Jack Nicklaus designed the course at Castle Pines Golf Club in 1981 and he carved it out of a scrub oak and pine forest in the heart of Colorado, not far from Denver.
Castle Pines is famous for the International tournament which is played under an unusual and unique scoring system which, in a similar way to Dr Frank Stableford’s system, awards points for birdies, eagles or better and subtracts for bogeys or worse. This is Colorado’s only PGA Tour event and naturally it provides for some genuine excitement contested on a thrilling course.
The ball travels about 10% further at altitude and Castle Pines is set some 6,500 feet above sea level so expect some flattering distances. Jack Nicklaus disturbed very little earth here to create his course here at Castle Pines and the holes wind their way through avenues of trees. A couple of holes are more open and it’s from these holes that you appreciate the scale and delight of being perched at Rocky Mountain high.
Castle Pines clearly benefited from the television exposure it received when hosting The International event on the PGA Tour from 1986 until 2006. The Stableford format also was a real plus because it showed that different formats -- rather than a predictable 72-hole event -- could work very well and clearly have audience interest.
The winners included such stars as Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Jose Maria Olazabal, Greg Norman, Vijay Singh -- and a host of others.
Credit for the club's standing also has to go to founder Jack Vickers who wanted to create an "Augusta National experience" in the greater Denver area. The layout is always in pristine condition and the views of the front range is truly inspiring.
The course clearly has its moments and you begin the day with a rousing plunging downhill par-5. The backdrop when you stand on the tee for the opening hole is quite scenic and gets you into the round immediately.
The outward side works its way downhill before making its way back to the clubhouse for the turn. The holes at the start are fun to play -- but clearly shaped to the max so at times the holes given the appearance in being built on top of the land instead of blending into it.
The closing 9th is well done but a bit artificial in character with a pond on the right side of the drive zone seeking to catch any errant shot played in that direction. Nonetheless, it's a strong hole and requires a well-played tee shot and approach.
The inward side also begins in epic fashion. This time a downhill long par-4 of 521 yards. Keep in mind, the mile plus altitude will help propel one's ball but the key at the 10th is finding the fairway because if you don't a menacing frontal pond awaits the half-hearted approach. Arguably the 9th and 10th at Castle Pines are the two most challenging long par-4's one can play in The Centennial State.
The inward side has more scenic beauty as you work your way through a series of holes lined with stately ponderosa and fir trees. Similar to the front side -- the back nine works its ways downhill before moving back uphill for the rousing climax. The 17th is not particularly a classic hole but Jack's brilliance came in having a penultimate par-5 which often played a major role during The International event. The closing long par-4 18th concludes the round well with a stately clubhouse and epic tower bringing the round to an end.
The main missing ingredient at Castle Pines is the lack of a truly epic short par-4. The Nicklaus approach early on in his career often eschewed such inclusion and it's a pity because the layout would have really benefited from such a hole or two.
All in all, Castle Pines is striking for its overall presentation. There's housing but it's presence really does not interfere with one's play. In the years following the absence of the PGA Tour, it's hard to fathom how the layout has not been more rightly appreciated given the coming onto the scene of other high priced layouts in Colorado that truly do not have as much to offer as Castle Pines.
As the pendulum of design appreciation shifted towards the likes of Coore/Crenshaw, Hanse, Doak -- the Nicklaus efforts have often received lesser attention. Much of that likely tied to overall preference and the style of the 1980s clearly has changed a good bit since that time. Castle Pines clearly does not present riveting golf in all senses but the sum total of what is present still commands worthy attention given how its arrival clearly played a major role in the overall development of top tier golf in Colorado and what the club still provides to this day.
M. James Ward
At Castle Pines, Jack Nicklaus built a challenging course with elevation changes, mountain ponds, and babbling brooks strategically placed to gobble up your ball. Golf balls fly about 10 percent farther in the thin Colorado air. Number 10 is a 485-yard par 4 and almost as many yards down. Number 18 features another of Nicklaus’ signature concepts: the double fairway, with a riskier route for longer hitters and a safer route for shorter hitters. I didn’t do well on the back nine [we played the back nine first], but the front nine was another story.
Number 1 is a breathtaking downhill par 5 of 644 yards, then the longest hole on the PGA Tour. You could stand on that tee box all day just to drink in the fantastic vista. I hit a long sweeping drive that had a hang time over these mountains that would have made even an NFL punter proud. My 3-wood was equally well struck, and there I was 130 yards from the green and still more downhill to go. I hit a 9-iron to 20 feet and drained that 20-footer for birdie. “Yes! I birdied the longest hole on the PGA Tour. Take that Jack Nicklaus.” My partner joked, “Where were those shots on the other nine?” Larry Berle.