to the project. In fact, it reminded me of Seven Lakes Lodge, a ranch I own in northwest Colorado.
As with all our golf courses, we work closely with the land planners, environmentalists and developers to achieve a balance between a natural and playable golf course and a unique development and residential experience.
At Red Sky, we had more than 400 acres to route the golf course, and those parameters helped define the golf course routing – the backbone for the course and the basis for variety in the holes.I try to find variety in terms of direction, length, slope, par and shot shape, and that challenge is magnified when designing a course with an elevation eclipsing 7,500 feet. Interestingly, there is an elevation change of 400 feet from the 14th tee to the 3rd green”.
Greg Norman had a stellar playing career although clearly his inability to close out key major championships in several instances will forever follow him. Despite his shortcomings in crucial moments in big time golf situations The Shark has demonstrated a business portfolio that has been most impressive since his tournament playing days ended.
Norman has been most active in the designing of courses worldwide and his record on that front is quite good.
I've played roughly a dozen or so of his layouts and one of the more impressive is his work at Red Sky Ranch. Having 400+ acres of land to use gave Norman the freedom to allow his work to breathe -- not cluttered with eye-catching intrusions that would simply suffocate the layout.
Norman understood the key element for any course was to allow the land to be the major storyteller. The course flows with the terrain - it's not superimposed upon it. There are expansive fairways -- plenty of room to go after the tee shot but always with a preferred side. The greens are large in most instances but are not encumbered with excessive contours to the point of silliness. Skill, not luck, is the prerequisite determinant when using the flatstick.
True to his character -- Norman does provide for holes for aggressive lines of attack. The player who can pull off such herculean shots will reap major rewards. Pity the same player who fails to do so.
When I played the course the turf conditioning was top tier. Fairways were cut tight allowing for fast playing surfaces. The rolling terrain provided differentiation but not to excess so that shot distortion becomes an issue.
Although the course is listed at nearly 7,600 yards - the elevation allows anywhere from 10-15% more distance so it's possible to have a par-4 that measures 559 yards as the 9th does. It also helps by playing downhill too. There's also the 283-yard par-3 16th which on its face seems overly long but is designed to allow for a range of shots. The backdrop for that hole is utterly riveting.
The expansive property allows the eye to wander -- in fact -- when playing you need to catch yourself from being totally distracted at key moments when playing.
So much of the golf development effort in the heart of the Colorado mountains that took place in the 1990's was done to provide functional golf that often served as the lynchpin in selling real estate. A number of the courses that came into existence are fairly predictable -- often pedestrian in terms of their architectural heft.
Norman did not pull punches in creating his layout at Red Sky Ranch. There's plenty of teeth and you realize very early in the round that half-hearted shots will not sniff anything close to a reward. Norman did not forget about providing elasticity for those with higher handicaps. The greens do allow for shots to run on in nearly all cases. The demands are there for those who seek to look for the quick shortcuts and fail to provide the needed execution.
It puzzles me why the Norman layout has not received more glowing accounts. You get the sense right away when you stand on the 1st tee and gaze at the land just in front of you. The public can access the course at times as open play is split every other day with the nearby sister Fazio layout although it is that layout that often gets more critical acclaim which I find totally baffling.
It's too bad the golf season is a limited one at such elevations but for those who can avail themselves for the opportunity you will certainly enjoy what's provided. What makes the Norman layout so spectacular is how the architect sublimated any desire to go to extremes -- allowing the property and the overall setting to take first billing. There is no one star hole but the totality of what is provided that carries the day in a very solid manner.
by M. James Ward