A beginner's guide to golf in Colorado. Fore!
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.
These courses are all suitable (read: shorter and much less highfalutin) for beginning to intermediate players.
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.