I’ve got three courses to review in the near future, all of which were designed by my new pal Jim Engh. Red Hawk Ridge, located in Castlerock Colorado, is the first of these three.
The landscape in Castlerock is hilly. There are some rolling hills and small mountains surrounding this neat area. At the top of one of the small mountains is what is obviously “the” Castle Rock. Red Hawk Ridge (RHR for short) winds it’s way up and down the Eastern mountainside of the hilly Castlerock area.
One of the buzzwords I’ve learned recently is “routing.” Thanks to Jay Flemma and Adam Clayman for clarifying something I knew deep down but never realized: The routing (direction the course and it’s holes travel) is extremely important.
There can be a real “flow” to the way a golf course plays. The flow from tee to fairway to green and the flow from hole to hole are very important. If a course isn’t laid out or routed well, this flow can be compromised and the enjoyment the players experience can be greatly diminished along with other factors like pace of play and course conditioning.
Red Hawk Ridge takes advantage of some extremely hilly and interesting terrain in it’s route. There are many big elevation changes and they start right on the first tee with a big drop off. The player must be able to judge how much more club to take on uphill shots and how much less to take downhill.
The big elevation drops can be confusing to the player and they can make areas like fairway bunkers appear much farther away than they are. A few times those fairway bunkers looked too far to reach but I even knocked it past them.
One of Jim Engh’s primary signatures on a golf course are his “muscle bunkers.” Rather than creating standard round, bean shaped or clover leaf shaped bunkers, Jim has completely different design. Jim’s muscle bunkers almost look like the mouth or teeth you’d carve out of a Halloween pumpkin. There are sections of grass and bunker that zig-zag back and forth and the walls of the bunker are very steep.
These muscle bunkers are usually placed short of the green or in crucial spots in the fairway landing areas. If you get in a muscle bunker your first priority is to simply get out any way you can, regardless if that is in the direction of the green!
Punch Bowls & Moving Dirt
Many of Jim’s courses (RHR is no exception) have punch bowl greens. Jim will place the green in a bowl that is part of the existing terrain or create the bowl by “moving dirt.” The punch bowl can gather errant shots and give the player favorable bounces onto the green or they can create very fun and challenging shots from the side of the bowl onto the green.
“Moving dirt” is another design geek buzz word. Many design aficionados judge a course in part by how many thousand cubic feet of dirt have been moved. More modern courses move much more dirt moved than older courses. Obviously modern courses have access to large machinery capable of doing the job versus the limited ground moving capabilities designers had many years ago.
I need to focus here. This piece is morphing into more of a Jim Engh feature than RHR….
Playing The Course
I played RHR with two good buddies, Jay Flemma and Eddie Peck. I like to experience the whole course when I play so I played from the back tees (I like to call them the “big boy tees”). From the big boy tees the course is a nice 6942 yards. Given the elevation changes this yardage provided some great distance challenges, both long and short. Roughly 7000-7200 yards is a good length for a decent amateur player in my opinion.
I found RHR to be very enjoyable and very “playable.” There are seemingly two kinds of courses popping up these days: 1. Playable for amateurs. 2. Championship courses that are simply attempting to be as long and as hard as possible.
In talking to Jim Engh (yes, I’m a privileged golfer), Jim is very vocal about designing courses that are playable and enjoyable for the average golfer. Too many designers try to set up courses that would be tough for PGA Tour players. That kind of setup is not typically “fun” for an average golfer.
On the front I had a double, bogey finish to shoot +3. On the back reached the 533 yard 18th with a driver and an 8-iron to birdie for a 36. 75 on a challenging course I’ve never played is a satisfying round for me.
Thanks to Golf Chick and her great attention she spends on her new course reviews I’ve decided to add the “amenities” heading to my course reviews. Extremely important factors in reviewing a course are the clubhouse, pro shop, cafe etc.
The pro shop is adequate and the guys running it were very nice. I’m really not too hip on snooty or snobbish pro shop help. The gear in the shop was great and I did pick up a lot of RHR logo items, including a very cool hat.
The restaurant was very nice and spacious, including some great outside deck seating where you could watch players play the 18th hole. The food there was tasty.
The driving range was a little funky. You hit balls straight up hill onto the mountain. That combined with the fact that the balls appeared to be limited flight made the range experience a little less than par. I really don’t like hitting limited flight range balls. I’d rather not hit any range balls at all in that case.
RHR is a very fun, challenging and playable course for many levels of players. With 5 sets of tees ranging from 4636 yards to 6942 yards (par 72), the course can handle all skill levels with the appropriate challenge.
The design, routing and course terrain provide the player a very enjoyable experience both from a golf standpoint and a scenery standpoint. Bring your camera as there are lots of great photo-opps.
Speaking of photos, there are many photos of RHR in the Red Hawk Ridge Photo Album here.
Golf Stretching DVD by HOG contributor Mike Pedersen