Venue for the PGA Championship in 1967 when Don January lifted the famous old Wanamaker Trophy, the course at Columbine Country Club was laid out by Henry Hughes a decade before it came to national prominence by hosting one of the four Majors.
Rees Jones and his associate Greg Muirhead were brought in to develop a master plan for the course in 2019, with bunker relocation and removal identified as a top priority. Consequently, sand hazards were all rebuilt with Better Billy Bunker liners and new, high-quality white sand.
A number of trees were also thinned out and more short grass areas introduced around the greens. In addition, the short par four 6th was changed from a left dog legged hole to its original right doglegging configuration, allowing the club’s old par three 7th to be brought back into play.
The severe green on the par three 10th was rebuilt and the fairway of the 18th was moved left towards Dutch Creek, along with the removal of a large cottonwood tree that used to sit in the middle of the final fairway.
The recent Rees Jones renovation combined with its history as a major championship venue make Columbine a unique club in the Denver area. The turnover in membership is evident with the major improvements to the course as well the new $25 million clubhouse.
The renovation has left the best parts of the course in tact, which is the majority of the green complexes. They have some of the most interesting and true putting surfaces in the area. The most noticeable difference is in the bright white sand that has been used for all of the bunkering on the course. It does a much better job of defining each of the holes from the tee and really elevates the course overall. They have also removed a fair number of the large mature trees on the course to enhance the layout. There are still plenty to get yourself into trouble if you are wayward off the tee, but it has opened things up aesthetically.
If you haven't played the course recently, it is certainly worth tracking down a member to get reacquainted. It is easy to see why Columbine is becoming the model for many other clubs in the Denver area.
Columbine was designed by Henry Hughes, who designed several courses in the area, and opened in 1955. In 1967 it hosted the PGA, won by Don January in a playoff over Don Massengale. Jack Nicklaus finished a stroke out of the playoff due to a second round of 75. Columbine was scheduled to host the PGA in 1966, but heavy rains resulted in the flooding of the course by the South Platte River. The PGA swapped Columbine with Firestone South. This was the final time the PGA settled a tie via an 18 hole playoff the following day, moving instead to a sudden death format, before ultimately moving to a three-hole aggregate.
At the time Columbine was the longest course in PGA history at 7,436 yards, but the course does sit at over 5300 feet of elevation, thereby playing approximately 10% less yardage. The Open championship was played the previous week at Royal Liverpool, one of five times in the 1960’s the two majors were played so close together. In 1969, they were finally moved a month apart.
Columbine also hosted five LPGA tour events in 1977 and 1980-1983 won twice by JoAnne Carner and Beth Daniel and once by Pat Bradley. It is used today as a qualifier for the U.S. Amateur.
Rees Jones was recently called on to revitalize the course, restoring the original routing as close as possible, making two new greens, and re-doing all of the bunkers. The course is kept in good condition. The course crosses a road several times during the round, although there is no real noise from cars/trucks as there is not heavy traffic near the course. At various times you do notice the homes that border the course.
The most interesting thing to me is that the course is essentially flat. I counted only one real rise in the golf course. There are a few valleys that can come into play off to the sides of a couple of fairways. For a course so close to the edge of the Rocky Mountains, this is unexpected. Cherry Hills is not very far away and it has several hills. Driving to the course one encounters hills. The lack of movement in the land is noticeable and at times one feels as if they are playing a private course in Florida, with a lot less water hazards, but in an upscale neighborhood. As would be expected with Rees Jones, the bunkering is pretty standard in terms of shape and location. There is nothing wrong with this, but at times one wishes for some “surprise.” There are a few elevated greens, and it is on these greens where the bunkers offer more of a challenge due to their depth and size.
There is no real interesting architecture here to discuss or admire, but there are several good holes on each nine. It is a course where one can score well and it is a course that one will enjoy playing. The round is quick here as the tee is generally located right next to the previous green, with the exception of the walk to the tenth and thirteenth holes on the back nine where you cross roads.
The Black tees play to 7396 yards, par 72, rated 75.4/143. The Blue tees are 7022 yards, rated 73.5/140. The White tees are 6708 yards rated 71.8/136. There are three sets of less tees. I felt the ratings were a bit high given the openness of the course and access to the greens. However, the greens are sneaky quick and have many subtle undulations. The greens are the major defense of the golf course. We played the Blue tees. The back nine is more difficult than the front nine.
1. Par 4 – 382/365. This hole offers a gentle start as a short dogleg right with flanking bunkers at the turn and a large bunker to either side of a raised back to front green. There is a 4 feet difference in the tier of this green so while it is easy to find the long green, it is a difficult two putt.
2. Par 5 – 531/513. You cross a road for the first time to get to a welcoming par 5. This hole seems to be straight but it has an early slight bend to the right. Bigger hitters will try to fly the trees and flanking bunkers, two on the left and one on the right. If they stay left they risk ending up on the second green even if it is protected by trees. Trees line the fairway on both sides, thicker on the right to protect the houses. The green has a long bunker on the left side and is tilted back to front with a bowl near the front that is very quick.
3. Par 3 – 235/210. A nice long par 3 with two very large bunkers at the front corners. This green felt a little more level than the previous two.
4. Par 4 – 498/453. The best hole on the front nine requires the tee shot to clear a pond that cuts diagonally across the fairway but is easily carried. The bigger danger for longer hitters is a second pond that cuts across more than half of the fairway coming in from the left side. Longer players must go down the right side but by doing so they have a less advantageous route to the green, particularly if the flag is on the right. The green has a very large bunker placed on either side to the green that is raised the most on the front nine. I think the green has a near five feet change in elevation and a definite horizontal tier in it. It is an exceptional hole.
5. Par 4 – 341. This is another par 4 playing to an island green due to the water wrapping around the front and both sides. The play into the green is from the left side due to some trees that hang over the right side of the fairway. There is a bunker on the left turn that one can get into but it is a somewhat shallow bunker so recovery is very possible to the green. The green is steeply tilted back to front and right to left. We had a front left pin location, likely the easiest on that hole.
6. Par 4 – 353/340. This hole was recently returned to the original routing. It was previously changed to a dogleg left with ten bunkers along the fairway to the green making the hole very out-of-place with the rest of the course. It is now a dogleg right where the shorter hitter plays to go between trees acting as goalposts while longer players play beyond the trees and come into the green from the left. Longer players with confidence with try to drive the green. The green has a bunker fronting it and a knob on the right middle that leads to a plateau back right of the green. It is very speedy down the knob so finding the correct tier is important.
7. Par 3 – 195/185. The green sits uphill a bit and there is decent contouring to the land to the left of the green. The green is fronted by two bunkers with one on the back right. There are definite swales and a back left plateau inside the green. It is a fine par 3.
8. Par 5 – 605/574. This is the second longest hole on the course playing slightly to the right. The left side has a fall-off towards Dutch Creek. There is a collection area of three bunkers and a single bunker pretty far up on the right side where the fairway narrows. Two other bunkers are placed very far apart on the right as you near the green. The green is surrounded by bunkers and has a back to front tilt where the front half is quick.
9. Par 4 – 443/434. You finish in front of the right side of the large clubhouse. This hole bends to the left with a collection area of three bunkers on the left and two scattered bunkers down the right. The green is well defended with three bunkers but I did think this was one of the easier greens to manage for break and speed.
10. Par 3 – 187/177. This is one of the longer walks on the course to the side of the clubhouse crossing Fairway Lane to get to the tee. This hole plays over a pond that is more there for visual purposes than for defense. The green is raised and has deep bunkers on both sides. There is a definite tier in the green. While visually it is the nicest par 3, I felt the par 3’s on the front side to be slightly more challenging.
11. Par 4 – 478/412. This is a very good hole playing from the Black tee as you play across a creek through a chute of trees acting as a hallway. From the Blue tees the hallway is less noticeable. The turn left in the hole is quite sharp so for longer hitters the Black tee is likely preferred or they have to hit a hybrid off the Blue tee. The green is raised and fronted by two deeper bunkers. For me this is the most memorable hole on the course, along with the fourth. This hole begins a stretch of four good golf holes.
12. Par 5 – 550/533. This straight hole offers flanking fairway bunkers and a single bunker 40 yards from the green. There are two front bunkers to another raised green that is trickier and speedier than it looks.
13. Par 5 – 617/600. While the twelfth is a nice par 5, the longest hole on the course is likely the hardest hole on the course. You cross the road and walk back to the tee. This is the hole with a rise in the fairway. Longer hitters will easily carry the rise and be rewarded with a ball that rolls out a bit which is important as the fairway has a sharp turn to the right Longer hitters will cut this dogleg despite the risk of trees that line the right side. The trees pinch in a bit followed by bunkers on either side of the fairway. As is the case of many holes, the green has a bunker on each side of the front to a raised green. Going long over the hole could result in going into the South Platte River. It is a nice risk-reward hole for the longer hitters while offering a good challenge for average length players.
14. Par 4 – 495/471. This long hole is a slight dogleg left with a left side bunker very much in play from the tee. There is a right fairway bunker about 75 yards short of the green. The green has a large bunker right and two on the left side. The green is raised back to front with a quick downslope. The fairway bunkers offer the opportunity to advance while the greenside bunkers have a bit of depth to them. This is a difficult hole.
15. Par 4 – 404/391. This hole plays around two-four trees that pinch into the fairway from the left side making this a slight dogleg left. There is a long bunker on the right in lay off the tee. The green has two bunkers to either side to a green with a subtle slope and inner contours trickier than it looks.
16. Par 3 – 187/171. For me this is the least memorable hole on the back nine, a flat par 3 with two rear bunkers protecting the road that is close behind the green as well as one large bunker on the left/middle front of the green. This is a green with a small tier in it.
17. Par 4 – 442/424. You cross Fairway Drive one final time to get to the seventeenth, which plays straight and has flanking bunkers in the landing zone along with trees. The green has a bunker on each side and a smaller false front. It is an okay hole but not in the class of 11-14.
18. Par 4 – 453/428. This is a fine finishing hole although it perhaps mirrors the ninth a bit too much with the primary difference being the eighteenth plays over Dutch Creek for the tee shot. Much like the ninth, the first fairway bunker is found on the right, followed by a bunker on the left and then another one on the right. The bunkering near the green also mirrors the ninth with two bunkers left and one on the right. Another slight difference is the green on the ninth is angled to the left while the eighteenth is straight away. The round concludes directly in front of the clubhouse. The green is one of the easier ones on the course, slope gently from back to front with a swale near the front.
Columbine is a good course for its members. It is a very good course for players of all abilities. As a visitor you will find a course that is playable while still offering a challenge. While there is not anything new here architecturally perhaps due to the overall lack of character in the land, Mr. Hughes was able to route and design several very good holes such as the fourth and the stretch of eleven through fourteen. It would be nice to have a bit more balance between the front nine and the back nine in terms of challenge, but that cannot be changed at this point.