The Hale Irwin/Todd Schoeder layout adds to the Glacier Club’s Unabashed Allure
By Chris Duthie
For generations, Durango has been regarded among America’s more favored vacation destinations. Its stunning San Juan Mountains locale is an eye candy lure, underscored by a four-season recreational play list that includes Animas River gold medal fly fishing, kayaking and rafting; world-class mountain biking; Purgatory Resort skiing and snowboarding; the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge scenic railroad; Mesa Verde National Park and a whole lot more.
And for those that have the wherewithal, the definitive place to stay and play is Glacier, the gate-guarded mountain sanctuary located 18 miles north of Durango.
Sited on nearly 1,000 acres of forested landscape amongst a three-million-acre national forest, Glacier is an unpretentious private community that, since launching in 2002, has presented its well-heeled residents and members an increasingly appetizing array of privileges, benefits and attractions.
Leading the way is a 36-hole golf club that includes the Valley Course, a 6,536-yard Arthur Hills design routed in 1975 and renovated in 2004; and the Todd Schoeder/Hale Irwin-crafted Mountain Course, which in spring 2017 added nine holes, expanding the course to a 7,035-yard risk-reward challenge characterized by towering ponderosa pines, glacier ponds, wetlands, granite rock outcroppings, breathtaking mountain vistas and nearly 600 feet of elevation changes.
“The Mountain Course was a very demanding site,” recalls Schoeder, whose iCon Golf Studio is headquartered in Broomfield, Colo. “We blasted over 76,000 cubic yards of granite and dolomite on the newer nine alone, all of which serves as a shaping base layer — everything from pebbles to Volkswagen-size boulders — that’s been capped with another six inches of plating sand.
“That, plus the 7,950-foot elevation, the irrigation and the relatively short growing season, made construction extraordinarily challenging and much more expensive than normal,” he says.
No surprise there. Glacier just happens to be located immediately adjacent to a celebrated Colorado roadway, the San Juan Skyway, part of which was the first-ever highway project to cost more than a million dollars per mile to build — hence its fêted “Million Dollar Highway” moniker.
Adding to the challenge was the necessary acquisition of adjacent land that was accomplished through an eight-years-long land swap with the U.S. Forest Service. Further surprising: The entire layout is grassed with less than 80 acres of irrigated turf, about the same as courses built after 1980 in water-restricted Phoenix and Scottsdale.
“But the rewards have been considerable,” says Schoeder who, teaming up again with longtime friend Irwin, is being considered to renovate and update Denver’s City Park Golf Course. “Players have unhindered and spectacular views of the surrounding terrain, including Hermosa Cliffs, Engineer Mountain and Twilight Peaks. We captured those views in our design to give each hole perception and depth, which purposely manipulates the course’s strategy and playability.
“Hale’s and my marching orders” says Schoeder “were to come up with a sporty, playable and interesting course for the club’s membership, something that would be challenging for single-digit players as well as high handicappers, something that’s fun to play every single day.”
In fact, the 7,035-yard back tee yardage is everything Schoeder suggests, made even more compelling by the placement of up to seven strategically located teeing areas per hole, including mid-fairway “family tees” that invite and encourage youngsters and first-timers to get out and play.
Along with its visual and playable flair, the Mountain has a noteworthy tie to the region’s Old West narrative. The 390-yard par-4 11th—which features a jaw-dropping, east-to-west downhill tee to a sweeping Hermosa Cliffs-backdropped greensite—sits astride the 1800s-era Rico-to-Rockwood Wagon Road.
Adding considerably to Glacier’s uncommon perks are a rustic-flavored, well-appointed Mountain Clubhouse for casual dining and sociable evenings, the brand new Valley Clubhouse, 13-acre practice park and golf academy captained by Director of Instruction (and frequent Colorado AvidGolfer contributor) Alex Fisher, 10-court tennis complex, and an under-construction health and wellness center that will feature modern workout equipment, fitness classes and saunas.
Glacier officially will celebrate the grand opening of its expanded and updated Mountain Course on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 3. For more information about the property, go online here. For more about Durango, click here.
Chris Duthie is a Durango-based contributor to Colorado AvidGolfer. Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it, publishing eight issues annually and proudly delivering daily content via coloradoavidgolfer.com.