Feature

Find Your Swing

Never picked up a golf club before? Feel like it’s time to learn? Congratulations—you’re in the right place. Colorado is full of gorgeous, world-renowned courses (read: crazy difficult!), but our state is also home to a long roster of well-regarded instructors and plenty of options for playing while you’re still learning.

May 2011

Lessons in Humility

I’m not a professional athlete. I wasn’t a collegiate athlete. Truth is, I barely made my high school’s junior varsity basketball team. But I’m not bad at sports. I don’t throw like a girl. I have a decent inside-out forehand. I can wield a baseball glove. So when my husband and I decided to learn how to play golf, I figured I’d be a quick study.

What the hell was I thinking? Had every episode of SportsCenter mysteriously evaporated from my memory? Had I forgotten that, more often than not, Tiger and Lefty end up in the rough, behind a tree, and then use a pitching wedge to launch the ball over the green right into the drink? Apparently, the answer was yes. I had forgotten.

And that was just the start: The litany of errors that followed would make any golfer shake his head in knowing agreement. Yep, did that. Uh-huh, been there too. Because I had never even picked up a golf club, I knew I had to begin with a lesson. Which was great—until I realized I had set myself up to look like a complete clown in front of a professional golfer. We started with the 3-wood. I have to admit that I was looking for an actual wooden club—but was fortunate to, for once in my life, keep my mouth shut. My instructor showed me the proper grip, briefly illustrated the correct swinging motion, and then told me to let ’er rip. He wanted to see what my “natural” motion looked like. I tightened my glove, squeezed the club, and took my first stroke. Turns out my natural swing looked like someone crushing a 3-wood into the ground.

Putting felt better to me. I thought maybe I’d found my niche. I was going to have a great short game. Drive for show, putt for dough. My instructor told me that putting was about two things: distance and direction. Distance: I wanted to strike the ball in a way that got it close to the cup in a north-south orientation. Direction: I needed to read the curves of the green to make sure I struck the ball so it wouldn’t go way wide of the hole. Direction I could handle. But then came distance. I’m always seven feet from the cup, I griped. My instructor explained that putting was not about sinking it from 40 feet. Not even the best putter in the world sinks a ball from 40 feet with any regularity. Putting was simply about getting it close. I confessed that, if that was the case, I may not have the personality for putting. Instead, I said, I might have the personality of someone who wants to wrap the putter around a tree. My instructor grinned and said he has had many students with that disposition.

For three full lessons, I degraded the dignified game of golf. Being kind to myself, I may have hit eight drives that went farther off the ground than 20 feet. More often than not, though, I simply whiffed—no contact at all. It was disheartening. I was embarrassed. I hadn’t expected to be Annika Sörenstam in three lessons, but I thought I’d be more of a natural. I thought my hand-eye coordination would help. I thought my slightly above-average athletic talent would mean something. (I’m not. It didn’t. It certainly doesn’t.)

And I should’ve known that. I mean, I’ve seen golf on television. Being athletic has very little to do with it. And that is when I realized what every other golfer—or wannabe golfer—eventually realizes: Golf is the devil’s game. No matter what, the game of golf will always win. A human being cannot beat golf—it’s impossible to hit a hole-in-one on every hole.

Yet it is that exact unbeatable-ness that’s so alluring. The desire to beat golf is why, every now and again, I think about taking another lesson. I’m also drawn to the ceremony of the game. And the social aspects are pretty good, too. (I mean, how many sports have beer wenches offering beverages during the game?) So, if you’re like me—a glutton for punishment, or maybe just a bit intrigued by the game—read on. I’m here to help you navigate Colorado’s golfing landscape, and help you become addicted to a game you’ll never, ever win—but completely enjoy nonetheless.

Where to Play

These courses are all suitable (read: shorter and much less highfalutin) for beginning to intermediate players.

  1. If you are... A good putter

    And like... Fast, sloped greens

    Play at... City Park Golf Course, Denver, cityofdenvergolf.com/citypark.htm

    Course's signature hole 8th tee box, which has a view of Denver's skyline and the mountains

    Price $26–$35

  2. If you are...A fan of wide-open fairways and no bunkers

    And like... The idea that there are no forced carries, meaning if you’re still struggling with getting the ball airborne, it’s OK

    Play at... CommonGround Golf Course, Par 3, Aurora, commongroundgc.com

    Course's signature hole 9th tee, which gives you a good look at the pretty, tree-lined fairway

    Price Adult: $10 (if you bring a child, it’s $5 for each of you)

  3. If you are...A beginner looking to walk the course

    And like... A shorter course with only two out-of-bounds areas, one water hazard, and less-than-average bunker play

    Play at... Park Hill Golf Club, Denver, parkhillgc.com

    Course's signature hole 16th hole, which is a killer dog leg with a fun-to-putt, undulating green

    Price Weekend: $35 to walk; $45 with cart. Weekday: $25 to walk, $35 with cart

  4. If you are...An intermediate player working on finding the fairway

    And like... To have some greenside bunkers and water come into play

    Play at... Indian Tree Golf Course, Arvada, indiantree.apexprd.org

    Course's signature hole 13th hole, which is a par 3 that used to be a short par 4—from the back tees it’s 225 yards with a forced carry over water

    Price $33 to walk; $48 with cart

  5. If you are...A beginner or intermediate, who likes playing the irons and wants a variety of course choices in the same location

    And like... The idea of bringing your family along—the junior programs are a stand-out here

    Play at... The Courses at Hyland Hills; North and South Par 3s, and the Blue Course, Westminster, golfhylandhills.com

    Course's signature hole 7th green on the South Par 3 course; it's dubbed the Sunburst hole for the sand trap that encircles the green

    Price Adults: $20 for Blue Course, $9 for South Par 3, $5 for North Par 3 // Juniors: $7 for Blue Course, $4 for South and North Par 3s

  6. If you are...Working on your drives and want generous tee-off areas and wider fairways

    And like... Fewer bunkers, flatter greens, and easy walkability

    Play at... Riverdale Golf Courses, Knolls Course, Brighton, riverdalegolf.com

    Course's signature hole 7th tee box, which gives you an elevated position to see the long par 5 in front of you

    Price $24 to walk the course

  7. If you are...Hoping to improve your short game on holes that are 65 to 127 yards in length

    And like... Large, undulating greens

    Play at... Green Valley Ranch Golf Club, Par 3, Denver, gvrgolf.com

    Course's signature hole 6th hole, which has a downhill green

    Price Adults: $10. Juniors: $6

  8. If you are...An intermediate player ready for the challenge of longer par 5s and greenside bunkers

    And like... The idea of getting a history lesson with your game

    Play at... Fossil Trace Golf Club, Golden, fossiltrace.com

    Course's signature hole 12th green, which offers a chance to see 64-million-year-old trace fossils of palm fronds and triceratops footprints

    Price $75–$79 with cart

  9. If you are...Wanting to play 18 and figuring an executive-length course will have you home before dinner

    And like... The idea of mostly par 3 holes with a few 4 and 5 pars thrown in for good measure

    Play at... Springhill Golf Club, Aurora, golfaurora.com

    Course's signature hole 4th hole, a par 5 with lakes on both sides of the fairway

    Price Weekend: $26. Weekday: $22

Instruction

Colorado golf pros who won’t go running for the 19th hole when a beginner signs up for a lesson. (They’re not bad for experts, either.)

Trent Wearner
Owner, Trent Wearner Golf Academy, Denver, 303-645-8000; trentwearnergolf.com
Overall Teaching Philosophy: An instructor should adapt to his student, not the other way around. Approaching a Beginner: I try to make sure that every beginner knows the setup items—good grip, proper stance, things like that. Once they have those things right, they can focus on the one thing they’re trying to learn that day. Most Difficult Thing for a Beginner to Understand: Many beginners think you have to hit up on the ball to get it airborne. That’s just not the case, but it’s a natural instinct. Sticking Point: Outdoor learning is really important. You can hit into a screen all day, but it’s never going to be the same as hitting out on a course. Best Parts of My Game: Short game, mental toughness Instructing Experience: 16 years Favorite Colorado Course: Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club

Jeanne Sutherland
Head Golf Pro, Vail Golf Club, Vail, 970-479-2260; vailrec.com/golf.cfm
Overall Teaching Philosophy: I allow individualism within a student. There’s not a model that everyone uses to golf. I allow motion at first, then help them tighten their game. Approaching a Beginner: I figure out why a new golfer is interested in the game—maybe they’re there because they want to be or because their spouse wants them to learn. Most Difficult Thing for a Beginner to Understand: Beginners are very focused on hitting the ball. Missing seems to signal failure. That makes it tough for them to understand that the swing is a full motion with a definite sequence. Their motion often begins and ends at the ball, so instead of a swing, it resembles a hit or chopping motion. Sticking Point: Do not try to learn this game from your spouse or your friend. Take lessons in a group. Instructing Experience: 26 years Favorite Colorado Courses: Vail Golf Club, Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club

Andrew Tucker
Director of Instruction, Lakewood Country Club, Lakewood, 303-549-0607; andrewtuckergolf.com
Overall Teaching Philosophy: I teach ball flight control. I can look at a ball in the air and recognize why the ball is doing what it’s doing. I look for patterns in a player and remedy bad patterns. Approaching a Beginner: I try to make my beginners understand that par is based on expert play. Par for beginners is way different than that. When I get this point across, it often lowers their anxiety. Most Difficult Thing for a Beginner to Understand: The best players in the world do not hit the ball straight. Sticking Point: I like to say “play golf, don’t play golf swing.” In the learning process, people get frustrated with the details. A bad day on the course should be better than a good day at work. Best Part of My Game: I’m not long, but I’m accurate. Instructing Experience: 24 years

Ann Finke
Director of Instruction, Country Club of Colorado, Colorado Springs, 719-538-4095; ccofcolorado.com
Approaching a Beginner: The biggest obstacle that beginners face is moving from instruction to the course. I offer evening clinics that allow me to take people on a walking tour and help them orient and understand the course. Most Difficult Thing for a Beginner to Understand: That people don’t care how well you play; they care that you know golf, understand etiquette, and play fast enough. Working with Women: Women don’t absorb golf like other sports. There’s not a lot of exposure. They don’t know the clubs or the lingo. There’s a fear of something new. I try to make it less intimidating. Sticking Point: Posture. If you don’t put your body in the right position, you’ll never hit the ball well. Best Parts of My Game: I’m the best putter I know. Instructing Experience: 32 years Favorite Colorado Courses: Country Club of Colorado, Castle Pines Golf Club Favorite Pro to Watch: Fred Couples

Ed Oldham
Head Golf Professional, The Ranch Country Club, Westminster, 303-466-2111; theranchcc.com
Approaching a Beginner: I use an organized approach for teaching the things that a student needs to learn first: grip, stance, and swinging motion. Most Difficult Thing for a Beginner to Understand: It takes about three years to learn the entire game of golf if you practice and play regularly. Sticking Point: Every golfer needs to understand that where the club face is at the point of impact is what’s important. You can have an ugly swing, but if your club face strikes the ball well, you’re golden. Instructing Experience: 29 years Favorite Colorado Courses: Riverdale Dunes, Cherry Hills, The Ranch Country Club Favorite Pros to Watch: Guys with ugly swings like Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, and Graeme McDowell. I’ll TiVo them and break their swings down in slow motion.

Stan Sayers
Director of Instruction, MetaGolf Learning Center, Englewood, 303-799-0870; mcgetrickgolf.com
Overall Teaching Philosophy: I want my students to have consistently good setups and posture. Approaching a Beginner: I ask a lot of questions, many about any other sports he may play. That way I can use language that makes sense to that person. Maybe I can talk about golf in terms of tennis, if that person already understands that sport. Most Difficult Thing for a Beginner to Understand: Why they can’t learn this sport by themselves. The reason is because golf is often counterintuitive. Someone has to help you figure those things out. Sticking Point: That learning or fixing a golf swing is a process. I can teach you something today, but you may not actually be able to execute it perfectly by the time we’re finished with the lesson. Instructing Experience: 28 years Favorite Colorado Courses: Castle Pines Golf Club, Country Club of the Rockies

Gear

Drivers, irons, putters. Bags, balls, spikes. Where does a novice begin when it comes to golf equipment? We sat down with Colorado Ski & Golf’s golf manager JD Morris to see what kind of gear is perfect for getting the new guy (or gal) out on the links. —Geoff Van Dyke

  1. Balls
    Titleist DT Solo golf balls (Retail $27, CSG sale $20)
    Titleist is the number one golf ball manufacturer for good reason. “This ball is engineered for the golfer looking to get maximum distance and feel without spending an arm and a leg,” Morris says. “It has a nice, soft feel and tends to be quite resilient.”
  2. Hybrid
    Cleveland Golf Mashie Hybrid (Retail $170; CSG sale $149)
    Morris says this club “combines the power of a fairway wood with the control of an iron for long, accurate shots.”
  3. Wedge
    Cleveland CG16 Wedge (Retail $145, CSG sale $119)
    Start with one wedge in your bag. In this case, Morris suggests Cleveland’s CG16, which has a rough surface to enhance ball spin.
  4. Woods
    Callaway Octane Driver (Retail $375, CSG sale $299), Callaway Octane 3-Wood (Retail $250, CSG sale $199)
    These clubs are “designed for the golfer who needs help straightening his shot out, but it works for those with established swings as well, making them a great long-term value,” Morris says. “The 3-wood has all of the same features as the driver and is a good choice when you are facing shots that may not require the driver.”
  5. Putter
    Ping Karsten Series 1959 Anser 2 Putter (Retail $110, CSG sale $99)
    There are two main types of putters: blade putters and mallet putters. This blade putter uses a classic design, and “added weight on the heel and toe maximize stability for truer, straighter putts,” Morris says.
  6. Glove
    FootJoy Weather-Sof Golf Glove (Retail $15, CSG sale $11)
    Gloves aren’t a necessity—but they help golfers with grip, especially beginners. If you’re a righty, get a glove for your left hand. This particular glove is made from synthetic but breathable leather and has a solid grip.
  7. Irons
    TaylorMade Burner 2.0 Irons (Retail $880, CSG sale $699)
    Even if you’re a beginner, these irons will help you get the ball into the air and hit it straight. And, Morris says, these clubs have beveled soles, “so it’s easier to make contact with the ball than with the ground.” In other words, these clubs help make you better.
  8. Bag
    Sun Mountain Superlight SLX stand bag (Retail $190, CSG sale $150)
    The SLX is lightweight and perfect for the golfer who walks, but it works on a cart, too.
  9. Shoes
    FootJoy GreenJoy Golf Shoe (Retail $65, CSG sale $50)
    FootJoy sells these shoes at a low price because of the synthetic leather upper; they’re comfy, stable, and have changeable spikes.

Practice

They say practice makes perfect. OK, you may never be perfect, but getting out to hit a bucket on your lunch hour certainly will help your game. Here, a few places to knock it around.

  • City Park Golf Course
    The course has two putting greens and two chipping-pitching greens available for free. The driving range has 20 hitting stations where $4 will get you 35 balls. The range is open dawn to dusk on most days. cityofdenvergolf.com/citypark.htm
  • Park Hill Golf Club
    One of the bigger driving ranges around, Park Hill offers 80 grass stations, three pitching-chipping areas, and a large putting green. parkhillgc.com $3 for 25 to 30 balls // $6 for 60 to 65 balls $10 for 90 to 100 balls // $7.50 for indoor turf hitting for 30 minutes
  • Meridian Golf Club
    This is a private Jack Nicklaus Signature course, but it offers a pretty good deal on range memberships, which allow unlimited access to all of the club’s practice facilities, including two putting greens, four bunkers, chipping-pitching areas, three regulation-length practice holes (two par 3s and a par 4) and unlimited range balls. $525 annually; additional family members are $250 apiece. meridiangolfclub.com
  • Colorado National Golf Club
    One of the more scenic practice facilities along the Front Range, Colorado National Golf Club, located in Erie, has three separate tee boxes, a short-game area, a large putting green, and even a fairway practice bunker to help you get ready for the real thing. Small bucket, $5; large bucket, $9. coloradonationalgolfclub.com
  • Green Valley Ranch Golf Club
    This killer course has great indoor facilities with large garage doors that allow you to hit “outside” while standing inside (under heaters) so you can see your true ball flight. In-season, the course has 25 driving range stations and areas for putting and chipping. Green Valley Ranch offers range memberships for $350. gvrgolf.com

Mile High Municipals: Everyone knows about City Park Golf Course, but did you know the city of Denver operates six other public courses? Check out www.denvergov.org to learn more about the Overland, Wellshire, Kennedy, Willis Case, Evergreen, and Harvard Gulch courses. Hover over the “Living in Denver” tab, then “Recreation and Culture,” then scroll down to golf courses.

Steals & Deals

  • Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks, Silverthorne
    This Summit County course offers 9 & Dine Fridays—a series of evenings that combines golf with cuisine from around the world. The events (starting at $45) will be held at 4 p.m. every other Friday, June through September. A nine-hole, shotgun-start golf outing will be followed by dinner at the Raven Grille. ravenatthreepeaks.com
  • The Courses at Hyland Hills
    Kids 10 and older play free from Monday through Thursday after 5 p.m. on the Blue Course, while kids of any age can play the North or South par 3 courses when accompanied by a paying adult. golfhylandhills.com
  • The Inverness Golf Club, Englewood
    The Twilight Emerald Fairways package, starting at $329, includes a deluxe hotel room, breakfast in bed, and golf for two with tee times after 2:30 p.m. The Go Pro package ($409) includes a stay in a deluxe room, a 60-minute golf lesson for two with a golf professional, lunch for two in the Golf Grille, and two rounds of golf after 2:30 p.m. invernesshotel.com
  • Park Hill Golf Club
    This close-to-downtown course offers a five-holes-for-$5 special for the first hour after sunrise. It’s a great way to get in a few holes—minus the wind and mosquitoes—before heading straight down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to work. parkhillgc.com
  • Fossil Trace, Golden
    This course offers killer e-specials. Create a username and password to access printable custom coupons. The discounts constantly change, but look for deals like nine holes for $16 before sunset. fossiltrace.com
  • Vail Golf Club, Vail
    Each summer this public course hosts a monthly Ladies’ Night Out, which includes a shotgun tournament, greens fees, carts, drink specials, and a light dinner at Happy Valley Grill. Plus, the course offers a weekly Ladies’ Clinic ($25), where 12 women are instructed on both their short and long games, equipment needs, and course management. vailrec.com/golf.cfm

Hitting the Hills

Mountain courses aren’t generally kind to beginning golfers—the difficult terrain has a tendency to eat golf balls by the dozen. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t partake. After all, Colorado’s mountains provide some of the most gorgeous golfing scenery in the country. We recommend making a tee time, getting your ego in check, and playing “no sweat” rules—which means you should pick up your ball when you need to because you’re not playing for par anyway. With input from local pros, we’ve selected a short list of courses that, while they might not be easy, are good bets for newer players.