THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO COLORADO’S BEST GOLF COURSES
by DAVID R. HOLLAND
Miller Barber, the late PGA Tour player with 11 championships, said it best about travel and golf. “I’m happiest when I have a hotel room key in my pocket.”
Denver’s golf lineup has it all – beauty, challenge, history and perfect summer weather that extends well into late fall. But many visitors don’t know that golf can be played year round in the Denver area as long as the snow stays away.
Get me talking about golf in the Denver metro area and I always return to the glory days of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club, which brought together three modern golf legends: Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. If you know a member of Cherry Hills, try to snag an invitation.
After the crash and burn of The International, a long-running PGA Tour event held at the Golf Club at Castle Pines, welcome news came following the return of the PGA Tour to Cherry Hills with the BMW Championship in 2014. And one can’t forget that Parker hosted the 2013 Solheim Cup at the private Colorado Golf Club.
So what’s the good news? A couple of years ago it was announced that the state’s first new golf course in years will be built in Windsor, north of Denver. RainDance National Golf Club, designed by Fred Funk, will be located less than three miles from its sister course – the 27-hole Pelican Lakes Golf and Country Club.
Here in Denver, where the plains meet the Rocky Mountains, a travel golfer can stage his or her own bit of Colorado golf glory at a multitude of daily-fee and municipal golf courses. Here are some of my favorites.
Arrowhead Golf Club in Littleton
You could wander the planet for 100 years and might not find a setting so incredible for a golf course. Located in Roxborough State Park just south of Denver, geologists say it took 300 million years for the slanted, jagged cerise rocks to form.
It took Robert Trent Jones Jr. a fraction of that time to design Arrowhead Golf Club, one of the most-photographed golf courses in the world. Jones said the cathedral-like conglomerate rocks and the rolling terrain make it a must-play.
“When I first saw the site of the golf course at Roxborough Park, I was overwhelmed by the magnificent gifts that nature has bestowed on the property. The cathedral-like rocks that jut up from the rolling terrain at the foothills of the Rockies is a majestic setting in which to establish a unique golf course,” Jones said.
Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield
Built in 1999 by David Graham and Gary Panks, the Omni Interlocken Resort has inspiring vistas of the Rockies between Denver and Boulder and is a year-round resort with only the best hotel amenities.
Eighteen-hole combinations measure more than 7,000 yards with the nines named Eldorado, Vista and Sunshine. The terrain is rolling hills and more than 300 acres, but was almost treeless until nearly 3,000 were planted.
CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora
CommonGround Golf Course is a prime example of what happens when you take an old Air Force base golf course that has already been renamed once and put it in the hands of Tom Doak, one of America’s best classical, minimalist course architects.
What you get is a parkland/links mixture that is walkable and affordable – just what the Colorado Golf Association, owners of the course, ordered.
This plot of land was once the Lowry AFB Golf Course, but when the base closed in the mid-1990s, the course morphed into Mira Vista Golf Course. The CGA’s and CWGA’s dream, however, was a completely new golf course. That’s when Doak and his Michigan-based Renaissance Golf Design team were hired to transform the 350-acre site.
Today CommonGround is dedicated to growing the game with a learning center for kids and adults, plus a caddie program for girls and boys who have finished the eighth grade.
Red Hawk Ridge Golf Course in Castle Rock
Red Hawk Ridge Golf Course is a dream course that gathers sweeping views of the front range from Long’s Peak to Pike’s Peak. High points, rocky buttes, thick native grasses and scrub oak feature lots of wildlife. Fairways are wide with big landing areas framed by large, grassy moguls, bunkers, greenside lakes bumped against sand and stacked rock, and massive, contoured, bentgrass greens with tough, thick collars.
The City of Castle Rock wanted a fun course, and that’s what golf course architect Jim Engh delivered. Engh took city administrators to a high ridgeline that defined the back nine and pointed to placement of holes. The vision transferred from Engh to the administrators. Light bulbs went off in their heads – fun.
Fossil Trace Golf Course Club in Golden
Busy and fun, Fossil Trace Golf Club is in the shadows of Table Moutain, within sight of the Coors Brewery, and it only takes one stroke to notice the history of this land. The chimney of a brick kiln remains in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 first hole – right in the sightline of your second stroke.
Examine the 20-foot pillars of sandstone positioned in the fairway of the par-5 12th, and then determine how to hit over them on your journey to the green. This hole serves as a reminder of the property’s quarry history. Clay-mining equipment remains in place where, 64 million years ago, bird tracks, palm fronds and triceratops footprints were frozen in time. A split-rail fence near the green leads to a viewing area for the fossils.
Golf course architect Jim Engh, a native of North Dakota, built an impressive portfolio, beginning with offices in Colorado and now known throughout the world. His award-winners in Colorado besides Fossil Trace include the ultra-exclusive private Sanctuary in Sedalia; Red Hawk Ridge in Castle Rock; Four Mile Ranch in Canon City; Lakota Canyon in Newcastle; Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction; Harmony Club in Tinmath; and Pradera in Parker.
The Ridge at Castle Pines North in Castle Rock
Some dime novelists say Calamity Jane and Buffalo Bill Cody once described the area where The Ridge at Castle Pines North sits as one of their favorite stomping grounds.
The Ridge at Castle Pines North is considered by many as the premier upscale, public-access golf course in Colorado. Since opening in July 1997, the Tom Weiskopf design has won awards from just about every golf population – national and statewide – and was once ranked No. 49 on Golf Magazine’s list of top 100 public-access golf courses.
Look west and the panorama includes Pikes Peak, Devil’s Head and Mt. Evans. Look closer and you find front-range foothill scenes that feature sandstone rock formations, gambel oaks, Ponderosa pines and many varieties of wildlife. In fact, The Ridge left room to roam for migrating elk. Its double-loop layout preserves wildlife corridors.
Hilton Denver Inverness in Englewood
One of the only semi-private golf courses in the Denver area, this J. Press Maxwell championship course is beautiful, playable and challenging. It requires strategy and a thoughtful approach, thanks to gentle but unforgiving slopes, rolling hills and deep bunkers. Water comes into play on 11 of the 18 holes, and the golf course’s par-3 holes test the precision of even the best golfers.
As for the hotel, there’s a view of the Rocky Mountains in its front yard and an 18-hole championship golf course in its backyard. President Bill Clinton slept here and took on the tight, sloping fairways, rolling hills and fast, undulating greens.
Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Tom Babb opened the course in 1973 and did plenty for Colorado golf during his 27 years of working here. Babb served as director of golf at Inverness from 1973 to 2000. He was there from the very beginning, helping prepare the course for its opening, even to the point of operating some heavy earth-moving equipment as the holes were constructed.
Shortly after John Elway arrived to play quarterback for the Denver Broncos, his first contact to improve his game was Babb. The friendship evolved into the John Elway Celebrity Classic.
Today you can enjoy all the work and landscaping beauty of Babb and his associates with this classic golf course south of downtown Denver.
Did you know there are two excellent daily-fee golf courses near Denver International Airport? Here’s a synopsis of the two awesome layouts.
Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora
Bring your “A” game when you play Murphy Creek, a high-plains gem just minutes from the airport. It was opened in 2000 and was designed by Ken Kavanaugh of Arizona.
Murphy Creek is a high-plains test. It will also reward you with one of the most enjoyable, affordable rounds of golf you will find in a new golf course today. Watch out for its arroyos, wiry and thick fescue rough, and bunkers surrounded by more rough.
Be sure to spend some time in the clubhouse, dine in Murphy’s Tavern, and see the sites. The 1920s farmhouse decor includes white siding with steep-pitched green roofs, and the cart barn replicates a real barn. The range ball machine is housed in a silo, and former alfalfa fields are littered with old, rusting farm equipment, a horse-drawn wagon and an original barn.
Murphy Creek was ranked in Golf Digest’s “America’s Top 10 Best New Courses for 2002” and was the site of the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Denver
Welcome to Green Valley Ranch Golf Club, Denver’s premiere golf facility. Just minutes from DIA, this beauty is home to an award-winning 18-hole Championship course, the popular 9-hole par-3 course, and a great practice facility.
It has also hosted the Colorado Open numerous times and was designed by Denver’s Perry Dye, son of legendary designer Pete Dye. This is big, bold prairie golf that was 12 years in the making.
The drive to the course is all prairie, then suddenly here’s a wall of old cottonwoods and wetlands. Six holes are sculpted around the protected native areas and offer strategic shots. No. 10, a 417-yard par4, is encircled by dense growth. Other holes present open prairie tests running along a ridge.
“Golf courses near DIA are just a natural for businessmen and their clients flying to Denver,” Dye said. “And at Green Valley Ranch you can’t even hear an airline. You are going to see more businessmen playing morning golf, then leaving for the airport and arriving at their gate in 30-40 minutes.”
Longing For Some Competition?
The Colorado Open heads a list of many tournaments scheduled each year in the Denver Metro area. The Colorado Open is a yearly championship staged for seniors, women and adults. 2017 marks the 14th men’s running of this championship at the beautiful Green Valley Ranch Golf Club.
City Park Golf Course also hosts the Denver City Amateur Championships each summer with men’s and senior’s divisions. Call for information.
There are also countless charity events, so if you want to play Sanctuary, a bucket list golf course, just give them a call and ask about scheduled charity events.
Sky Ridge Medical Center is also hosting a tournament series this summer that includes four separate events staged at Inverness, The Ridge at Castle Pines North, Blackstone Country Club and Colorado National Golf Club. Another worthy tournament is the 15th Annual Ortho Colorado Triple Play Golf Tournament benefiting The First Tee of Denver, set for June at City Park Golf Courses.