I was about to hit a golf ball over the Rio Grande River in Colorado when a fly fisherman wandered into my tee shot.
“Oh, sorry,” hollered the guy wearing hip-waders and a multi-pocketed vest as he jogged up from under a golf cart bridge. I waved as he passed.
“Beautiful day for golf and fishing in Colorado,” he shouted before disappearing into nearby reeds.
Determined to land my ball on the green just beyond the river, I took a deep breath and swung on Hole #6 of the Rio Grande Club and Resort’s River Nine course.
On the other side of the rushing water, I watched hopefully as the white ball rolled on the green toward the flag. It was my only par that day, but what a memorable par.
Crossing the bridge, I realized the fisherman was right. With previous holes featuring fertile green fairways lined with mature trees whose branches reached up to the sapphire blue sky, golf didn’t get much better, or more socially distant, than this.
Rio Grande Club and Resort in southern Colorado’s town of South Fork
The Rio Grande Club and Resort hugs the small Colorado town of South Fork, a hidden gem nestled between the storied Rio Grande River and San Juan Mountains.
This 72-par, 18-hole semi-private golf course features challenging – but not overwhelming – play with unique vistas at every turn including majestic views of the 12,000-foot Del Norte Peak that soars over the area.
The Rio Grande Club is a complete vacation getaway with a 25,000-square foot clubhouse hosting a swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts and on-site dining.
Guests can regularly enjoy clubhouse activities during the season such as yoga, wine pairing dinners, and pickleball tournaments.
However, with socially distancing important in these coronavirus times, the club’s two most popular activities – fly fishing and golf – allow visitors to get away, get outdoors, and still stay safe.
Besides a beautiful golf course, Colorado’s Rio Grande River holds some of the state’s largest trout, while providing the easiest water access for anglers of all ages and abilities. Guests can fish and golf not only in the same weekend but in the same day.
Guests can stay for a weekend or purchase a vacation home
The club’s River Club Townhomes allow families to stay in their own private fully equipped townhome. Guests can stay for a weekend, purchase a property as a vacation home, or live here permanently.
The two-story townhome rentals have three bedrooms (sleeping up to 10 people) and two full bathrooms, with an open kitchen and living room on the first floor along with patio grills and washer and dryer.
They also have the luxury of an attached garage, which can come in handy for winter skiing vacations since the resort is only a half-hour from the world-class Wolf Creek Ski Area.
Between Hole #3 and the river, the resort’s fishing lodge can be rented for birthday parties, anniversaries, receptions, or reunions.
The wrap-around porch is filled with rocking chairs, and inside there is a kitchen, bar, and large fireplace. Club guides meet their clients here as well. My husband, who’d brought his own fishing gear, was already knee-deep in The Rio when I played Hole #3 that morning.
Restaurants at Rio Grande Club and Resort
The resort had both fine and relaxed dining overlooking the course and mountains. Timbers is located in the clubhouse great hall with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows to take in the view.
The restaurant has a year-around Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Big River Grille is open for lunch daily during golf season and has a happy hour every Friday from 5 to 7 p.m.
Both places are open for dinner Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Big River currently provides curbside lunch and dinner service including cocktails and wines to go.
After finishing the River Nine, I ordered lunch from Big River Grille’s “At the Turn” menu. I chowed on a club wrap loaded with turkey, ham, peppered bacon and Swiss cheese in a jalapeno-cheddar tortilla.
From here it was on to the Mountain Nine as the cart climbed up over 8,500 feet. Although windier up here, the fairways naturally nest into the curves of the hills, providing breaks in all the right spots for an average golfer like me.
Mountain pizza in South Fork, Colorado. Photo by Carrie DowAfter a late-afternoon nap at the townhome to regroup from our outdoor adventures, my husband and I went into South Fork for dinner, enjoying wood-fired pizza and Colorado craft beers at Mountain Pizza.
Here, of-age patrons can get a wrist band allowing them to pour their own beer or wine, paying by the ounce.
While other diners selected a favorite beverage and poured a glass, we poured one or two ounces at a time sampling all the beers, most from local breweries in nearby Del Norte and Pagosa Springs. Mountain Pizza has always been counter-service only providing minimal contact with staff.
Star-gazing and s’mores
That evening we attended a community star-gazing event at the clubhouse with local night sky expert Mark Teders and his powerful telescope. With no metropolitan lights around, the club takes advantage of South Fork’s dark skies to offer these summer outings complete with fire pit and s’more making.
While we could see dazzling constellations with the naked eye, Teders’ expertise and telescope allowed us to view Jupiter and 14 of its moons, the rings of Saturn and the spectacular Hercules Galaxy Cluster.
Despite my poor golf game and my husband’s lack of trout, we were sad to leave our country townhome to return to big city life. Stopping at Tiny Timbers Café on the way out of town, we fueled up on coffee, a chai latte and a couple of breakfast burritos to go.
The warmth of our breakfast matched the warmth of the locals we met during our too-brief stay. We were already making plans to revisit this area of Colorado to see what “Grande’’ adventures we could have next.
If You Go
Learn more about Colorado in our Colorado Travel Guide.
Rio Grande Club and Resort is 235 miles from Denver, 248 miles from Albuquerque, in south-central Colorado. Green fees for the public run $79-$149. Stay-and-Play packages are available through Rio Grande Vacation Rentals and include golf and membership privileges. Call 719-873-1995 for more information and townhome reservations. Dogs welcome. Club health and safety guidelines posted on their Facebook page.
Author Bio: Carrie Dow is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C., whose work has appeared in regional and national magazines. Former editor at The Drink Nation, she uses her expertise of the food and beverage industry to travel the world looking for unique eats and experiences. She also founded What’s Pawsitive, a website that profiles animal-based travel, animal rescue organizations and animal welfare advocates around the world.
Rio is the most beautiful city in the world.