Hard pressed to find original verbiage to describe The Raven at Three Peaks, I reached for the Thesaurus of Golf Writing Cliches and randomly plucked five entries, all of which seem concocted with this Colorado Rockies layout in mind: 1) Breathtaking beauty; 2) Panoramic vistas; 3) Dizzying elevation changes; 4) Crisp mountain air; 5) Bring your camera.
Located a lovely hour's drive west of Denver, Silverthorne, Colorado clocks in at no less than 8,751 feet, good news for short knockers, bad news for the aerobically unfit. The area is better known to skiers than golfers the "Front Range" of the Rockies boasts plenty of peaks over 10,000 feet, and thus seems a challenging bit of topography to fashion a golf course from.
Happily, the design team of Tom Lehman/Hurzdan-Fry succeeded in avoiding a Six Flags theme-park feel, transforming the original, reputedly impossible routing aka Dick Phelps's Eagle's Nest into a vertiginous, but playable 3-D postcard. Re-branded as part of the Raven empire, the course was owned and operated by Intrawest for nearly a decade before its recent sale to Escalante Golf, a trio of good-hearted, golf-mad enthusiasts with a true passion for the game.
Going from corporate management to a more mom-'n'-pop operation may not seem like a big deal, but you can feel that softer, more human touch from the parking lot to the pro shop and beyond. LPGA pro Rhonda Boutelle runs the show with a firm hand and an incandescent smile, and that same "people person" ethos permeates the entire experience. They even have a "no tipping" policy, meaning no eager club-cleaning/beggary at round's end. Are they nuts? A last chance to fleece their cherished patrons, and they forego the opportunity? Amazing grace.
Between the thin mountain air and the downhill looks, you might check your ID, thinking mistakenly you woke up with Bubba Watson's swing. Take a deep breath, cowboy you carried 240 and got another 60 yards of roll. Fairways are guarded on either side by stands of pine and aspen, though landing areas are fairly accommodating, as are the green complexes, averaging 6,500 sq. ft.
Pro shop advice is to take the time to look back at the tee boxes after reaching the fairway, as the views afforded in that direction are as toothsome as the ones from where you started. Both vantage points afford the eye much to take in, and visual cues abound on the horizon when surveying shotmaking options. No. 9, a par 4 playing 514 yards from the tips, is framed by an Ansel Adams-like vista of the Williams Fork Range and, yes, the elevated tee and thin air ensure that your drive will put you within mid-iron distance of the green. You gotta love gravity.
Stay and play packages abound, and are aggressively priced to meet these stringent times. For under $200, you can buy a bed and a roof, a dramatic round of golf and Raven Three Peaks' policy of feeding and non-alcoholic beveraging you without surcease. All told, this is a unique destination and will leave your memory banks chock-full of indelible imagery. But for oxygen, this place has it all.