The Centennial State’s jaw-dropping landscape has given birth to some of the most distinctive and beautiful golf courses in the world. From the best public courses in Denver to some of the most exclusive private clubs in the state, let us be your caddy on a tour of Colorado’s premier golf destinations—all while helping remedy your game.
Denver’s golf courses don’t get a ton of respect, at least not when compared to those in old-money enclaves like Chicago or Philadelphia. But the Front Range has one thing cash can’t buy: topography that rises from plains to foothills, delivering a compelling spectrum of courses open to all comers.
Every July, the state’s best golfers descend on Green Valley Ranch Golf Club for the Colorado Open. See how your game stacks up by challenging Green Valley Ranch’s host of risk-versus-reward holes, such as the par-4 fourth, where you can drive the green with your tee shot—as long as you avoid the worrisome creek bed on the left side of the fairway.
Green fee: $57 Monday through Thursday; $72 Friday through Sunday; $18 cart fee
Insider tip: Any emotional trauma suffered on Green Valley Ranch’s multitiered greens can be salved by the on-site restaurant’s spicy fish tacos.
Consider this a eulogy for City Park Golf Course’s classic layout. Late this year, the city will tear up the 104-year-old course and turn the 136-acre property into a collection site for floodwater. The storm-water drainage area will be integrated into a new, redesigned City Park course that will open in 2019.
Green fee: $27 on weekdays; $39 on weekends; $15 cart fee
Insider tip: Many of the greens, such as the 17th, pitch sharply from back to front. In short: Don’t go long.
Perfect for beginners, Willis Case Golf Course is convenient (it’s in the Tennyson neighborhood), beautiful (with awesome vistas of the Rockies), and relatively easy (so no one wants to wrap a club around a tree). Plus, golfers can don anything from cargo shorts to jeans; Willis Case doesn’t brook pretension.
Green fee: $27 on weekdays; $39 on weekends; $15 cart fee
Insider tip: Hop on I-70 to take advantage of the coolest 19th hole in the Mile High City: Tennyson Street’s restaurants, bars, and breweries.
No local course honors golf’s roots better than Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora. The clubhouse looks like a rustic white farmhouse you’d stumble across in Kirkcudbright (or some other charming Scottish hamlet) while golden fescue and vast fairways pay homage to authentic links-style golf.
Green fee: $40 on weekdays; $51 on weekends; $17 cart fee
Insider tip: Not a single house and few trees crowd the front nine; appreciate the vast, empty beauty of Colorado’s prairie.
Fox Hollow Golf Course has three nine-hole courses: The Meadow winds its way around cottonwoods and streams that trickle into Bear Creek; the Canyon dives and rises through sandstone Coyote Gulch; and the Links runs flat and open—despite Red Rocks Park standing tall a few miles west. In other words, if you can’t find a style you enjoy at Fox Hollow, take up curling.
Green fee: $47 to $54 on weekdays; $52 to $60 on weekends; $16 cart fee
Insider tip: Don’t reach for the big stick on every hole. Instead, pay attention to yardage markers on certain tee boxes that detail exactly how far you can belt the ball before it reaches trouble.
Many golfers would opt for the fancier (and pricier) Golf Club at Omni Interlocken Hotel, which is a great course. But Westminster’s Walnut Creek Golf Preserve offers the same clear views of the foothills plus a stiffer challenge: Walnut Creek demands some seriously straight shot-making if you want to remain atop the course’s rolling landscape.
Green fee: $39 to $42 on weekdays; $44 to $47 on weekends; $16 cart fee
Insider tip: Keep an eye out for 77 different species of animals and reptiles—including a rather plump snake we blame for a sudden case of the yips.
Fit for the Tee
Think Rory McIlroy works out like a fiend just to impress the lassies? OK, Probably, But he also knows his body is the most vital club in his bag. so before You Buy A new driver, give These exercises—from Dee Tidwell, owner of Colorado Golf Fitness Club—a chance to elevate your game.
To Fix: Your slice
Which occurs because: Your hips aren’t flexible, so your upper body has to do all the work on the downswing. Consequently, your club cuts across the ball from right to left, resulting in a left-to-right ball flight—aka, the dreaded banana ball.
Try Figure-four hip stretches: (1) Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Cross your right foot over your left knee. (2) Grab your left thigh with both hands and pull your left knee toward your chest. Hold for 20 seconds; three sets per leg
To Fix: Poor contact
Which occurs because: Your flabby core (sorry, but #truth) isn’t sturdy enough to hold correct posture throughout your swing. You might sway backward or lunge forward—either way, you’re going to have a difficult time hitting a stationary target.
Try Prone arm raises: (1) Grab a light free weight, then lie facedown on an exercise ball. (2) Holding your body rigid and one arm straight out in front of you, use your shoulder blade to lift your arm (one arm at a time) until it’s even with your head. Two to three sets; six to 10 reps per arm
To Fix: Your way-too-short drives
Which occur because: You’re too stiff to make a complete shoulder turn during your backswing, which provides much of the pent-up power required to murder that little white ball.
Try Reach backs: (1) Starting on all fours, place your left hand behind your head. (2) Keeping a stable spine, rotate your left elbow, chest, and head toward the sky. (3) Rotate down until your left elbow touches your right knee.
Two sets; 10 rotations per side
Find more tips at coloradogolffitnessclub.com.
Pace Of Play
If you’re having a difficult time carving out four-plus hours for a round of golf—what with hiking trails requiring attention, too—don’t fret. Here are two spots to engage with the game in less traditional (and less time-consuming) ways.
South Denver’s Harvard Gulch Golf Course is a gimme for Play9, a USGA campaign designed to appeal to players’ schedules and pocketbooks by encouraging them to play nine holes rather than the standard 18. Not only does Harvard Gulch’s nine-hole par-3 course require only 60 minutes of your time, but it also has unique summer hours: On Saturdays from June through August, Harvard Gulch flicks on its lights after 9 p.m. so golf lovers can take a swing or two under the stars. cityofdenvergolf.com
Part driving range and part giant dartboard, Topgolf provides competitors (six per bay) the opportunity to hit targets for points while sipping craft brews and noshing on chicken nachos. The Dallas company’s outpost in Centennial, which opened in 2015, has proven to be so successful that Topgolf is planning to debut a second metro location in Thornton within two years. 720-880-3151; topgolf.com
Congrats! Dear Aunt Myrtle died and left you a bundle. Now you can buy that private club membership you’ve always coveted. (Sure, you could save for the kids’ college educations, but crippling debt builds character.) One of these three will delight even the most discerning of palates.
History: Plenty. It has hosted five majors including the 1960 U.S. Open, when Arnold Palmer’s daring final-round charge vanquished Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.
The course: The Scots invented golf on the coasts. In the early 20th century, Americans moved courses inland. These layouts came to be known as “parkland” designs because, well, they resemble parks—loads of trees on lush, flat earth. That is what you’ll find here in Cherry Hills Village. The downside is that seeing as this course was designed for players swinging wood-shafted clubs, Cherry Hills doesn’t present much of a test for today’s titanium-wielding long-ballers.
Membership perks: Sharing a locker room with John Elway, who is a former president. Oh, and getting sized for a fetching cherry red blazer.
History: Short but respectable. Founded by oilman Jack Vickers, Castle Pines hosted a PGA Tour event called the International from 1986 to 2006.
The course: Colorado’s top course, according to Golf Digest, this Castle Rock track is long and aesthetically stunning. There’s the verdant turf, sure, but the Technicolor flower beds and placid water features beside the 11th and 12th greens call to mind the 12th hole at Augusta National. If we have to pick a flaw, it’s the cosmetic-surgery-style beauty of the course: Designer Jack Nicklaus moved a lot of dirt to fulfill his vision of a mountain layout.
Membership perk: The best chocolate milkshakes, made at the halfway house, in the world. Seriously.
History: Shorter still, but sweet. Colorado Golf Club hosted the Senior PGA Championship in 2010 and the Solheim Cup (the women’s Ryder Cup) in 2013.
The course: Designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw employed a minimalist approach by letting Parker’s natural ponderosa forest and meadow landscape dictate the placement of the holes. The result is a course that’s less green and less artificially manicured than the archetypical American one—and better for it.
Membership perk: The club’s signature cocktail, the Paintbrush (lemonade, strawberry purée, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and soda water). The first one is the finest tipple you’ve ever had. The second is even better. The third is a mistake.
We probably can’t fix your swing. But these pro-approved bits of strategery will help players of all abilities enjoy their rounds more by scoring less.
If you’re a scratch golfer…
“Put the driver away. Use whatever club necessary to keep it in the fairway. It’s much easier to score from the short grass.”—Susan Sanders, assistant golf pro, Castle Pines Golf Club
If you’re a 10 handicapper…
“From 150 yards, the best golfers hit their shots to 28 feet from the hole, on average. You’re likely going to be farther away than that. So aim for an area that limits your exposure to danger.”—Trent Wearner, owner, Trent Wearner Golf
If you’re, um, not good…
“Most high-handicappers hit their 7-irons 160 yards once and think they can always hit it that far. Wrong. Take one more club than you think you need.”—Philip Linares, staff instructor, Green Valley Ranch Golf Academy
If You Build It…
…you might lose it. That’s what happened to Rupert O’Neal’s Field of Dreams–esque golf course, anyway.
About 15 miles south of Holyoke, in northeast Colorado, Ballyneal Golf Club lies across a dirt road from a grain silo. Despite its national prestige—Golf Digest ranks it the 50th-best course in America—no imposing gate marks the entrance, just a rustic wooden sign. Members walk around with their shirts untucked; Paul Simon belts out an ode to Kodachrome on unseen speakers; and the clubhouse lacks that plantation-home grandeur. The vibe feels less like Augusta National and more like a backyard barbecue. Still, 65 percent of Ballyneal’s members travel 300 miles or more from home to get in their strokes. Perhaps not surprisingly, very few farmers in the far reaches of Colorado’s Eastern Plains can afford the roughly $20,000 sign-up fee.
What is surprising is that the man who created this unique destination didn’t even own a set of clubs when he came up with the idea. Growing up in Holyoke, Rupert O’Neal preferred wrestling to golfing. When he took over his family’s farm in 1981, however, O’Neal began looking for ways to supplement his income. He started with a hunt club—the land is lousy with pheasants—and then thought about a golf course. O’Neal quickly soured on the prospect of a high-end private club, though. Research suggested such courses were lucky to break even.
But then Rupert’s brother Jim O’Neal, a golf pro in California, suggested they ask renowned golf course architect Tom Doak to evaluate nearby land that locals call the chop hills. Jim Urbina, a Denver-based golf course architect who works with Doak, was skeptical when he arrived in Holyoke. That was before he crested a dune and the chop hills’ undulating terrain appeared before him. Suddenly, Urbina felt transported to Ballybunion Golf Club, a venerable Irish layout on the Atlantic. “I told Rupert, ‘People will think they’re in the dunes of Ireland,’ ” Urbina remembers. “And I saw his face light up.”
After he purchased the plot and hired Doak, O’Neal’s vision for the course swiftly turned from a moneymaking endeavor into something far more difficult to secure: a legacy. In Gaelic, “baile na” translates to “place of”—which means Ballyneal signifies the “home of the O’Neals.” Says Rupert, “I’m really happy we did that considering we, both my brother and I, are completely removed from it right now.”
The trouble began shortly after Ballyneal opened in 2006. Although the course debuted to critical acclaim from national publications, Ballyneal’s loan payments became increasingly burdensome. The 2008 financial crisis pinched even the mega-wealthy, who balked when O’Neal tried to raise annual dues to boost the club’s cash flow. With fewer members than were necessary to make ends meet, O’Neal eventually fell behind on his loans, and the existing membership began to doubt O’Neal’s stewardship.
It was as if once O’Neal realized the dream he had promised them, investors, in O’Neal’s words, realized, “we have a crazy farmer running the thing.” The lone secured lender was O’Neal’s brother-in-law, John Curlander; he was the only person who could foreclose. In 2012, Curlander did just that, subsequently taking ownership of one of the greatest courses in America for $1.6 million during an auction on the steps of the Yuma County Courthouse.
O’Neal says he isn’t angry at Curlander. There were no other viable options left. O’Neal has since sold his farm and relocated to Denver. Now, he returns to Ballyneal a couple of times a year. “One hundred years from now, that golf course will still exist as one of the top 50 courses in the world,” O’Neal says. “So when you have that midlife crisis—when you ask, Did I do anything reasonable in my lifetime? Anything lasting?—I’ve got Ballyneal to stare at.”
Under New Ownership
Ballyneal has blossomed thanks to John Curlander’s steady control. Although membership fees have decreased, the club has added a new lodge, expanded the dining area, and reopened the hunt club, which was shuttered during Ballyneal’s financial crisis. Most significantly, Curlander will debut a long-promised, members-only par-3 course in August.
Don’t let the chore of planning stop you from scheduling tee times for some of the most beautiful destination courses in the Centennial State. Laid out before you are daily dockets for two epic summer golf vacations.
Itinerary 1: Colorado Springs
Saturday, May 27
A trip south on I-25 provides a convenient opportunity to sample the Golf Club at Bear Dance. Picturesque fairways lined by towering ponderosa pines might scare beginners, but the landing areas are actually quite ample. Skilled golfers will love the strategy: Do I try to drive the green on the par-4 sixth? Or shy away from the hole’s menacing bear-paw-shaped bunker complex? The best part is that every hole feels isolated, like you’ve disappeared from the noise of the world. Keep that vibe going by visiting the 100-plus-degree cedar tubs of SunWater Spa in Manitou Springs. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the iconic hotel Cliff House at Pikes Peak.
Sunday, May 28
The good news is you’re going to play the Broadmoor East Course today, rated the top public course in Colorado by Golf Digest for its amazing location at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain and deceptive greens. The bad news for your wallet is that to get a tee time, you’ll need to stay at the super-pricey resort (starting at $325 per night) and then shell out $260 for the green fee. Save a few bucks by eating dinner at the Broadmoor’s Golden Bee, which cooks up moderately priced English pub fare, such as a tasty corned-beef Reuben on marbled rye.
Monday, May 29
Patty Jewett Golf Course opens with a stunner by requiring players to wallop their first drives directly at Pikes Peak. Fair warning: You can only use the “How much you wanna bet I can hit a golf ball over them mountains?” joke once a trip. Now is a good time. Punch line deftly delivered, sit back and enjoy a flat, hazard-free layout.
Itinerary 2: The Western Slope
Wednesday, June 14
The first tee box tells you all you need to know about the majestic Telluride Golf Club. Your initial drive soars from 9,417 feet—surrounded by fourteeners, because this is Telluride—to a fairway that sits far below you. And the grand vistas and dramatic changes in elevation never quit. Tonight, pamper yourself for the long days—and nights—ahead at the ritzy New Sheridan Hotel ($278 per night).
Thursday, June 15
Give the clubs a rest and head to the most authentically Colorado music event this side of Red Rocks Amphitheatre: the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. A ticket ($82) for today garners you access to the pluckings of mandolinist and new A Prairie Home Companion host Chris Thile. Quick tip: Get a jump on securing a spot at Lawson Hill ($60), one of the few campgrounds that doesn’t require a four-day, festival-long commitment.
Friday, June 16
Redlands Mesa Golf Course, perhaps the most stunning course in the state, rests at the base of Colorado National Monument just outside Grand Junction. Make it to the course for a 7 a.m. tee time and be rewarded by an epic sunrise, which conjures red and green hues in the soaring sandstone cliffs. The vista from the second tee—a panoramic view of the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world—ain’t bad either. Stay the night at Grand Junction’s recently renovated Residence Inn. (Hey, this is Grand Junction—what were you expecting?)
Saturday, June 17
The Western Slope does its best Redneck Riviera impression (there will be American flag–patterned bikinis) when Country Jam comes to the small town of Mack, about 20 miles northwest of Grand Junction. As of press time, organizers hadn’t posted Saturday’s schedule, but with 30-plus performers—from Kenny Chesney to Jason Aldean—set to sing at the four-day festival (June 15 to 18), a rowdy time is guaranteed. Don’t risk a ride back to town; just camp on the grounds for $155.
One Flew Over The Bogey’s Nest
A search for sanity on the golf course produces an unexpected result.
Normally, I’m pretty mild-mannered—like, say, Bruce Banner without the STEM skills. That is, until I step onto a golf course. Then, suddenly, I’m a less ripped but every bit as angry version of the Incredible Hulk.
After an egregious missed putt, I’ve been known to drag the offending club along the cement cart path for a few holes. (If I don’t punish it, it won’t learn how to behave.) Once, I actually threatened a competitor’s life after he sank a birdie putt. His offense: smiling. That smug SOB.
After 20 years of embarrassing myself, I recently decided to reach out to Stephen Walker, a Boulder sports psychologist, as well as Elena King, an instructor at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora who’s known as a mental-game guru. To keep things simple, I distilled their advice into three easily digestible pointers to try the next time I stepped onto the tee box.
First, breathe. If I’m concentrating on a deep inhale and exhale, I can’t replay (over and over and over…) the 8-iron I shanked on the previous hole. Second, King says science has proven athletes perform their best when they feel thankful. So I decided to think about my wife. Corny, yes, but whatever—it’s my brain! Finally, I kept in mind that billions of people in China don’t give a shit that I’m frustrated. I stole this line from Walker. It’s meant to remind me that my habitual three-putting feels life-destroying but is actually pretty damn insignificant.
Using this trifecta of tips, I didn’t suffer a single breakdown. But it was only one round. My lunacy has a way of lying dormant for a while before striking out like an aggrieved honey badger. What’s surprising, though, is how these techniques have improved my work life.
I might not smash computer screens at the office, but my stress manifests itself through sleep-robbing, gut-clenching anxiety. Lately, however, when dazed by deadlines, I take a deep breath; it’s a trigger that reminds me to focus on what’s in front of me. When I worry about getting fired—in my mind, I’m always one bad story away—I look at a photo of my beautiful, ginger-haired better half. She’ll still be waiting for me at home. (Right, dear?) When my boss wants a rewrite, I remember that Chinese President Xi Jinping has more pressing concerns.
For my entire golf career, people have waxed poetic about how the sport imitates life. I always thought that was BS, what with my on-course rage monster bearing zero likeness to my usual affable self. But I get it now. Both life and golf throw enormous amounts of stress at you. And, in both, your response to the adversity is what determines your score.
The Long Game
The Centennial State’s thin air turns even the dinkiest duffers into John Daly–esque beasts off the tee. You can’t post low scores, however, unless you know how to control that power. Fear not: We put together a guide to illustrate how much farther you can expect your golf ball to fly at different Colorado courses.
Elevation: 10,152 feet
Golf ball travels: 11.8 percent farther (compared to sea level)
So a 200-yard shot goes: 224 yards
Claim to fame: Mt. Massive is billed as the highest course in America.
Elevation: 7,765 feet
Golf ball travels: 9 percent farther
So a 200-yard shot goes: 218 yards
Claim to fame: The two layouts here both rank among Golfweek’s top 200 resort courses in the United States.
Elevation: 6,732 feet
Location: Steamboat Springs
Golf ball travels: 7.8 percent farther
So a 200-yard shot goes: 216 yards
Claim to fame: The views of the Yampa Valley and Emerald Mountain are remarkable.
Elevation: 4,984 feet
Golf ball travels: 5.8 percent farther
So a 200-yard shot goes: 212 yards
Claim to fame: A killer links course, it’s remarkably well-priced at $36 on weekdays and $46 on weekends.
Elevation: 3,566 feet
Golf ball travels: 4.1 percent farther
So a 200-yard shot goes: 208 yards
Claim to fame: September’s Wray Shoot & Swing combines skeet and golf.