Beating the late summer heat by heading for cooler elevations is a tradition that dates back to the early days of North American golf. Since the 1880s, pleasantly warm days, cool nights and, yes, extra distance on your drives have been the prime attractions of teeing it up in the mountains. Toss in spectacular scenery, a dizzying variety of lies and the pleasing puzzle of clubbing down (but by how much?), and it’s easy to see why mountaintop golf is an experience like no other. Here’s a quartet of high-country destinations that check all the right boxes.
(Colorado Springs, Colo./Elevation: 6,230 feet)
The Golf: With 18 holes created by Donald Ross, another 18 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and a third 18 by Nicklaus Design, the Broadmoor’s golf pedigree is unquestioned. The East course is the headliner. Host to the 1959 U.S. Amateur (winner: Jack Nicklaus), the 1995 and 2011 U.S. Women’s Opens (Annika Sorenstam, So Yeon Ryu) and the 2008 U.S. Senior Open (Eduardo Romero)—and soon to host the Senior Open again next year, when the resort celebrates its 100th anniversary— the East features nine Ross-designed holes from 1918 (1-6 and 16-18) and nine Jones creations from the 1950s. Ranked No. 67 in our Top 100 Courses You Can Play, the course shows off Ross’s genius with green complexes. With Cheyenne Mountain looming imposingly in the background, his speedy putting surfaces present nearly unsolvable puzzles. Tighter and more dramatic than the East, the West also combines Ross and Jones holes. The Nicklaus-designed Mountain course is likely the toughest and most scenic of the three championship tracks and, at around 6,700 feet, boasts a slightly higher elevation.
Altitude Boost: 4 out of 5 mountain goats
High-Flying Fun: Take the nearby cog railway to Pikes Peak’s 14,000-foot summit. The views of Colorado Springs’ historic gold mining camps, the Continental Divide and, in the distance, the cities of Denver and Manitou Springs are dazzling and dizzying. Taking in this panorama in 1893 inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.” Down on the fairways, mind the fauna. A wayward bear that startled Tom Watson and broadcaster Dottie Pepper was a memorable Where the Wild Things Are moment at the 2008 U.S. Senior Open.
Dine & Drink: The Broadmoor bursts with dining options, including Colorado’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond restaurant, the elegant Penrose Room. However, for maximum fun, atmosphere and value, don’t miss the Golden Bee, an English-style pub that enhances its soups, chili and Shepherd’s Pie with hoist-your-tankard sing-alongs.
The Deal: The Five-Star Golf Package includes one round per person per night of the package, lodging (upgrade options available), a locker, club storage and range balls—and suites available at a quarter of the published rates. Package prices start at $475 per person, based on double occupancy, and run through October 31, 2017. broadmoor.com
Fairmont Banff Springs
(Banff, Alberta, Canada/Elevation: 4,639 feet)
The Golf: Banff serves up 27 holes in the heart of the Canadian Rockies: the nine-hole Tunnel Mountain course, which dates to 1989, and the 6,938-yard, Stanley Thompson-designed championship course, which turns 90 in 2018. As they traverse the Banff layout, golfers are overwhelmed by the Rocky Mountain scenery, which creates optical illusions throughout the round. Gene Sarazen once quarreled with a caddie over his club selection at this mile-high course; his well-struck approach to the green made it exactly halfway there. The culprit was the 192-yard, par-3 fourth, aptly dubbed “Devil’s Cauldron.” Your tee shot must carry a glacial lake to a plateau green framed by jagged mountains. It’s all disorienting —and utterly compelling.
Altitude Boost: 3 out of 5 mountain goats
High-Flying Fun: Gondola and horse-trail rides, rafting on the Bow River and mountain biking are among the airy attractions. Down on the fairways, pay heed to the immovable obstructions. I once took a dozen waggles on the elevated tee at the 475-yard, par-4 15th trying to figure out how to blow it past the rutting elk in the middle of the fairway.
Dine & Drink: The hearty-flavored Brisket Dip at Stanley’s Smokehouse pairs well with the mountain setting. Try the baked beans, too—they’re more like a chili, with bits of brisket cooked in. For a distinctive post-round beverage, the Smokey Old Fashioned features the smokiest of all whiskies, Laphroaig. Another can’t-miss dining option is Waldhaus Pub & Patio. Overlooking Banff’s fabulous 15th hole and the Spray River, it dishes out terrific German fare, from a variety of schnitzels to a slew of Bavarian beers.
The Deal: The Banff Golf Vacation package includes lodging, club storage, one round on the Stanley Thompson championship course for two adults and shuttle service from the hotel to the golf clubhouse. Fairmont President’s Club members also receive a sleeve of logo golf balls. Package prices start at $302 US per person per night, based on double occupancy, and run through October 13, 2017. fairmont.com/banff-springs
(Keystone, Colo./Elevation: 9,300 feet)
The Golf: This Vail-area favorite boasts two courses, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed Ranch and the Hurdzan/Fry–crafted River, both of which entertain from start to finish. The 7,017-yard, 37-year-old Ranch opens with a couple of tightly forested thrillers, then moves into meadowland. Sitting in the Soda Creek Valley, at 9,300 feet, the Ranch’s lakes, streams and bunkers—not to mention the diverting vistas of the Gore Range—make for a memorable test. The newer and slightly lower-elevation River features 6,886 yards of peak tee shots, acres of wildflowers and holes that hopscotch the Snake River.
Altitude Boost: 5 out of 5 mountain goats
High-Flying Fun: The Keystone Bike Park provides some of the nation’s best mountain-biking action. Rock gardens, steep drops and speed shoots are prime enticements, as well as a hundred miles of single track for touring. For old-school kicks, gallop to the Keystone Stables, where horseback riding through White River National Forest, draft-horse clinics, pony rides and wagon-ride dinners are an ideal way to trailblaze the Rockies. Hiking, fly-fishing and whitewater rafting also beckon. Of course, coping with the breathtaking elevation will make club selection a nonstop adventure in trial-and-error.
Dine & Drink: Treat yourself to one of the most distinctive dinners ever at Alpenglow Stube, the nation’s highest-altitude AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. Via twin gondolas, you’ll reach the top of North Peak (elevation: 11,444 feet) and feast on gourmet entrees such as Pomegranate Glazed Colorado Lamb Rack or Truffle and Foie Stuffed Pheasant Roulade. Over at the Keystone Ranch steakhouse, regional specialties include Buffalo Tenderloin and Stuffed Quail.
The Deal: Keystone’s Stay, Play & Save package can be customized and includes golf, lodging, range balls and nine holes free after 4 p.m. on the day of arrival. Other free package perks: a scenic lift ride for kids 12 and under, a guided hike, a yoga or fitness class and a one-hour tennis court rental. Package prices start at $183 per person per night through October 8, 2017. keystoneresort.com
Stratton Mountain Resort
(Stratton, Vt./Elevation: 1,821 feet)
The Golf: Home to an LPGA event from 1990 through 1995, Stratton’s three nines—Lake, Mountain and Forest—are all strong, with the Forest the tightest of the bunch. This is true mountain golf, with awkward slopes, semi-blind shots and daunting carries, even if the green contours are quite benign. One hole that will linger long in your memory is Lake No. 2, a 418-yard par 4 with an elevated green fronted by a stream and framed by Stratton’s ski-run carved peak. Another wild ride is the Mountain’s par-5 sixth, a huge 621-yard trek that traverses a pair of coursing creeks.
Altitude Boost: 1.5 out of 5 mountain goats
High-Flying Fun: The Stratton Gondola whisks you to the top of southern Vermont’s highest peak, where the panorama includes four states (Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York) and four mountain ranges (the Green Mountains, White Mountains, Berkshires and Adirondacks). Kayaking, hiking and ATV tours from base to summit are added alpine attractions. On the fairways, pay special attention to approach shots and putting— Stratton’s 3,875-foot summit can play havoc with depth perception.
Dine & Drink: The Green Apron at Stratton’s golf clubhouse specializes in tasty, sustainable farm-to-table cuisine. The VT Burger, with Stratton sauce and a slice of locally sourced cheddar cheese, is superb, but an unusual—and outstanding—choice is the Blackberry Bacon Grilled Cheese. The Green Door Pub in nearby Stratton Village is the place for foosball and Fireball, the latter on tap, and $3 Narragansett Pounders.
The Deal: The Stratton Stay and Play package consists of lodging and one round of golf per person per day, as well as admission to the Stratton Fitness and Training Center. Package rates start at $91 per person per day, based on double occupancy. stratton.com