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Two Courses Make Western Colorado's Grand Mesa a Worthy Destination

By: Steve Habel


A trip south from Grand Junction on Colorado's Western Slope takes one across Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world and a region known for more than 300 pristine lakes and rolling, forested terrain.

View from the Tee on Devil's Thumb GC's 13th

This kind of land is great for golf, and two sometimes-under-the-radar tracks north of the town of Delta are helping to make the area a destination for golfers as much as for hikers, boaters and outdoorsmen.

Devil's Thumb Golf Club in Delta and Cedaredge Golf Club some 15 miles northeast of that county seat are wonderful examples of municipal golf and the benefits and recognition such facilities bring to a city. It helps that both are worth finding and playing, bringing to the table (or mesa) worthy combinations of challenge, playability and isolation that golfers crave like air.

Devil's Thumb May Be Colorado's Truest Desert-Style Course

Located in the foothills north of Delta, the Rick Phelps-designed Devil's Thumb opened in 1992 and offers a unique blend of physical attributes. Phelps calls the course "prairie-style," but its stark setting among the Adobe Hills at the southern base of the Grand Mesa and its tendency for exacting shots amid harsh and unkempt surroundings make it more like a layout found in the desert Southwest.

"The strength of Devil's Thumb GC is the site itself," Phelps said. "This is such an odd place for Colorado, but it is beautiful. Looking from the course to the northeast reminds me of the surface of moon, but it's the combination of the terrain and location that made the site interesting to me."

The Signature 3rd Hole at Devils Thumb GC

The course is named for a striking rock formation that looms above it (like a thumb extended out of the earth) to the northwest. The Ragged and West Elk Mountains dominate the near-eastern horizon, while the San Juan Mountains, Black Canyon and Uncompahgre Plateau enhance the picture to the south, making Devil's Thumb one of the starkest and most scenic courses anywhere.

The par-72 Devil's Thumb stretches 7,176 yards from its back set of five tees, where it carries a 72.9 rating and a 132 Slope; both figures are lessened a bit due to the property's setting at about 5,100 feet above sea level.

In excess of 60 bunkers and a trio of small lakes complicate the course's equation, while some holes offer split fairways and chances to drive the ball over rocky mounds to reduce distances to the greens. Full-time consideration is the wind, which at this exposed spot blows from any and all directions.

The fairways are hard as they were built on the Adobe Badlands with a clay and Morrison stone base that dates back to when dinosaurs sloshed long-ago-evaporated tide pools.

The first two holes are fairly flat as the round starts atop a mesa. But the elevation changes kick in on the downhill 342-yard par-4 third, where the drive is off a raised tee to a green bunkered to the right and a native area left. The putting surface can be reached if the tee ball is long and accurate.

The 435-yard par-4 sixth might be the toughest hole on the course, moving off the tee across a wasteland to an elevated, rolling fairway protected at the landing area by a large bunker. The putting surface, further up the rise, is shallow and wavy.

Devil's Thumb GC & Adjacent Adobe Badlands

No. 9, a 436-yard par-4, brings water into play off the tee and on the approach. To attack the back-to-front-sloping green the shot must fly a creek. The 468-yard 10th is the second-longest par-4 at Devil's Thumb. It doglegs right, with a lake running the length of the fairway's right side and native grass along the left. Usurping No. 10 as the longest two-shotter is the 481-yard 12th, which has a generous fairway and a mere two traps, rising from a landing area to a green usually played into the wind.

The stunning, 414-yard par-4 13th creates a choice off the tee: play straight downhill and between rocky mounds or take the overland route to a small auxiliary fairway near the landing area of the third hole. Either tack will leave a tough shot to a narrow, two-tiered green.

Devil's Thumb's closer is a round-the-lake, 557-yard par-5. For those tempted to try for the putting surface in two, both water and sand along the right side are serious considerations; a more prudent line is left of the trouble for a short wedge to tjhe hill-perched green.

Devil's Thumb is a hidden gem, a diamond in the rough. But, after opening, it was recognized as the No. 2 best new affordable public golf course in America by Golf Digest. For more information, visit www.devilsthumbgolfclub.com.

Cedaredge GC's 9th green

Two Different Nines Highlight Cedaredge

Begun in 1992 as a nine-hole residential course called Deer Creek Village GC and expanded four years later with a thrilling, up-and-down back nine, Cedaredge Golf Club in its eponymous town of 2,253 is in a region known for its production of apples, peaches, bananas and wine.

Designed by Byron Coker, par-72 Cedaredge GC is carded at 6,449 yards from the tips, where it earns a 70.7 rating and Slope of 130. The course sits at an elevation of 6,100 feet.

Located on what was once part of the Bar-I Hayfields in the early 1900s, Cedaredge can play difficult thanks to a large creek that flows through or alongside many landing areas. In fact, water enters play on 12 holes, including eight of the nine holes on the front side. The fairways are narrow, with the borders on the outward half defined by out-of-bounds that try to dissuade players from entering the backyards of the homes lining these holes. Rock and native areas define the edges of the holes on the hillier back nine.

No. 15 at Cedaredge GC

The front nine's best holes are its par-5s - the 557-yard fourth (crossed at the landing area by the creek and pinched left by a stand of small trees before ascending to a green ringed by four bunkers) and 478-yard sixth, which brings the creek into play three separate times, including just in front of the elevated putting surface.

The back side at Cedaredge GC has some of the Western Slope's most severe golf terrain. The downhill, 511-yard par-5 12th is one of the tightest holes anywhere. It's followed by another three-shotter, this one spanning 490 yards and crossing the creek before rising uphill to a green backed by water.

The up-and-down home half ends with tough back-to-back par-4s, the 427-yard 17th and 405-yard closer, which heads downhill then up to a green carved into a hillside.

Cedaredge GC might lack the "wow" factor of Devil's Thumb, but the two are wonderful examples of how to maximize excellent terrain with thoughtful routings.

For more information, visit www.cedaredgegolf.com.

Staying in Delta

Delta has its share of chain hotels, but to really enjoy a stay here unpack your bags for a night or two at the opulent and historical Fairlamb House B&B.

The large three-story house was built by Millard Fairlamb in 1906 and owned by the Fairlamb family for about 72 years. Current owners John Taylor and Elizabeth Thompson purchased the house in February 1994, and restored and renovated the interior and exterior while maintaining the structure's post-Victorian style and flavor.

It's a fine place to stay, and the hosts are friendly and hospitable. For more info, go to www.fairlambbb.com.

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 (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles 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.