By Joe Carabello
Hole-1 is an inviting downhill par-4, a slight dogleg right. Big hitters should beware of a sand bunker on the left side of the fairway. The green has a deep swale in the middle, requiring careful thought for approach shots.
The second hole is an uphill par-3, with a large, receptive and relatively flat green.
Number-3 replaces what was previously the second hole. A large sand bunker protects the front/left side of large green which has significant slope.
“Holes 3, 4 and 5 are like memory lane, but with nice upgrades,” said Ed Mate, executive director/CEO of the Colorado Golf Association. “Green complexes are interesting with many cool features.
Having held the top leadership position for the Colorado Golf Association for more than 20 years, Mate is familiar with golf course restoration projects. He oversaw the 2009 conversion of Mira Vista Golf Course (previously Lowry AFB) - an anemic, aging facility – to a championship course, appropriately renamed Common Ground. Common Ground is the official home of the Colorado Golf Association, the steward of all-things Colorado golf including a dynamic junior golf program. He discovered golf at City Park while growing up in east Denver, and earned his own Evans scholarship awarded to outstanding caddies and students. Mate is also an alumnus of CU-Boulder. He has toured the course and his impressions are noteworthy.
Holes 3-6 were previously holes 2-5, a linear stretch of the layout which lacked imagination and interest. Golf course architect Todd Schoeder, whose firm Icon Golf Studios consulted with Hale Irwin on this project, remedied this lack of creativity by moving tons of soil throughout the course, creating undulations and textures which give the course a new identity. The green complexes on these holes are strategic and complex, protecting the course’s challenge and adding a dimension which was previously absent from the course. These green surrounds also add an interesting dimension of aesthetics.
Hole-5 is a par-3. The length from front tee is 114 yards, from the championship tee, 212 yards. A sand bunker was placed on the right side of the fairway approximately 45 yards short of the green, prompting a question about its purpose.
Holes 7-9 are completely and beautifully redesigned, with 7, a dogleg left par-4; and 8, a par-3, running north and south, a direction pattern which the old course provided only once.
The closing hole on the front nine will become a favorite. This long par-5 incorporates a classic risk/reward option for those players with the ability and courage to reach the green in two shots. The pond which holds recycled irrigation water runs along the left side of the fairway, nearly up to the green. Crossing the pond on a long second shot is required to set up an attempt at a putt for eagle.
Nostalgia for longtime regulars at City Park might also kick in on hole-10, which was previously hole-14. All familiarity with the course ends here. The other 13 holes are completely redesigned, most of them featuring large greens with moderate but strategic “movement” and slope. The options for pin placements are virtually endless.
Holes 11-13, in the southwest corner of the property, were designed around the stormwater detention holding pond and the channel which moves the water toward its ultimate destination, the Platte River. The par-4 11th requires an accurate drive to avoid the pond, and the fairway slopes insidiously steep left-to-right, toward the pond. The elevated green rises well above the fairway, framed by the familiar twin steeples of Loyola church across York Street.
The many tons of soil which was excavated to dig the pond and channel were used on-site, elevating the tee boxes and greens above the 100-year flood plain. This makes for a phenomenal setting of golf, especially considering the relatively flat section of ground inherited for this quadrant of the course.
“The new holes really remind us what this project was about – stormwater detention,” said Mate. “That part of the property is truly new and very cool.”
Number-12 is a par-3 with a deep gulley separating the elevated tee boxes from an elevated green. Tee shots left short of the green will mean a very difficult recovery shot.
Hole-13 takes full advantage of the detention pond, the outgoing water channel and elevation changes. This par-5 demands an accurate, downhill drive to a safe landing area which leaves players with two more shots to find the green, which lies uphill.
Number-14 crosses the channel and presents players with a spectacular approach shot to a green slightly hidden from site from the tee boxes. The green is significantly elevated, tucked behind some of the old-growth trees in the northwest corner of the course.
Hole 15 is essentially the old starting hole, sending players eastward for one hole. Number 16 is one of Denver’s Director of Golf Scott Rethlake’s favorites, a gradual downhill par-5 which requires a strategic drive to avoid the trees and sand bunker protecting the right side of this dogleg right hole. As Rethlake says: “stay left!”
The undulations in the fairway and around the green is considerable, echoing a theme which architect Todd Schoeder utilized throughout the course¬.
A treacherous par-3 crossing a shallow ravine greets players before they move onto the closing hole, an uphill par-4 protected with sand bunkers on the left side of the fairway, front-left and front-right sides of the green, and a large wrap-around bunker behind the green.
Players will feel exhilaration, exhaustion, or both, as they depart the 18th hole. But the site of the striking new clubhouse will beckon them for post-round refreshments while they rehash their experience on Denver’s latest masterpiece.
Another gem was added to Denver’s portfolio of parks and public facilities with the reopening of City Park Golf Course.
A soft opening of the course took place on Aug. 20. Attended by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Executive Director of Parks and Recreation Happy Haynes and other dignitaries, they hit ceremonial opening shots at City Park’s historic, reimagined golf course.
“Now, over a century after the first opening, we get to add that rich history of diversity and inclusion at this historic golf course,” said Hancock.
The facility opened to the public Sept. 1.
Not only is the golf course spectacular, the clubhouse and the stormwater management system were designed and engineered to serve the community with distinction and utility. By synchronizing these three projects, the city scored a rare and coveted albatross — golf jargon for three shots under par on a given hole.
Lesley Thomas, city engineer, spoke about the considerable benefits of the stormwater project. It will resolve the issue of chronic surface flooding in neighborhoods north of the course, which inspired the rebuilding project. A retention pond capable of holding more than 67 million gallons of water, along with channels for moving the water in or out of the pond, is deftly utilized as a water feature for holes in the southwest corner of the property. The great plains cottonwood trees framing this section of the course remain as sentinels, casting familiar shadows to those who have played the course for decades.
City engineers designed and built a filtration system for removing minerals, sediment and debris from the water as it is sent to its ultimate destination — the Platte River. Much of the filtration system utilizes natural features like grasses lining the channels.
The course is routed so that both the front-9 and the back-9 start and end near the clubhouse, which has been thoughtfully moved to the middle of the property, at its highest elevation.
The 11,315 square-foot clubhouse competes with the golf course as the crown jewel of the project. Soaring floor-to-ceiling, west-facing windows provide iconic views of the downtown Denver skyline and mountain ranges. The large, west-facing patio provides the same dramatic views.
The clubhouse bar and restaurant can be divided into two sound-proof rooms for private functions by using utilizing built-in, high-tech movable walls. The state-of-the-art commercial kitchen can cater parties as large as 200 people.
The clubhouse is also home to the course’s golf shop, staff offices and a conference room; and a basement serves as cart storage, washing and battery recharging operation, as well as rooms for golf club repairs.
First Tee’s offices and classroom are also located inside the clubhouse. First Tee is a nonprofit organization that teaches children core values and life skills through the game of golf. The four-hole First Tee children’s course, named in honor of longtime instructor and City Park fixture Chubb Harden, was relocated from the southwest corner of the course to a convenient section north of the clubhouse.
Tom Woodard, currently the Director of Golf for Foothills Recreation District, was the head professional at City Park from 1987-1989, and director of Denver Golf from 1997-2006.
Having first set foot on the course as a 10-year-old, Woodard parlayed his experiences at City Park golf into an Evans Scholarship at University of Colorado-Boulder, twice earning All-Conference honors on his way to a first team All-America recognition in golf. He played on the PGA Tour for nearly three years, and his lengthy list of accolades include induction in the National Black Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
“When Happy Haines informed me of plans to close City Park for renovations, I was skeptical,” Woodard said. “There were rumors of developing the land for housing, but when she informed me the budget was over $46 million, I felt confident the city was committed to a first-rate project.”
He added that he has played golf all over the world.
“I can assure you that it’s a rarity to find a championship golf course in the middle of a city,” Woodard said.
Scott Rethlake, Denver’s director of golf, summarized the initial operating logistics for the balance of the 2020 golf season.
“There will be limited play while maintaining the health of the turf grow-in,” Rethlake said.
The earliest tee times will be 11 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Intervals between starting times will be stretched from traditional 10-minute intervals to 15 minutes.
Riding carts will be prohibited this season, but pull-carts are allowed. The 320-yard deep driving range will utilize synthetic turf mats until spring 2021. A large, undulating practice green is open, but the chipping green with sand bunker is requiring more time to complete its grow-in.
One of the most impressive design considerations is the variety of tee boxes, providing accessible and fair golf for players of all abilities. The front tees dramatically shorten the course, but the thrills and challenges approaching, surrounding and on the surface of the greens, remain the same as those playing the championship tees.
Ed Mate, executive director and CEO of Colorado Golf Association, was introduced to golf at City Park, competing there for East High School while earning his Evans caddie scholarship.
He said the course was not golf’s birthplace, but his golf birthplace.
“It showed me that golf does not see color,” Mate said. “Green is a common denominator for all who are smitten.”
For Denverites, green is the new gold.
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