It’s tee time in Denver

City Park Golf Course opens to the public

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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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