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When COVID-19 brought life in Denver to a standstill in 2020, golf was one of the first things to emerge from lockdown. Consequently, beginners and experts alike flocked to local courses—and, now, golf has never been more popular in Denver.
But with dozens of courses in the metro area and tee times bordering on full thanks to golf’s boom in popularity, it can be difficult to know where to play. To help you find the right track for your game, we played lots of golf (yes, our job is very difficult), and then spoke with some of the best instructors in the area to ensure you get the most out of every round.
Editor’s Note 7/15/21: A previous version of this article was published in the May 2017 issue of 5280. It has since been updated to reflect current locations and prices.
Where To Play
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.
The crown jewel of the City of Denver’s public courses, the century-plus-old course reopened in 2020 after three years of construction turned it into a rain-water collection area for the city. As industrial as that sounds, City Park’s layout got a renovation, too, creating an entirely novel and imaginative course. A brand new clubhouse was also constructed, but in a new spot that gives 19th-holers an expansive view of downtown Denver’s growing skyline.
Green fee: $26 to $36 Monday through Thursday; $38 to $48 on weekends; $18 cart fee for 18 holes
Insider tip: The course may look benign, with very few hazards apart from the bordering roads. But the undulating, multitiered greens have a way of turning routine two-putts into frustrating three-jacks.
Every summer, pros and amateurs descend on Green Valley Ranch Golf Club for the Colorado Open (July 29 through August 1). 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: $65 Monday through Thursday during peak season (May 3 through September 26); $80 Friday through Sunday; $20 cart fee
Insider tip: Any emotional trauma suffered on Green Valley Ranch’s greens can be salved at the on-site restaurant, Ebert’s Terrace, named after a former nearby farm.
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 (no one wants to unwrap a club from a tree). Plus, golfers can don anything from cargo shorts to jeans; Willis Case doesn’t brook pretension.
Green fee: $26 to $36 Monday through Thursday; $38 to $48 on weekends; $18 cart fee for 18 holes
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: $45 before 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; from $66 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—but be wary of the winds that come sweeping down the plains.
Fox Hollow Golf Course in Lakewood 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: $52 for residents on weekdays, $59 for nonresidents; $59 for residents on weekends, $67 for nonresidents; $20 cart fee
Insider tip: If you have trouble finding a tee time in Denver, Fox Hollow’s plethora of holes usually translates into open spots. But its courses get very busy (translation: you’re likely in for a five-hour-plus round).
Perhaps the most picturesque public golf option in the metro area, Walnut Creek’s location inside a preserve means golfers are surrounded by nature in the middle of the suburbs (Westminster). Those native areas, which can grow taller than two feet, often lurk just paces off the fairways and demand precision for tee shots.
Green fee: $46 on weekdays; $55 on weekends; $17 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.
Since opening in Berthoud in 2018, TPC Colorado has succeeded in bringing regular professional golf back to the Centennial State via the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes, which is part of the Korn Ferry Tour (Triple-A golf). And it’s more than just a bold face: In 2019, Golf Digest named TPC Colorado its third-best new private course in the country.
Green fee: $225 (includes 18 holes, cart, and range balls)
Insider tip: Yes, TPC Colorado is a private course. But members of the general public can play Monday through Wednesday, after 11 a.m. The layout is definitely worth the price tag (at least once)—and playing hooky from work.
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.
Green fees: $8 to $13 Monday through Thursday; $10 to $15 on weekends
Insider tip: 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 May through September, Harvard Gulch flicks on its lights at 8:30 p.m. so golf-lovers can take a swing or two under the stars. (Register the Wednesday before by calling 720-865-0450.)
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, proved to be so successful that Topgolf debuted a second metro location in Thornton.
Green fee: $27 to $50 per bay per hour Friday through Sunday; $27 to $47 Monday through Thursday
Insider tip: Go on a Tuesday if you can, when bay rentals are 50 percent off.
How To Get Better
Before you buy a new driver, give these exercises—from Dee Tidwell, owner of Colorado Golf Fitness Club and a Golf Digest top 50 golf-fitness trainer—a chance to elevate your game.
How to Fix: Your slice
The Issue: 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
How to Fix: Poor contact
The Issue: Your core 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
How to Fix: Your way-too-short drives
The Issue: 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
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, former 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, director of instruction, Peak Golf Academy
Find more tips at coloradogolffitnessclub.com.
Equipment to Buy
The Denver-based putter company ($199) promises to take seven to nine strokes off your game. Too good to be true? We haven’t tried it (but probably). The company claims there’s some science behind that vow: Its design employs “gear effect,” whereby off-center strikes automatically straighten toward the hole. (Think: Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack.)
The three founders of this Denver-based apparel brand sought to design clothing that married golf and the outdoors (and eschewed the sport’s traditional preppy vibe). The results are camo polos and quirky graphic tees that are sure to set you apart from the Vineyard Vines set.
This Denver-produced treat saw a mountain of orders following Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters win. (The 15-time major champion wasn’t necessarily chewing Golf Gum, but he was chomping away, and Google searches led the masses to this Apollo Brands product.) The caffeine at the center of Golf Gum purports to keep you focused on the course, while chewing is supposed to calm anxiety.
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.