by Brian Howell
Hitting a golf ball with absolute purity creates an unmistakable sound and delivers an unquestioned sense of satisfaction. The sight of the ball dropping into the middle of the green at the conclusion of that swing is the sweet reward.
About the only thing that can dampen that elation is to approach the green and discover a major hazard to navigate. A 700-pound hazard with a stunning rack of antlers standing on the fringe.
Welcome to golf in Colorado.
The Centennial State is known for its ski slopes, breweries and the Denver Broncos. Yet the golfing experience in Colorado is truly spectacular, unique and always enjoyable.
“The cool part about Colorado golf is the golf courses are awesome to look at it, that’s for sure,” said Adam Finch, first assistant golf pro at Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden. “And, most of them are awesome to play, too.”
Whether you’re a serious player with a single-digit handicap or a weekend hacker, there’s a wide variety of experiences for the golfer in Colorado.
The more well-known courses in Colorado are private clubs, such as Cherry Hills Country Club or The Country Club at Castle Pines, which have hosted PGA Tour events over the years. But rest assured, there are a wide variety of sensational public courses as well. Here are a few of the best:
The Golf Club at Bear Dance
Nestled between Denver and Colorado Springs, in Larkspur, Bear Dance has been recognized as the top public course in Colorado and one of the best in
Bear Dance offers a significant challenge to any golfer, with pine and oak trees surrounding each hole, as well as eight ponds scattered throughout. Accuracy off the tee is essential to find success here. At just under 7,000 feet in elevation, it also features great length that can seem a bit intimidating to those who aren’t used to playing at such an altitude.
It’s difficult to beat the atmosphere at Bear Dance. Although located just off the interstate and less than an hour away from downtown Denver, views of the Rocky Mountains and famous Castle Rock are spectacular. With hundreds of trees dotting the course, it’s also common to encounter a variety of wildlife, including deer, during your round.
Green fees vary, but golfers can find Bear Dance quite affordable, especially when you factor in the opportunity to play one of Colorado’s most pristine courses.
6630 Bear Dance Road, Larkspur
Fossil Trace Golf Club
Located on an old clay mine in Golden, Fossil Trace is a unique course on an historic piece of land. The club, which opened in 2003, is proud of its rich history that dates back millions of years.
Dinosaur fossils and footprints of Triceratops were discovered on this land, and the club has preserved much of that history. In addition to golf, patrons of Fossil Trace can view prehistoric relics and learn about tracks and fossils that were uncovered. Old clay mining equipment still sits throughout the course, offering guests a fun glimpse into the area’s fascinating history.
“What makes this golf course unique, it’s multiple things,” Finch says. “We’ve got a really neat layout, something you don’t often see this close to an urban area like Denver. That’s part of the allure, that you can get a mountain-like golf experience only 20 minutes from downtown Denver. That’s really the big part of the allure.
The history of the property and the story of the property, in terms of how it was once a clay mine where dinosaur trace fossils were found when excavating, that’s all part of it, as well.”
From a golfing standpoint, Fossil Trace is a challenging and picturesque course. The first hole has often been recognized as one of the top starting holes in Colorado, and serves as a warmup for a truly spectacular experience around the whole course.
Green fees are reasonable, with non-residents able to play 18 holes for as low as $80 during the week. For the golfer on a budget who wants just a taste of the Fossil Trace experience, sunset rates are available at $30 for nine holes.
Colorado Golf Club
The Championship Course at Colorado Golf Club in Parker opened in 2007 to international acclaim. The course has challenged some of the world’s top golfers, hosting tournaments such as the 71st Senior PGA Championship won by Tom Lehman and the 2013 Solheim Cup, which was won by Team Europe. This unique course,
designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, provides a strategic and natural layout featuring multiple lines of play and approach. T&L Golf named it one of the world’s top 10 new courses, and GOLF Magazine named it the top new private course of the year and one of “10 to Watch” worldwide. Relish the thought of living where you play? Betts Lake at Colorado Golf Club combines serene lakefront living with dramatic mountain views, just steps away from the award-winning links! Four beautiful floorplans are offered, along with a few custom homesites offering more than two acres each of stunning topography.
8000 Preservation Trail, Parker
The Five-Star Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs attracts visitors from around the globe. The rooms are spectacular, the food delicious and the amenities unparalleled. And then there’s the golf.
Majestically nestled in the Cheyenne Mountain foothills, three championship courses challenge golfers of all abilities. The East Course – home of the 2008 US Senior Open and the 2011 US Women’s Open, and the West Course were a collaborative design by Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr. The Mountain Course, by Nicklaus Design, offers an additional 18 holes and exquisite panoramic views. The courses are consistently ranked among the world’s best by respected analysts and publications.
1 Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs
Estes Park Golf Course
This course does not come with the reputation and accolades that others carry, but it’s a fun and unique experience in one of Colorado’s most popular destinations.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the top tourist attractions in the state, with Estes Park being one of its great mountain towns.
Estes Park Golf Course offers an added way to have fun in the area. This is where elk – those 700-pound behemoths with antlers – might join your foursome. During the heart of the summer, it’s more likely you’ll be able to play through without company, but the spring and fall might feature quite a few moving hazards.
Considering the gorgeous views and location of this course, you’ll hardly mind skipping a shot or two to get out of the way of these impressive animals. For right around $50, it’s tough to beat the price for the experience.
River Valley Ranch Golf Club
The Western Slope features some of the state’s prettiest courses, and River Valley Ranch, located in Carbondale, is definitely among them. Colorado Golfer Magazine once rated it the best mountain course in the state.
River Valley Ranch offers a variety of views. Several holes sit along the Crystal River, and beautiful Mt. Sopris can be seen throughout the course. The award-winning Jay Morrish design features striking bunkers, large greens, exciting elevation changes and unique water features. It is also situated in a great location for tourists, less than a half hour from Glenwood Springs and just 45 minutes from Aspen.
“RVR is truly a jewel in the Rockies. Come play a great round of golf and then enjoy fabulous dining on the deck overlooking Mt. Sopris,” says director of golf Alden Richards.
The course at River Valley Ranch is known for being kept in great shape. The layout is challenging enough for the elite golfer, but not overbearing for the inexperienced player. Morning rates can climb to $90, but green fees are cheaper in the afternoon.
303 River Valley Ranch Drive, Carbondale
Wellshire Golf Course
For the bargain hunter or the golfer who wants to stay within the metro area, Wellshire is a fantastic option and one of the true gems of the metro area.
Located just minutes from downtown Denver, Wellshire opened in 1926 and was designed by Donald Ross, a well-known course designer from Scotland.
Surrounded by large trees, Wellshire boasts a “country club atmosphere at a municipal course price.” A course that can play short, Wellshire offers just the right amount of challenges for the novice, and a good amount of fun for golfers of any level. At just under $30 (and only $20 for seniors), the price is just right, too.