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GOLFERS: forget the idea that a new set will enable you to hit every club at least 25 yards further. Dismiss the notion of purchasing an instructional dvd that will lead to the same gain.

Instead, head for the hills of Colorado where every player can be assured of hitting the ball further with every club. One hundred per cent guaranteed.

Such gains are, of course, one of the advantages of playing mountain golf, as was my good fortune at the magnificent Pole Creek layout in Winter Park, Colorado.

These gains are also lost, as the pernickety among you might point out, as soon as you return to playing the game close to sea level.

But what will remain forever are the memories of the experience of enjoying a round, or three, played out against the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, which are as pleasing on the eye as a Rory McIlroy drive, the 13,000-foot Continental Divide and Indian Peaks Wilderness standing as imperious and silent witnesses to your day's golf. Here the word breathtaking, besides describing the aesthetic quality of the terrain, can also be taken literally.

The course climbs to a maximum height of 8,812ft above sea level and the thin air, while offering less resistance to a golf ball in flight – making your shots fly further – can leave the lungs feeling a little neglected. But by taking regular gulps of water as well as air, the threat of mountain sickness was held at bay, leaving me free to enjoy all that Pole Creek has to offer.

Located between Granby and Winter Park, its three distinct nine-hole layouts – the Meadow, Ranch and Ridge – have won wide acclaim, including being voted Golf Digest magazine's Best Course in the Rocky Mountain region, and earning a place in the USA's top 75 public courses.

Pole Creek lies in Grand County, right at the centre of ski country, but from Spring through summer it is a paradise for golfers, also encompassing three other excellent clubs - Headwaters, Grand Elk and Grand Lake. Golf and skiing may be seasonal, but the third activity for which the area is rightly famous – hiking – is virtually an all-year pursuit, except during the heaviest of snowfalls.

The use of a golf buggy is obligatory around Pole Creek – except for the likes of Leeds's 'Iron Man', triathlon Olympic champion Alastair Brownlee, perhaps. But to assuage my guilt for not walking the course, the following day I headed into the Rocky Mountain National Park to hike the spectacular Onahu to Green Mountain Trail, an eight-mile trek starting at an initial elevation just below 9,000ft and rising by just over 850ft before descending and returning to its starting point.

The park is home to almost 300 types of birds, including hummingbird, mountain bluebird, osprey and peregrine falcon, and 60 species of mammals, top of the food chain being black bears. As on previous trips to the Rockies, I experienced no encounter with bears, a source of disappointment tinged, honesty outweighing bravado, with relief.

The trail took me through a towering canopy of aspen, fir, spruce and lodgepole pines, the latter the one most afflicted by the scourge that is the mountain pine beetle. Infestation by the insect has left hundreds of thousands of these trees still standing tall, but dead.

Like arboreal zombies, they sway in the wind, their constant creaking now and then giving way to the crashing death knell of one falling, sometimes to earth but generally into the clutches of their brethren, who hold them at oblique angles, as if cradling a corpse. On days of high winds, the walks can be considered dangerous, but on this breezy day the beetle-induced ballet of lurching, listing trees was beguiling and added to the ethereal beauty of the area.

At the top of a steep ascent is Big Meadows where there are remnants of a homestead built in the early 1900s, a place to draw breath and contemplate what life might have been like for its occupants. No doubt they had the skills necessary to hunt, kill and cook their next meal. Acquisition of mine involved a lot less effort, an evening spent in the historic Grand Lake village – 'the West Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park' – providing a selection of both dining and drinking choices.

For the latter, the Lariat Saloon and Grumpy's Bar come highly recommended, the welcome at each as warm as the beer was cold.

The following morning, before heading for home, I packed hurriedly in order to have some time to drink in the view of Colorado's largest natural lake from the verandah in front of my lakeside lodge at the Western Riviera Motel.

The serenity of the early morning scene, the mountain vistas reflected perfectly on the mirror-like surface of the lake, left me determined to return.

Perhaps in the summer, when the lake's siren call proves irresistible to inland sailors, or maybe the winter when visitors drive up the middle of the main street on their snowmobiles after a day's skiiing.

Or perhaps in the Spring, to savour again that wonderful feeling of hitting every club in the golf bag 25 yards further.


Grand County, Colorado

Published: March 16, 2013

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