Dream 18

If Virginia is for lovers and Florida is for retirees, then Colorado is for golfers.

Surprisingly, this isn’t a widely realized slogan … yet. The Sunbelt states of Florida, Arizona, California and the Carolinas, may always be more highly regarded as golf destinations than Colorado, but that’s not such a bad thing for those of us already here in the Centennial State.

Not only does the lack of notoriety make it easier for us to have our names scribbled onto a tee sheet, but it also makes a number of the best holes in the state less crowded with cameras once we get there.

So to find Colorado’s best golf holes, we searched the entire state and found some hidden gems amid the guaranteed golfing gold. Then we put them all together and created our “Dream 18,” the one course we travel to in our minds during those sunny summer days when we should be outside playing instead of inside working. We call it the Denver Life Golf Club, where there’s always time for another round. Feel free to join us!
#1 Cherry Hills Country Club, No. 1
Par-Four; 397 yards
Architect: William Flynn
Location: Englewood
Private

Arnold Palmer drove this green to start the final round of the 1960 US Open, in which he came back from seven strokes behind to win. So, while some may admire the 14th hole at Cherry Hills more, for us, Colorado golf starts on the first hole at Cherry Hills. And Palmer agrees, “Without a doubt, the first hole at Cherry Hills is my favorite there,” Palmer recently told Denver Life. “I was convinced that, if I could drive the green in that last round, I could get a good round going, which, of course, is just what happened. Funny thing. I was so charged up that I ran the first putt well past the hole and almost three-putted.”

#2 Cordillera, Summit Course, No. 12
Par-Four, 504 yards
Architect: Jack Nicklaus
Location: Edwards
Semi-Private

Pull out your driver, because the 12th on the Summit Course at Cordillera is more than 9,000 feet in elevation and you may never have the chance to drive the ball this far again. The elevation and high ranchland setting also minimizes the number of trees growing around this mountaintop course, so gone are the thin shot corridors more common to pine forest golf. Plus, the greenside alpine pond looks as natural as any runoff collection marsh found near any number of Colorado summits.

#3 Sanctuary, No. 1
Par-Five; 604 yards
Architect: Jim Engh
Location: Sedalia
Private

Getting to the tee box at Sanctuary is accomplishment enough; this private club is only accessible to the public during fundraiser tournaments (which in 2010 raised more than $4.8 million for 24 charitable causes). For those who do sign up, their goodwill and charity donation are rewarded early with the view down the 200 vertical feet that this hole drops en route to the green. Now, pull out your driver, and with the whole Front Range surrounding you, bomb it!

#4 Arrowhead Golf Club, No. 13
Par-Three; 174 yards
Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Location: Littleton
Public

Since the course opened in 1974, the 13th at Arrowhead has been a poster child for the natural beauty that is inherent to Colorado golf. Framed by two monolithic, red rock cliffs, with a mountain pond as a backdrop, from the tee it can be difficult to find the right club to carry the brush separating you from green. Fortunately, the image of this iconic par-three is what you’ll remember regardless of whether you did or didn’t choose correctly.

#5 Fossil Trace Golf Club, No. 12
Par-Five; 585 yards
Architect: Jim Engh
Location: Golden
Public

The creation of the 12th at Fossil Trace started some 64 million years ago when the then rainforest that would become the town of Golden was inhabited by dinosaurs. Today, the sandstone holding the fossilized evidence of the former populace rises 60 feet up from the pin on this par-five and can help put any missed putts into perspective. But just getting to that point, traveling 585 yards and 64 million years while passing the 20-foot-tall pillars that guard the green complex, feels like a historic feat in and of itself.

#6 Colorado Golf Club, No. 14
Par-Four; 329 yards
Architects: Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw
Location: Parker
Private

As the truly reachable par-four on our list, this Coore and Crenshaw-designed hole offers enough risk to make your palms sweat as you reach for driver or iron. The hole is laid out in front of you, straightforward enough from the tee, that it may look simple. But as is the brilliance of so many of Coore and Crenshaw’s best work, this hole’s subtlety doesn’t reveal itself until you’ve reached where your tee shot comes to rest. If your ball has stopped opposite the flag on the kidney-bean-shaped bunker that fronts the green, grin and accept your three-putt fate. Then emblazon the green in your mind for the next time you’re standing on this hole’s tee.

#7 Castle Pines Golf Club, No. 10
Par-Four; 496 yards
Architect: Jack Nicklaus
Location: Castle Rock
Private

The 10th at Castle Pines has been picked as one of the best 18 holes in America, so it’s probably the least surprising hole to be found on our list. But just marvel at the 200-plus-yards of trees that the pros had to carry during the International and all thoughts of lists go fleeing from the mind. After leaving the elevated tee, the 10th flows smoothly downhill to where it meets a rightward bending green that’s tucked behind a small pond. Having Pikes Peak in the background certainly helps as well.

#8 The Club at Pradera, No. 15
Par-Three; 182 yards
Architect: Jim Engh
Location: Parker
Private

Jim Engh, whose home is at Pradera, calls this a “sexy” par-three because it’s not too long, but intriguing. And, he’s right. The small pond in front of the green is in perfect proportion and almost mirrors the green complex. While Engh carved this hole out of the hillside, it looks more as though hills gave way to the golf, knowing the potential this hole held. Then there are the two small pot bunkers both fronting and backing the green. Simple, symmetric and as sexy as a hole can get.

#9 Red Sky Ranch & Golf Club, Norman Course, No. 6
Par-Four; 351 yards
Architect: Greg Norman
Location: Avon
Semi-Private

At nearly 8,000 feet in elevation, it would be wrong to assume this par-four doesn’t play as long as its yardage would indicate given the second shot is all uphill. On alternating days, the Norman Course at Red Sky is open to guests staying at a Vail Resorts property and members of the golf club only, so getting to tackle the brutish sixth hole here requires an overnight stay. But after traversing Norman’s rugged mix of scrub oak off the tee and up the rising emerald grass en route to the elevated green on your approach, the luxe accommodations will feel well-earned.

#10 The Broadmoor, East Course, No. 9
Par-Five; 540 yards
Architect: Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Location: Colorado Springs
Public

As iconic a setting as there is in Colorado, the East Course at The Broadmoor was designed originally by Donald Ross in 1918 and then was mixed with newer holes, including the par-five ninth, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. The brilliance of today’s East Course is that holes like the bending dogleg-left ninth befit the original Ross design as if they were designed together. The geometric green-front water hazard is as unique as can be found in the state.

#11 The Ridge at Castle Pines North, No. 17
Par-Three, 175 yards
Architect: Tom Weiskopf
Location: Castle Rock
Public

Benefiting from the same topography and vistas as the neighboring, yet private, courses at Castle Pines and Sanctuary, The Ridge stands out as one of the most enjoyable and accessible daily fee golf experiences along the Front Range. On the 17th, four bunkers block any chance of a run up into the green, but hit it long and there’s a sandstone outcropping waiting to defect your ball off course. Once on the green, two separate ridges run through it, just to keep you from getting too distracted by the eroding sandstone towers that surround you.

#12 Adam’s Mountain Country Club, No. 14
Par-Five, 533 yards
Architect: Tom Weiskopf
Location: Eagle
Private

The 14th at Adam’s Mountain is a reachable par-five with a long green, so there’s little to stop long hitters from going for it in two after a successful blind drive off the tee. Except, of course, for Brush Creek, which runs by the left side of the green and down the entire fairway. And the large greenside bunker on the right prevents you from having a safe bailout area if you go for it. On second thought, try hitting a short lay up to the end of the fairway, just where a small inlet creek crosses the fairway at 75 yards from the pin and enjoy the stands of cottonwood trees that line the hole from there up to the green.

#13 Roaring Fork Club, No. 16
Par-Three, 177 yards
Architect: Jack Nicklaus
Location: Basalt
Private

Straddling the Roaring Fork River outside Basalt, the private Roaring Fork Club has five holes that play on or near the water, but it’s the 16th, with the river running the entire length of the hole that provides the Rocky Mountain version of a coastline golf hole. Hit it right and the Fork will carry your ball downriver, go short and there’s plenty of wetlands waiting to help with the more common form of golf ball disappearances. Of course, like the few other truly great riverside golf holes in the Rockies, the sound of the river can soothe any bad shot.

#14 Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks, No. 17
Par-Four; 468 yards
Architects: Tom Lehman, Hurdzan/Fry
Golf Design
Location: Silverthorne
Semi-Private

Three hundred and fifty yards into this 468-yard hole, a small creek cuts across the fairway. It’s a naturally beautiful element of the hole, along with the backdrop of Aspens, that may cause many golfers to pay too much attention to it. Those who do, at the expense of overlooking the two MacKenzie bunkers that front the raised green, will hopefully remember the beauty of this hole as opposed to their high score.

#15 The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, No. 14
Par-Four; 370 yards
Architect: Jim Engh
Location: Grand Junction
Public

There is no need to travel to Sedona, Arizona or St. George, Utah, just to play amid a sea of red rock canyon walls. To do that, all you have to do is drive west to Grand Junction and step into the canyons that make up Redlands Mesa. By the time you get to the sharp dogleg-right, you may want to try and hit your tee shot into Arizona. If you can, all that will be left is a 90-degree turn and a chip onto the green. If not, then prepare for a blind second shot through two rock outcroppings.

#16 Cougar Canyon, No. 16
Par-Three; 161 yards
Architect: Nicklaus Design
Location: Trinidad
Semi-Private

Every course should be required to include one short par three among its 18. For our course, that shorter par-three may just also be the most scenic hole in the state. Set in southern Colorado, Cougar Canyon isn’t as famous as many of the Front Range tracks, but it should be. And as more and more people hit (or attempt to hit) tee shots onto this island green set in the middle of a dry wash, it probably will be.

#17 Lakota Canyon Ranch Golf Club, No. 18
Par-Five; 557 yards
Architect: Jim Engh
Location: New Castle
Public

It may not be a true split fairway, but the smart play on Lakota Canyon’s finishing hole is to play it as if it features two divided fairways. Aggressive players can go for the green in two so long as they can get enough carry under their ball to cover the wasteland in front of the green. Of course, playing smart still entails chipping a third shot over a steep wash separating the bailout area from the green. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

#18 The Golf Club at Bear Dance, No. 16
Par-Four; 431 yards
Architects: Corey Aurand, Stuart Bruening, Dennis Hogan and Brian Whitcomb
Location: Larkspur
Public

Whereas Arnold Palmer’s shot on the first hole at the exclusive Cherry Hills Country Club started off our Dream 18, Colorado’s hallmark to quality, amateur and public golf, Bear Dance, takes us home. After hitting a tee shot into Pikes Peak and the entirety of the Front Range, the hole moves downhill with an ample fairway, leaving a short second shot over a pond and onto the green. It all sounds (but never quite looks) that simple doesn’t it?

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