The 18-hole golf course at CommonGround once belonged to the Mira Vista Golf Club, opening for play in 1972. The state golfing authorities, the Colorado Golf Association and the Colorado Women's Golf Association, acquired the property and developed it as a pay and play golf complex in 2009.
Located a mere eight miles to the east of downtown Denver, the course is another minimalist offering from Tom Doak, who totally redesigned the site by removing intrusive trees, restoring native grasses, adding strategic bunkers and constructing massive, undulating greens.
Just as important as the 18-hole course, Doak also installed a driving range, putting green and short game area, along with a 9-hole par three layout, called the Kid’s Course, because it’s mainly designed to allow children to learn the game of golf.
Now CommonGround operates an affordable public facility that is purpose built to support the mission statement of both Associations: "to represent, promote, and serve the best interests of golf in the state of Colorado."
Renaissance Golf Design provided the following comments:
“We were looking for a project that would allow us to give something back to the community and that was accessible to the average golfer. Our motivations were very similar to those of the Colorado Golf Association and the Colorado Women's Golf Association – to create a course that is accessible and fun for all ranges of abilities... from beginners to competitors in the state championships. We designed it to be easily walkable, to promote health and exercise, and to be affordable to all, like the great courses of Scotland and Ireland which are the foundation of the game and the inspiration for everything we do.”
Common Ground, redone just over a decade ago by Renaissance Golf and Tom Doak achieves the purpose of being an affordable course that is playable for all ages: from players new to the game and older players.
Before I turn my attention to the course, let me get a criticism out of the way. The course is very walkable, with the only elevation changes being relatively easy uphill walks on nine and eighteen. Other than the walk from the tenth green to the eleventh tee, there are no long walks on the course as the tee for the next hole is reasonably close to the previous green. The course has wide fairways, sometimes very wide. While there are a few opportunities to have to look for one’s ball in high grass, generally one will easily find a mishit ball. The greens do offer some difficulty due to the undulations on several of the holes but most of them are pretty simple to read as to line (speed is more of an issue). As such, I do not understand why the target time is 4:15 (so said the member with whom we were paired). It was even more discouraging for our round to take 4:55. We waited on every single shot. The only time this was to our advantage was when we were able to get a drink from the cart girl after two of the holes (yet we still waited on the next tee). Perhaps the club wants to create a stress free environment…who knows? But as the course/club has a very active semi-private membership and it was my understanding it was only members in front of us, I do not understand why the round took so long. The course is not difficult. It is stress-free and fun. Given that, for pace of play reasons alone, I cannot recommend a visitor play this course. It should be kept for the members and for local residents.
As to the course, the owners (Colorado Golf Association and Colorado Women’s Golf Association) and the designers have certainly achieved a vision of having a course that will offer enough challenges to test one’s game and to develop the confidence and enjoyment of the game of golf for younger players.
There is not much here that is noteworthy from an architectural perspective. But I do not think that is the point of this course. If Mr. Doak wants to make a course more interesting, he and his team certainly has the ability to do so, even on a basically flat piece of land. I think the course is meant to offer a few instances of challenge but mainly to be relaxing and fun. This is basically stress free golf as evidenced by one par five where our foursome was a combined five under for the hole (3 birdies and an eagle). We finished as well on the final par 5 with three birdies out of four.
The front nine of the course is straightforward while the back nine gets a bit harder until the easy eighteenth. Given the amount of time we had before each tee shot, we started talking about politics seemingly on every par 3 on the back nine. That is never a good combination for me….standing around and a political discussion, so consequently I did not do well on those three holes but still noticed they all played essentially the same yardage with the difference being the green complexes.
My two friends and I, having just stepped off long plane rides, decided to play the Gold tees, which perhaps was a mistake given the course sits essentially a mile high. The Black tees are 7229 yards, rated 73.2/121 while the Gold tees are 6721 yards, rated 70.6/128. The course is a par 71. There are two sets of lesser tees and three combination tees, all of them rated.
1. Par 4 489/443. A slight downhill dogleg left with two inner bunkers at the turn. You then play essentially flat to a green with a swale in the middle and a bunker on the right. It is a nice opening hole. When one hits their approach shot until their shot on the ninth hole, they are now playing a flat golf course.
2. Par 3 – 144/127. The green is raised about 5-6 feet, sloped back to front with a single bunker on the left. It is a speedy putt to a front location. The trickier putt is coming horizontally to a pin.
3. Par 5 – 586/555. A fairly straight hole with the green set off to the left. There is a small center-line bunker off the tee followed by a bunker on the left that snakes its way into nearly half of the fairway. Bigger hitters will easily carry this bunker. There is another bunker on the right that perhaps is in play for the longer hitters. A second center-line bunker follows about 80 yards short of the green. There is another bunker placed off to the right of the green with a knob on the front right hiding the back half of the green. To the left of the green is a small hill with a large tree. The back half of the green has a plateau but one can use the ground behind it to bring a ball back onto the green.
4. Par 4 – 424/397. This hole is a dogleg left with the fairway being half the size until the dogleg begins. Down the left side is tall grass and the land sits below the fairway. However a ball landing there is not penalized as the grass is not too much higher than the fairway. There is another center-line bunker 60 yards short of the green. The green is well defended with two bunkers right and one left. There are two tiers of about three feet in the green with the back right having a plateau. When the pin is back right you cannot miss to the right as you will likely roll off the plateau about 40 feet. From the tee this is an attractive hole. Bigger hitters will try to carry nearly all of the dogleg or risk running through the fairway.
5. Par 4 – 489/440. This is a nice hole bending slightly left with a collection of four bunkers down the right, some of which are shared with the thirteenth hole. There is a single bunker left. However, I do not think these bunkers are in play except perhaps for average length players from the back tees. The green is wide and accessible with two skinny bunkers left and one set off of the right front. The green has various ripples and mounds in it and is one of the more difficult greens to read.
6. Par 3 – 188/147. This hole would have been much better from the back tee. This is a sort of redan hole but with a front bowl on this raised green. One plays over the corner of a pond with the green angled right to left. The pond is in play for a player who hooks or over-draws their tee shot. There is a front right bunker, a left middle bunker and a thin back bunker. The redan does not take shape until around the middle of the green. From the front tee this is a less exciting hole. We had a front pin which was not as interesting as a back left pin. I feel this is the most interesting par 3 on the course even if it is not the hardest.
7. Par 5 – 545/527. This is the most heavily bunkered hole on the course with ten. There are four bunkers on the right off the tee to a green essentially straight. Two bunkers are on the left about 65 yards from the green. The green has two bunkers right front and one left front. The green is slightly raised with a back to front slope. There is short grass available on the left side of the green.
8. Par 4 – 355/347. Two bunkers cut into the fairway from the right side yet the fairway is generously wide. Most players will carry the bunkers. The green is somewhat shallow with a bunker at both sides of the front. There is a little knob and false front set between these two bunkers but otherwise it is a simple risk-reward par 4.
9. Par 4 – 376/368. The tee shot plays uphill to a ridge that if you carry it you will have a short approach shot as well as a view of the green. If you fail to carry the ridge you will have a longer, blind shot. There are flanking bunkers at the start of the ridge with the left one being horizontal and followed by another horizontal bunker on the same left side. The green is angled to the right with two bunkers placed on the right. The green is shallow on the back right side and has two swales running through it.
10. Par 4 – 437/398. This hole, much like the first plays gently downhill. The fairway gets wider at the landing area. There is a fairway bunker on the right cutting into the fairway but not in play for the average length player. The green is angled to the right with two long, skinny bunkers placed a bit away from the front to create some confusion as to depth. The green is slightly raised with smaller undulations.
11. Par 5 – 539/515. There are two early bunkers not in play about 80 yards off the tee followed by a cross bunker from the left side a bit further up that most players will carry. A smaller bunker on the left follows about 250 yards off the tee. The next bunker is a cross bunker on the right about 100 yards from the green. The green has no bunkers but a pond creeps in from the left about 125 yards from the green continuing down the left and behind the green. The right side has a tall grass mound and some good contouring off to the right. This is the hole we played in gross 5 under.
12. Par 3 – 219/191. After a ten minute delay we finally hit our tee shots. This hole has a forced carry over a rough area of taller grass/wetlands? that distracts from the view of the green. There is a small bunker ten yards short left of the green and then two flanking bunkers to this raised green. My playing partners felt this to be the best par 3 on the course.
13. Par 4 – 417/408. Another wide fairway is here with the obstacle being a long crescent shaped bunker on the right. There is a small center-line bunker much farther up that is in play for the longer hitters. The green is angled left to right with the right bunker becoming a front bunker and the left bunkers becoming back bunkers. The hole has a raised back to front green. I like the hole because the angle of the approach is important based on the position of the pin.
14. Par 3 – 229/179. The Gold tees should be 20 yards farther back. This is a unique par 3 as it has no bunkers, it has a very large green with multiple mounds and swales in it, but most importantly it has a high hump about 30-20 yards short of the green which disguise the length of the hole.
15. Par 4 – 505/478. The next three holes represents the most difficult stretch of holes on the golf course. This longer hole has a small bunker on the right that is easily carried but two bunkers on the left are more in play as the hole swings to the left. The green has two bunkers on the left and one of the larger false fronts on the course.
16. Par 4 – 476/456. This hole swings to the left with trees guarding the left side of the turn although the member decided to drive to the left of them and was not penalized. There is a bunker about 30 yards behind the trees further up the fairway. The green complex is one of the better ones with a center-line bunker 12 yards short of the green and a bunker on each side. The green has a slight back to front slope and a back left plateau.
17. Par 3 – 243/216. From the back tees, the three par 5’s on the inner nine are all over 200 yards and get progressively longer. This hole plays a half a club to a club longer due to a substantial raised green. The hole has a forced carry over taller grass and has interesting bunkering in front of the green that begins about 30 yards short of the green with two bunkers cutting diagonally right to left ending about 13 yards short of the green. There is a long, thin angular bunker placed off the left middle of the green. The green is crowned with fall-offs on all sides and a tier in the middle. It is a difficult par 3.
18. Par 5 – 568/539. The finishing hole plays uphill much like the ninth hole although it has a less defined ridge to carry. There is a long bunker down the left. The fairway stops briefly as you continue the climb with three bunkers placed off to the right of which the first one is in play for the longer hitters. I do not see many players being able to reach the next two. As you hit the second shot, you have to be mindful of the cross bunker coming in from the left about 60 yards short of the green. Finally, there are two somewhat hidden bunkers sunk down on the right front of the green. The green has a tier in it as well as a bit of a bowl on the front left where one can use the tier as a backstop. Two of us nearly holed our third shots here.
As mentioned, while there are only a few holes here to excite or challenge someone, notably the par 3’s and fifteen-sixteen, I think this course achieves exactly what the Colorado associations wanted. I do not think it is a course that would grow on you the more you play it unless one is a junior golfer. However, it is a course that the locals can certainly enjoy.
Dating from 1972, Mira Vista Golf Club operated on the land now occupied by Common Ground GC. The state golfing authorities in Colorado acquired the property and developed it as a community facility in 2009
Colorado lucked out when Tom Doak jumped at the chance to be involved: Doak and his team completely redesigned the facility adding practice areas and a nine hole short course as a place for the younger generation to learn the game of golf. And they made radical changes to the look and feel of the golf course- taking out trees and opening up the course.
Doak has made his name building some of the best courses in the world in pure links terrain. While the land at Common Ground didn't have the same potential, they have introduced some pretty cool green complexes and bunkering- raising the status of the course substantially.
Each year Tom Doak hosts a tournament (The Renaissance Cup) at one of his more recently completed courses, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to the 2010 event at Common Ground.
My partner that year was Hollywood director Michael Robin, a good golfer and a real gentleman. Over a couple days in October we played a number of matches and got to know Common Ground pretty well. And it is a really nice place to play golf!
Common Ground is not going to crack the top 100 charts anytime soon- that was not Doak's brief. It was designed as a community pay and play and as a place for the younger generation to learn the game. And the end result is a credit to all involved.
Notable holes include:
- the long par 4 fourth hole
- the sweet little par 3 sixth hole on the water
- the strong par 4 ninth hole
- the par 5 eleventh hole along the water
- the difficult par 3 fourteenth hole
- the strong par 3 seventeenth hole
- the par 5 eighteenth hole
Common Ground is a quality golf course and fun to play.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
My first experience at Common Ground was really positive. The club has a storied history over the past 45+ years as one of the most respected public venues in this part of the country. Recent notoriety has included US Amateur qualifying as part of the 2012 event at Cherry Hills. A few years prior to this, the club hired the talented team at Renaissance Golf. Doak's team totally redesigned and rebuilt the course in 2008. It had been an Air Force Base course that was given to the Colorado Golf Association (CGA) when the base was decommissioned in the 1990's; nobody thought much of it. The CGA saved up for 10-15 years to get the $4 million to rebuild it and make it worthwhile.
The outward half is relatively flat, which helps with pace of play, but the greens are consistently the star of the show at Common Ground. Multiple times during the day you’ll hear golfers joyfully recalling amazing putts they faced on greens that were beautifully shaped by the team at Renaissance Golf. The inward half has the better golf topography and allows for more attractive routings with hills and dog-legs, forcing golfers to focus on precision off the tee.
Even during these challenging times, a bustling public golf course just goes to show how important the game is for our mental well-being, but also how relevant the course is for the greater Denver community. I highly recommend a visit if your schedule permits.
CommonGround was created for the "common" man and woman golfer. It's the home course for the Colorado Golf Association and is total redesign of the former Lowry Air Force Base course.
The finished product rests on playability and in clearly providing different avenues for golfers to take on any of the holes. There's no real "sink-or-swim" shots but clearly preferred places to be to maximize one's opportunity to score. In sum -- the course seeks to provide architecture that is clear, straightforward and without contrivance or artifice.
The bunker placements are done well -- making sure that those seeking to gain a clear advantage have the shotmaking acumen in doing so. Several fairways have tapering bottlenecks so those attempting to get as far off the tee as possible had better bring some needed accuracy too.
The outward nine is good but only a few holes are especially noteworthy -- the uphill par-4 9th among them. The inward half has the better diversity of holes and with three long par-3s in the mixture at the 12th, 14th and 17th -- one has to be especially mindful about securing the correct clubs when executing approaches. The 17th is especially demanding and can often play into the prevailing southwest wind and is reminiscent in what one would see on the eastern end of Long Island.
Tom Doak had a few of his key principles at Renaissance Design at the time get involved with the effort and the net result is a quality layout that accomplished what it sought to do. But, it's important to point out the genesis of CommonGround was not to create some sort of public Colorado version of Bethpage Black or Cog Hill #3.
Given the myriad of courses I've played in Colorado I'd certainly see a position in the top 25 as doable but clearly not in the top 15. That's not a knock on CommonGround as much as an elevation of golf architecture that's clearly blossomed -- both the private and public side of the aisle.
M. James Ward