The idea of a tree in the middle of the fairway is a controversial one among passionate golf course architecture enthusiasts, and many designers fight property owners tooth-and-nail to trim back the obstacles. Consider then that Engh prevented ownership from removing the tall opponents from his fairway at No. 12...and that it wasn’t actually a tree, but a pillar of sandstone.
The architect believed it and the other rocks jutting out around the green at Fossil Trace lent to the history of the property, both in its role in the mining industry and as a former stomping ground for dinosaurs (literally...there are triceratops footprints preserved within the rock wall behind the green at No. 12).
Consider also the gap between the longest and shortest holes on the course: 563 yards. The No. 8 hole stretches for more than 659 from the back tees and the shortest plays to just 96...even cubs can play from the tiger tees on that one.
In short, Fossil Trace is both flavorful and edgy. Like the history that owners sought to preserve in their golf course, Jim Engh would not let his personality be forgotten at Fossil Trace.
This is perhaps the most egregious of the Engh designs. This is a collection of some absolutely horrible golf holes.
Engh's specialty appears to be fitting in a golf course where one truly doesn't belong. In that charge, he has succeeded.
Other than that, the course represents an abysmal failure and design run amok. How this course is ranked as a top 100 in Colorado is beyond rationalization. If you appreciate good design principles and shot values, this course will offend your sensibilities to the point of emesis. I give it a two only because it isn't in bad shape. But I wouldn't play it if it were free.
Robert, you obviously despise Jim Engh’s work and yet you appear to have played a fair few of his courses. Why do you bother to play courses designed by an architect you detest so much and then take the trouble to deride his work so callously and publicly? Your opinion regarding Jim Engh’s work is at extreme odds with other seasoned and respected raters on this site. Do you have an axe to grind?
Niall - I've played a lot of courses. I've played many of Engh's designs because I have played a lot of golf. Some designers have good or great designs, sprinkled with some poor ones. I am not always the one to choose where we play. And if I am asked to play another Engh design which I haven't yet played, I'll play it and give it a chance. And if it is a good design, I'll give it a positive review. I give good reviews to courses I believe to be deserving of good reviews. I give poor reviews to courses deserving of poor reviews.
I don't know, nor have I haver met Jim Engh, so I don't have an "axe to grind". Nor do I know Gil Hanse, Ben Crenshaw to Tom Doak. I don't share Engh's view that full-course golf design should be "quirky", particularly to the extent he expresses in the designs I have played. If one wants "quirky", then go full bore and play a short course with hyperbolic greens, toting three clubs and a six pack. There's a time and a place for that kind of golf. But there's too much really good golf to place any of his courses in the top 50 in Colorado IMO. While ratings are inherently subjective, placing tracks like Pradera, Sanctuary, Redlands Mesa and Fossil Trace ahead of courses like Columbine, Lakewood, or TPC strains even psilocybin-induced credulity.
There's a reason why this site offers the ability to rank courses from 1 to 6 stars. Of the courses I have played of his thus far, I have found his designs to be highly contrived. All of the Engh courses I have played fit a pattern, so I mention it in my reviews. If one represents a departure from being so contrived, I'll mention it. So far, no such luck...
As far as other "seasoned reviewers" are concerned, they have a right to their opinion as to what they like or don't like. What is clear is that Engh's design work isn't highly sought after. While Hanse, Coore/Crenshaw, Doak, etc. are in demand, Engh is not. So perhaps that lends a macro view to the reception of his work. Regardless, if FT is one of your favorite courses, and Jim Engh delivers designs you like, then so be it. Own it and embrace it. People can make their own judgement when they balance your reviews against what they like or don't like, and they can make the best decision as to what they choose to play and what to avoid. That's what the site is all about. But there's no need to take it so personally.
Thanks for responding so comprehensively Robert. I wasn’t taking your review comments or your ratings personally, I was just wondering why you had slammed five of Jim Engh’s courses from just twelve reviews (posted at that time). To me that felt overly harsh. It‘s reassuring to know that you have no axe to grind, however.
As one of the other reviewers said - Fossil Trace is a blast and one I would love to play everyday! For me - a playable, challenging course which provides a different outcome every round is what is very important to me in rating a course. Starting from the opening hole with a brick fireplace/smokehouse in the fairway to multiple driveable Par 4s and a fun collection of Par 3s - Fossil Trace truly provides a unique experience.
While I cannot rate in the top 100 golf courses I have ever played, I could rate as a top 10 course I could retire near and play everyday. It’s that much fun.
Fossil Trace is a blast. Lot of neat unique features twists and turns. It starts on the very first hole a reachable downhill par. As you traverse down the first hole you will see what appears to be an obelisk in play. Turns out it is an old industrial chimney. The green is well protected by a bunker in the sky, Cottonwood, on the right and a long deep bunker on the left. The second hole is a downhill reachable par 4. With a little luck you could be off to a great start! The 4th hole is really difficult. It is 480 yards with a tee shot over gunch and then an approach over water. The 100 yard 5th will give you an opportunity to regain momentum. The 7th hole has a real interesting bunker feature in front of the green. It was referred to as the river bunker as it seemed to flow, thus on your approach long is better. The 9th is 650 yard par 6, I mean par 5. While daunting the biggest issue is length, heck the green is over 50 yards long. Super front 9, fasten your seat belts for the back nine.
The 10th is a great risk reward hole. Downhill dogleg right with a 265 yard carry to green over water. I say go for it. The 11th, while a par 3, is modeled after the 18th at Ballybunion. Two bunkers short right and two long left with a long skinny green slithering between them. If the par 5 12th does not create a “wow” moment you have issues. This part of the course is situated in an old mine, as such there are several sandstone pillars in the middle of the fairway. These create the opportunity to go around or over. The par 5 15th is another reachable par 5. All you have to do is hit it about 260 over water down the left side. You will have a downhill second shot, favor the left side. There a couple of rock piles just right of center that bisect the fairway. Perhaps saving the best for last is a great risk reward par 5. Relatively short if played as a 3 shot hole. If you go for it two not only do you have to carry water but also contend with deep bunkers on both the right and left greenside. Perhaps Jim Engh’s best work and a great value. Highly recommend it
Most of Fossil Trace is very cool and worthy of lots of attention. 1, 2, and every hole on the Back 9 is absolutely fantastic. 3-9 is somewhat underwhelming in that you wind your way around some busy streets in Golden and don't have much of a memorable view or isolated feeling in that stretch. With that said, however, #7 is a real treat and has one of the most difficult bunkers I've ever come across, running about 100 yards and sitting 15 feet below the surface of the fairway and green. Once you make it to the back, things get fun. #12 is up to judgement. I consider it a fun, unique hole where you have to play in between rock formations, but I understand the other side I've heard that say it's too quirky and seems like mini golf. I take my position based on the fact 99% of courses in the world require you to navigate trees, so one course requiring you to play through rocks is a nice change. As a whole, good course with about the right ranking. At 37th, it's worth a visit, but there are definitely places that are more worth seeing beforehand.