Friday, February 16, 2007

In the 1960s, Sly and the Family Stone wanted to "Take You Higher." But not as high as Jack Nicklaus wants to take you in 2002. At the pinnacle of his latest creation in the Colorado Rockies -- nearly 9,100 feet above sea level -- the aptly named Summit Course at Cordillera offers top-of-the-world, 360-degree views of lofty peaks in the Gore Range and Sawatch Mountains. Even with a 20 percent distance boost at this altitude, you'll need your A-game (and some oxygen) if you plan to tee it up from the tips at 7,596 yards (par 72).

On what he called "one of the most dramatic sites I've ever seen, just absolutely beautiful," Nicklaus has fashioned a multi-theme course that begins in a forest of tall firs, opens onto a high alpine meadow, skirts a few wetlands, and weaves around rock outcrops, all the while taking players on a turfgrass sleigh ride through the mountains. Earthmoving was kept to a minimum -- Jack adhered to existing landforms in order to blend his mammoth layout into the craggy terrain. Not only are the fairways lightly shaped, the slick bentgrass greens are among the flattest and most subtly contoured Nicklaus has ever built.

The fourth and final course to be built at the 6,500-acre Cordillera community 20 miles west of Vail, the Summit has exceptional pace and variety. Jack made sure a combination of delicacy and power are required to score. The Summit's back nine, with its sharper drops and steeper climbs, comes on strong. The only water hazard is found to the left of the 12th green, but keep an eye on the rocky bluffs beyond the putting surface: Two active bear dens have been identified among the cliffs. The 13th, at 631 yards the longest hole on the course, begins the long climb from the low point of the layout to the rising 18th fairway.

"The Summit Course," Jack said on opening day last August after carding a 68, "is the only golf course on which you can seemingly see forever from each hole." Through early October, the sagebrush-covered hills at this Everestian spread will be alive with the sound of golfers gasping for superlatives.

Green fee of $245 includes cart and forecaddie. Tee times: 970-926-5300. Green fee for guests of the 56-room Lodge & Spa at Cordillera is $185. Reservations: 800-877-3529. Web site: www.cordillera-vail.com.

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