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Why Golfing at Altitude is Great!

Emerald grass extends before you with towering lodgepole pines framing the finely manicured fairway. Jagged mountain ridges rise above the pristine green as a gentle breeze flutters the brightly colored flag of the first hole. You square up your sun soaked shoulders and take a deep breath of the crisp and clean mountain air, lightly scented with the smell of freshly cut grass and pine needles. Bringing your driver back to full back swing, you force yourself to focus on your ball and not the sweeping scenery. You swing and make a solid connection that sends your ball flying down the fairway. You watch as your ball bounces and rolls past the zebra-striped 150-yard marker with snow-capped mountains as the backdrop. Your longest drive of the year. Is it the dry and thin mountain air at this high altitude that helps carry your ball the extra distance? Your slice is gone too. Maybe it’s just your lucky day, you think as you scoop your broken tee from the pro’s box amid the congratulations from your golf buddies.

What is it that makes golfing in Summit County so special? Is it the sweeping scenery of the snowcapped 13,000- and 14,000- foot peaks of the Continental Divide, Tenmile Range and Gore Range? Is it the uniqueness of golfing in aspen and pine trees with moose and elk wandering through the course? Is it the sereneness of the warm sun as you realize you are far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city? You could say that all of these things make golfing in the Colorado Rockies special. But what about the science behind how it affects your golf game? The higher altitude can lengthen your drive and shave your slice! Here’s how.

The Long Shot

According to Steven Aoyama, a principal scientist for Titleist Golf Ball Research and Development, the change in air density is what helps your golf ball fly the extra distance at high altitude.

Air density decrease as elevation increases causing the air to be “thinner.” Thinner air exerts less drag on the golf ball as it flies. Less drag means the ball moves more easily through the air and doesn’t slow as quickly as it flies, resulting in greater distance.

The force of gravity also decreases further away from the earth's center, but the change in force is too small to have any significant effect on the ball.

A simple equation will calculate the increase in distance you will experience at higher elevation. You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you're playing in Denver, at one mile of elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6 percent (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level — say Los Angeles — you will likely drive it 265 yards in Denver.

In Summit County where the elevation is around 9,500 feet the equation would be: 9,600 x .00116 = 11.136. That means your ball would fly 11 percent further than it would at sea level. If you normally drive a ball 250 yards at sea level, you would increase your drive to 275 yards, an entire 25 yards!

The Line Drive

Another way the higher elevation of Summit County will affect your drive is due to the fact that the less dense air imparts less force on the ball and the lift force is lower as well. What does this mean? It means you’ll see a flatter trajectory on your longer shots, a shallower angle of descent and a greater roll. Another benefit of the less dense air at the high elevation of Summit County is that the reduction of force on your ball will reduce the amount of a hook or slice. While this will be a great advantage on the strait fairways of par 4’s and 5’s it also means it will be slightly more difficult to shape shots to fairways with dog legs.

All this adds up to a longer and straighter shot! If you’re looking for a little boost in your golf game, skip buying that expensive new driver and come golf at the higher elevation in Summit County!

The Short Game

Golfing in the thinner air at high elevations can add distance to your drive and cut down on your slice, but what about your short game? Longer shots move the ball through the air at a greater speed than shorter shots, meaning the aerodynamics of your ball moving through the thin air is increased. The slower shots of your approach and greenside shots won’t affect the aerodynamics of the ball nearly as much as your drive, meaning you won’t have to adjust for your ball travelling further for your shorter shots. Your putting won’t be affected either, except maybe by the typically drier greens and stunning scenery surrounding you.

The Courses

It’s not just the help to your drive that Summit County courses provide; you’ll also have beautiful views and challenging holes to look forward to. There are five golf courses throughout Summit County, all kept in top-notch shape and all with spectacular views and incredible layouts.

Breckenridge Golf Club

Breckenridge Golf Club is a local favorite and offers three championship 9-hole courses; the Bear, the Beaver, and the Elk. All three nines are Jack Nicklaus-signature courses, and each offers a unique mountain golf experience. Panoramic views of the surrounding mountain ranges can be seen from nearly every hole, and it is not uncommon to see a variety of wildlife during your round.

The Bear course was the first nine built by the club in 1985. The course is built upon the wetlands and native grasses called the Buffalo Flats by the early miners to the area. Before golfers took to the fairways here, this area was a tent city for miners in search of their fortunes. This is one of the harder nines at the club and is also sports the most open feel of all three nines.

The Beaver course was the second nine the club built in 1987. With the narrowest fairways of any of the nines, this course requires accurate drives. The Beaver nine takes it from the beaver ponds scattered along holes 6, 8, and 9 that create challenges for you on these holes. The ninth hole on the Beaver course is framed by Buffalo Mountain, the last active volcano of the Gore mountain range.

The Elk course was built in 2001 and offers the most elevation change of any of the courses, as well as the widest panoramic views of the Ten-Mile mountain range. Accuracy is the name of the game on the Elk course. While the Elk course is more open than the Beaver nine, drives must be hit to specific locations to enable good approach shots.

Keystone Ranch Golf Course

This Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course winds its 18 holes through lodgepole pine stands as well as sage meadows, providing a unique high-altitude golfing experience. The spectacular views of the surrounding mountains of this par 72 mountain-links course are truly unforgettable. You’ll love golfing next to the rushing Snake river with views of Lake Dillon!

The River Course at Keystone

Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, the River Course at Keystone is truly one of the best 18-hole courses in Summit County. Impressive elevation changes, bunkers, and water hazards will challenge your game. Five sets of tees on each hole make this course great for any ability level, so don’t be afraid to being the whole family out for this round. Views of Lake Dillon and the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains will impress any golfer in your group!

The Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks

The Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks is located in Silverthorne at the foot of the Gore mountain range. Challenging but very playable, this Tom Lehman and Hurdzan/Fry course design features rolling fairways and beautiful greens surrounded by towering stands of pine and aspen trees. Snow-capped 13,000 foot peaks can be seen from nearly every hole on the course, and crystal clear creeks and mountain lakes are all “par for the course” at Raven. A hotspot for local wildlife, this course is great for family golf outings or a getaway for all skill level of golfers.

Copper Creek Golf Course

A personal favorite to many locals, this course is away from the crowds and is set against the majestic Tenmile mountain range. As you look up to the Tenmile range, you will see what the backcountry skiers in the area call the SKY chutes. These avalanche paths that spell out SKY provide excellent skiing off the backside of Breckenridge Ski Resort for adventurous souls. The highest tee box in the country can be found on this course — and is a blast to tee off of!

Golfing in Summit County is a unique and rewarding experience to say the least. A world away from the courses in Denver and the surrounding areas, Summit County’s golf courses are renowned for their stunning beauty and outstanding upkeep. Whether you’re looking for a unique golfing experience or a challenging change up to your normal golf routine, Summit County’s amazing courses will provide you with a one-of-a-kind golf journey.

We have numerous properties located on or very close to several of the courses in Summit County. Call us or book your Summit County golf vacation online today!

Got any tips on golfing in Summit County? Please leave your suggestions in the “Comments” section below.