Two Grand Junction Courses Among the Best on Colorado's Western Slope

By: Steve Habel

Colorado's Western Slope - the region incorporating everything in the state west of the Continental Divide - is known for its ranching, mining, fruit-growing and tourism. The most populous city is Grand Junction, so named because it sits where the Colorado and Gunnison rivers join.

Vistas are Sublime at Golf Club at Redlands Mesa

Thanks to a couple of benchmark golf courses - the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa and Tiara Rado, Grand Junction draws folks seeking a high-desert challenge and a four-season climate that boasts 275 days of sunshine a year.

Set at 4,600 feet above sea level, Grand Junction is the gateway to the 800-foot cliffs of the Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa (the world's largest flat-topped mountain) and Book Cliff Mountains, all of which create a dramatic backdrop for this city of 60,000.

Grand Junction lies in the heart of the Colorado-Utah Dinosaur Diamond, and the area is home to Colorado's wine country, with nearly 30 vineyards and wineries in the area.

Engh Employs Broad Brushstrokes at Redlands Mesa

It was with this set of natural attributes that golf architect Jim Engh fashioned the fascinating Golf Club at Redlands Mesa. Engh took full advantage of the desert landscape in creating a course that incorporates sudden elevation switches, native terrain and plants, rock outcroppings and marvelous vistas of the surrounding Colorado National Monument.

Eleven of the holes play downhill off elevated tees, making this one of the most scenic golf courses in the western United States, with high-desert panoramas of pink, red and tawny tints. Carrying a rating of 72.7 and a slope of 137 from the tips, the par-72 7,007-yard venue opened in 2001 and features one pretty hole after another.

Redlands Mesa can be a bit intimidating for players who are shy of forced carries; it's also bad news when straying into the rocky areas bordering a hole. In fact, the landing areas are pretty generous as most fairways are wide if not well-defined off the tee. Adding spice are 40 bunkers.

No. 8 at the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa

Engh's multi-tiered greens are demanding, so hitting the correct level is essential to scoring well. Redlands Mesa has only one par-4 longer than 429 yards (the 466-yard seventh) and is defined by risk-reward two-shotters, three of which are 389 yards or less. Though comparatively short, these holes are far from easy.

The first of the short par-4s is the 373-yard fourth, which offers an incredible view off the tee. From there, the hole descends 100 feet and its entire right side falls off into oblivion.

The 370-yard 14th may be the most controversial hole. After about 280 yards, the hole turns 90 degrees right toward a long and skinny green. Any tee shot hit less than 280 yards faces a tough approach. Depending on the line, the second shot must be made over boulders atop the hill at the corner of the dogleg. The hole resembles a huge question mark with towering rocks in the bend.

The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa

Aside from the shorter par-4s, Redland Mesa's dance card is full of good tests. The 575-yard fifth is an uphill par-5 that calls for a partially blind drive to a fairway that veers dramatically right. Its severe bi-level green is guarded by a native area.

The 164-yard par-3 eighth winds downhill and requires a carry over a large pond to a green backed by a ragged stone wall. The course's signature hole, the 218-yard 17th, drops 150 feet off its hillside-cut perch to a green in a rock-framed bowl.

The course's toughest test is likely the 412-yard par-4 16th. After a drive to a broad landing area, the fairway heads sharply left and uphill to a 44-yard-deep, partially hidden green. Short and left are seven small pot bunkers, each of which can ruin any chance at par.

The challenge at the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa is to keep your focus as there's stunning scenery at many junctures. The course has won national awards from every major golf publication. It's likely enjoyed more on the second round after the wow-factor has been tempered and there's more understanding of a way to play the sometimes tricky - but not tricked-up - routing.

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Tiara Rado Golf Course

Municipal Course Finery at Beefed-up Tiara Rado

Located slightly closer to downtown Grand Junction, Tiara Rado Golf Course set the table for good golf in the Grand Valley. Designed by Tom Kolacny as a nine-holer and opened in 1972, Dick Phelps arrived in 1986 to add nine new holes and rework the original side. Recent changes by Phelps disciple Kevin Atkinson, via a $3.5 million investment by the city, expanded the layout to 6,442 yards, enlarged several greens and injected a bit more difficulty.

Tiara Rado is a traditional design involving four lakes. Called "The Rock" by locals, the fairways play along the base of the Colorado National Monument's red cliffs.

The course offers plenty of tests as well as a few risk-reward options. Its toughest stretch is hole Nos. 9-11, which features three consecutive par-4s of 440 yards or more and is capped by the 464-yard 11th.

The most photogenic hole is the 132-yard par-3 third, which plays over a pond with the red rock cliffs of the Colorado National Monument soaring in the background. The pond comes right up to the edge of a long, narrow green that slopes toward the water.

Tiara Rado regulars will tell you putts break away from the mountains and can befuddle the uninitiated. The course was long considered an ego-booster, albeit with great vistas, but the recent changes have given the municipal favorite more bite.

Tiara Rado is a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary program and is home to quail, pheasants, owls, herons, deer, rabbits and fox. It's the only location in the United States to have fledged all three species of bluebirds.

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Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog ( features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another ( his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.