Every golfer has at least a few courses on their must-play list — courses of legend and history like Augusta National or the Olympic Club. Colorado golfers know of a track that fits that bill, the state’s most elusive, mysterious and sought after rounds, aptly named Sanctuary (7549 N Daniels Park Rd, Sedalia, sanctuarygolfcourse.com) There are a myriad of reasons most won’t check courses like Augusta or Olympic off the list, be it cost or otherwise, but that’s not the really the case at Sanctuary — it’s still nice to dream of a real golfer’s paradise.
To be clear, Sanctuary doesn’t take tee times online, by phone or in person, it offers no membership packages or stay-and-play deals, either. Actually, your only chance to play this course is within a small window of invites each year, or a very select list of charity events. The stars aligned and strings pulled for a CGB twosome, a guest, and our chaperone to play 18 on a perfect Colorado spring morning. Sometimes dreams really do come true!
A massive clubhouse greets you past the gates. Stone pillars and wood beams are focal points of the commanding building overlooking an untarnished, panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains. Though we arrived much earlier than usually called for, our bags were rushed to our carts like clockwork, allowing us plenty of time to stock up on merchandise in the pro shop. Aside from staff, the property was all but vacant during our visit — as if this oasis were there just for us.
Time stands still when on the pristine practice facilities, rivaling anything you could ever dream of. Imagine if Disney World shut its doors to the public for a day. More jaw-dropping features greet you on the way to the first tee, not least of which is the underground grotto complete with a waterfall and statue that would fit well in a Las Vegas penthouse suite. The attention to detail paid to the property is more than apparent when so few people are around, everything has its place though prepared to host hundreds of patrons — like walking through a dreamscape, unsure of what is real and what is not.
As for the course itself, Sanctuary has no fillers from 1 to 18. Each hole is designed around the natural terrain to set up not only memorable golf shots, but also payoff views from everywhere on the course. It’s an overwhelming experience for a photographer — the picture-perfect cutlines on the fairway and greens are so perfect they don’t even look real, and the lush rough and a wide variety of trees separating the holes zigzagging up and down the hillsides add a perfectly suited layer of beauty to the natural landscape. You can’t get conditions like these at your local muni, or even resorts, there’s just too much foot traffic. That’s not the case at Sanctuary — the greatest amount of traffic comes from the elk and deer disregarding the no carts signs.
No.1, the hardest handicapped hole, is a good challenge to start the round, a 604-yard par 5 (all yardage approximated from the tips). Landing targets are aplenty from the elevated tee boxes, sporting hidden ridges and plateaus to bounce your drive further downhill before a natural hazard cuts the fairway in two. Playing left from the tee is the safest route, avoiding a front-fairway bunker. Stay center-left with your second shot for the safest approach to the green, but beware: too far left and you’re sitting in the bunker and too far right plays to a pond waiting to collect errant shots. GIR will never hurt you (duh) but Sanctuary’s felt-like greens will yield great results if you have the right touch.
The gravity of where you are and the adrenaline from actual being able to play here subsides by the time to reach the 458-yard par 4 at no. 2, at least a little bit. The feeling of being completely alone in this paradise never goes away. The no.2 fairway acts like a wide, tree-lined hallway, narrowing just after the landing area to an uphill shot at the pin. The massive green is guarded by a pine tree on the left and a green-side bunker on the right. Most of the bunkers around the green complexes are sunken and hidden from view, so if you’re missing with your irons you’re going to find yourself in at least a few of them.
No. 3, a 432-yard par 4, presents an uphill battle after your tee shot, running against the terrain through another tree-lined fairway. Be warned about a pair of bunkers begging for you to miss the fairway on either side. Your purest drive may call for an extra club, or two, for your second shot but don’t get discouraged. Accuracy is everything when heading to the center of the elongated green, playing left of the green will net you a drop, and anything right puts you up against an awkward shot from the hillside rough.
The no.4, 571-yard par 5 stole my heart, not only visually striking but also offering a number of shot scenarios for any level of golfer. The elevated tee boxes sit above an extremely narrow landing area on the fairway below. It’s imperative to clear the mammoth hill running parallel to the fairway and acting as a natural barrier down the entire right side of the hole — topped with knee high grass, brush and trees all the way down. Drive down the middle, between a lone pine tree sitting on the hillside and a fairway bunker and thick natural hazard on the left. Consider a tough layup for your second to an even more narrow fairway, or aim for an even tougher go at the green. You’re shooting blind into a green that’s arguably over-protected; blocked from right to left by the hill, a tree, a large bunker, another tree, multiple pot bunkers scattered like landmines, more trees, and natural hazard on the backside.
The first par 3 on the course, at 188 yards, finds a home at no. 5. Hole in one time! (Or so we thought.) A green so massive you could land a small plane on it gives you the confidence to believe in a hole-in-one, but a big greenside bunker looming on the right can get into your head. Play off the hill rising on the left side of the green if you get too nervous — none of us were dancing after one.
Back-to-back, look-alike par 3s create mixed emotions, but the 187-yard hole at no. 6 plays nothing like its neighbor. Adjusting for the change in wind direction is the least of your worries — focus on the 9 pot bunkers dotted along the right side of the green, none of which you can really see from the tee box.
The downhill dogleg at no.7, a 406-yard par 4, has a wide, inviting fairway that constricts as it leads down to the pin. A number of trees on each side of your landing zone are the only trouble waiting for you, that is, until you need to navigate around a greenside pine growing with the sole purpose to ruin your shot. A large, pure white sand bunker also hugs the green. Competing with the grade of this hole is the greatest challenge — you’re constantly readjusting your grip and struggling to find a comfortable stance. A difficult hole to say the least.
The 380-yard par 4 at no.8 may sound manageable, but it’s another uphill struggle with a blind second shot to the green. The drive is straight forward, so muscle one up to the fairway to make some early headway. A small, scrawny pine tree on the top of hill serves as a great aiming point for your second shot, just don’t forget club up to compensate for the uphill grade. A two-tiered green with about 20-feet of rise makes for a fun but potentially frustrating finale to the hole. Choose your landing spot on the green and putting speed carefully.
A time-to-order-lunch chime from the cart’s GPS computer welcomes you to the 344-yard par 4 at no.9. GIR doesn’t sound like a big ask here, or so you’d think. A long stretch of natural hazard stretches from the tee boxes to the ascending fairway, which has a strategically placed bunker preventing a would-be safe shot the left side. (If you do crash land left, well, good luck.) Avoid more trouble as you continue uphill with your second shot — playing over the cart path and avoiding a huge bunker on the right. Oh, and also the deep, greenside bunkers to the left. The payoff for your struggle comes in the form of the greenside waterfall that had us all feeling like we were in the middle of Jurassic Park!
We made the turn after two hours — our golf carts were all but completely drained, and we’d taken at least a couple thousand pictures. The staff set us up in new carts and we made a mental note not to rush this back nine holes no matter what.
Perched above the waterfall off of the ninth green is the no.10 tee box. The 206-yard par 3 acts as a welcome reprieve from the challenging front nine. Being one of the highest points on the course, the mountain views command your attention and offer a glimpse of the impressive layout set atop the land between you and the Rockies in the distance. Enjoy the view as you make your way to another oversized green, but beware of the bunkers calling out your name.
Back to reality at no. 11, a 585-yard par 5 and good reminder that this course is super challenging — it’s not going to give you any free shots. A single fairway bunker sits left of a natural outcropping jutting out from the right side making for an interesting decision. If your distance and accuracy is there, try to thread the needle over the hazard; The smart play lands just before the outcropping to create another conservative second shot towards a much more inviting fairway. Your third shot should reach the green, staying true-to-form as it’s impressively large and protected by more bunkers.
No. 12 offers very few options other than to play it safe. The 383-yard par 4 doglegs from left to right. Put your wood away and take an iron to the elevated fairway to steer clear of troubling natural hazards and trees populating the treacherous cliffside area on the right and as far into the elbow of the fairway as you can. The green is tucked behind a massive bunker and more natural hazard, so don’t try to get cute if you’re trying to maintain a clean scorecard. Our group took the riskier play, cutting the corner after putting our scoring balls in play. Sanctuary claimed all but one, which likely took a lucky and/or errant bounce off a boulder or tree to a playable lie off the fringe.
Contrary to its predecessor, the 393-yard par 4 at no.13 begs you to take a chance with the promise of paying off — who doesn’t love a hole like that? — just keep a provisional on hand (*wink). Pull driver and go with gusto! You’re going for green from high above the fairway, the the backside of the green barely peeking from around the corner, sitting next to a pond with a small fairway bunker and further right a large safe landing area. Long hitters can shoot with an eagle on their mind, but birdies all around are nothing to complain about, and made for another highlight of our outing.
A waterfall is not a common in-course feature in Colorado — more than one and you’re just showing off. Topping its brethren at no.9, the water feature at the 173-yard par 3 at no.14 is awe-inspiring. Cascading falls and multi-tiered pools create a diagonal border on the front side of the green and dominates the scenery of the hole. As for playability, if the water isn’t enough, a hidden bunker awaits for anything long. Don’t get too distracted by this simple hole, it’s best enjoyed with a smooth, confident swing to find your target and enjoy the view.
No.15, a 613-yard par 5, offers another subtle scoring opportunity. Long hitters can make this hole much shorter by cutting the corner on the right. Play your strength accordingly as the fairway narrows slightly — if you don’t see your ball after rounding the corner, you never will again. (The good news is no one is playing behind you, so head back and have another go.) The safe play is a layup towards a second fairway bunker, setting up your second shot straight down the second segment of the separated fairway. An approach from the right side of the fairway will keep you clear from the serpentining, rock-lined bunker wrapped around a small pond on the left side of the green.
Exaggerated ascents and descents are a signature of Sanctuary’s design that make the distances listed on the card only good for reference points. The 317-yard par 4 at no.16 feels like a driveable hole for long hitters, but because the tee boxes are so far downhill from the fairway, it plays like a short par 5. Going for green or not, accuracy is again key — because when is it not, right? — if only to avoid the colony of bunkers dotted along the final stretch of the fairway on the right side. If you’re there in three, trust the roll on the greens to bail you out to save par or bogey (and join the club).
The 366-yard par 4 at no. 17 recalls its neighbor at no. 7, playing slightly left to right downhill. 17 plays a little shorter and with a more dramatic elevation change from tee to fairway, almost like a blind trust fall. Play inside the curve of the hole as much as you can, anything long and right can get dangerously close to a bunker and a stone retaining wall. The peanut shaped green is defended by tall tree with far reaching branches growing out of the fringe, literally, and, of course, another pot bunker just beyond it to capture those who dared to attack the flag.
We were hoping it wold never end, but there we were at no. 18, the second hardest hole on the card and a perfect finisher. The 438-yard par 4 follows a tree-lined valley straight uphill and has you second guessing your club selections from the get-go. (When in doubt at Sanctuary, club up.) The waterfall count rises again when you add what’s probably the tallest water feature on the grounds, sitting innocently above the backside of the massive, undulating green.
The scene for a truly picture-perfect ending to an unforgettable experience and returning you to the same state started the round in: alone in this personal paradise with only your thoughts and a stunning natural landscape all around you.
Grounds crews always deserve a tip of the cap, but Sanctuary’s crew of miracle workers deserves a standing ovation. The do an exceptional job with all the upkeep that this course demands, by the looks of it, a lot. The location of this track protects it from prying eyes, the only outside vantage point being a small park across the canyon about a mile away. One could say it’s a shame this little slice of paradise is so removed from the world, but in this case, it’s crucial to the lure.
Sanctuary is nothing short of a golfer’s dream come true, in every sense of the term. The secluded, gorgeous design and natural landscape, abundant wildlife, a challenging, shot-producing layout, and impeccable conditions and 5-star staff equate to absolute perfection. We all have the one course on our would-do-anything-to-play list, but waiting high in the Rocky Mountains is the pinnacle of sanctuary.