It’s tempting to say that from the first tee at Cornerstone in Montrose, Colorado, it’s all downhill from there. But that’s only because the back tee on the opening hole happens to be the highest spot on the property, 9,214 feet above sea level. From there, the recently reopened real estate course tumbles down 162 feet to the farthest point from the clubhouse, at the eleventh green. Along the way and back, the trouble you might have – catching your breath – isn’t just because of the thin air.
This part of the Rockies, called the San Juan Mountains, is legendary for its beauty, severity and changing weather conditions. The immediate landmass that is home to Cornerstone, called the Uncompahgre Plateau, sits midway in western Colorado between Telluride and Grand Junction. It is a paradise for rugged naturalists into biking, hunting, fishing and skiing. Now with Cornerstone they can also claim golf.
The 4,800-acre property opened in 2008 with a Greg Norman-designed golf course that was part of a very relaxed land plan. More than half the land is an environmental set-aside, and home lots vary from one to 100 acres. The recession took its toll, however, forcing closure of the development until it was rescued by a three-person consortium in 2018. Their key hire was Jason Stroehlein, whose title as director of outdoor operations does not begin to capture the scope of his responsibility for every aspect of the overhaul.
Among those brought on board was a former Norman design associate, Matt Dusenberry, who had been involved in the original design and construction. Like many former associates of the big design houses who went off on their own in the last decade or two, Dusenberry has been busy doing renovation and restoration work. He, in turn, partnered with agronomist Jim McKenna, formerly a superintendent at Doonbeg in Ireland. Among their projects together have been the restorations of two Devereux Emmet designs in Connecticut, the City of Hartford’s municipal course, Keney Park, and The Country Club of Farmington.
At Cornerstone, the task was reclaiming the overgrown and neglected bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens. They also used the occasion to open up lines of play, rejig the teeing grounds to make sure yardages and shot values were balanced to accommodate a wide array of players, add drainage and eliminate overly penal bunkers. The result is a par-72 layout ranging from 5,326 yards to 7,867 that looks intimidating at first but proves surprisingly receptive as you play it.
It helps that golfers gain a yardage bonus of 15 per cent from ground level – calculated at 1.7 per cent per 1,000 feet. A standard 200-yard shot travels 230 up here. The par-four eleventh hole, 473 yards from the member tees, plays like a 411-yarder at ground level. At 6,904 yards, that member’s course plays to a very comfortable 6,000 yards. Those back tees, nominally a gaudy 7,867, play to an effective 6,840.
Cornerstone offers a lot of fairways that feel as if they hang on the edge of doom. The tee shot on the 668-yard, par-five fourth hole is terrifying, yet there’s plenty of room as long as you don’t hook it. The infinity edge green on the 447-yard, par-four tenth looks like it is hanging in the mountains. And the drop shot par-three thirteenth plays to a green set in fields of aspen trees and goldenrod.
Mountain golf generally suffers in reputation because too many holes sit on severe terrain. That’s not the case at Cornerstone, thanks to a routing that makes use of broad, open terrain on a high plateau. Now with the reclamation work by Dusenberry and McKenna, residents at Cornerstone also have the run of premier quality turfgrass that can endure the extremes of whatever nature has to offer these days: elevation, drought, deep snow cover and arid wind.
This article first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.