Inexpensive Golf Courses in Denver

Caddies wheezing from the high-altitude climbs and pros puzzling over the Stableford scoring system, where plus-figures are good, means that the PGA Tour has arrived in Denver for the International.

Once a year, the Stableford system makes for an interesting, occasionally wild show. There’s no drama, however, in getting to play Castle Pines. You can’t. It’s really private. Fortunately, Denver boasts a plethora of affordable, high-quality public courses. Here are some snapshots on where to conduct your own Stablefords.

Murphy Creek, Aurora, Colo.
It’s only $40 for non-residents to tee it up at this 1999 Ken Kavanaugh design east of downtown that is slated to host the 2008 USGA Men’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Crafted in prairie links style, the 7,456-yard, mostly treeless layout features wispy native grasses framing fairways and antique, rusted farm implements strewn about the course that reflect the property’s legacy as an old ranch homestead. Nick Faldo established the early course record here, a 3-under-par 69 and remarked as how the course compared favorably with Nebraska’s top-rated Sand Hills.

Riverdale (Dunes Course), Brighton, Colo.
Over-the-top mounding, railroad-ties lining the water hazards and a profusion of pot bunkers label this layout as vintage, mid-1980s Pete and Perry Dye. It’s also one of the nation’s best bargains. At $41 tops for non-residents, this linksy (albeit one with trees and lakes), layout on Denver’s far northeast side curls along the South Platte River for much of its journey. It, too, played host to the USGA Amateur Public Links, back in 1993, when David Berganio Jr. took the trophy. Architecture geeks should note that this was the first course where Tom Doak played a major role on the bulldozer.

Saddle Rock, Aurora, Colo.
Richard Phelps has left his design imprint throughout the entire state, but his best value, in terms of price and design, could be right here in the Metro area. This nine-year-old, 7,351-yard layout unfolds among the high prairies and its open expanses make for fine mountain views, but also make it susceptible to frequent gusts, putting a premium on ball-flight. Numerous wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas contribute to its 140 slope, but several blind shots, the result of daunting elevation changes, make things tougher-and occasionally slower — so don’t expect to race through a round here. It’s a strong enough test, however, to have hosted the Colorado Open from 1998 to 2000 and it’s a heckuva value, at $42 maximum for non-residents.

Wellshire, Denver, Colo.
Donald Ross in Denver? Yep. Now and again, the master went west, most notably at The Broadmoor, 70 miles south of Denver. He also designed this one, back in 1926 and it served as a private club for years, before the city took control. Mind you, this is hardly one of Ross’s best efforts (though he’s not the one responsible for its sometimes iffy conditioning), but its tight, reasonably hilly layout, testing finish and classic clubhouse yield a timeless feel to the round. You can walk this downtown-area track for $27.

Fossil Trace, Golden, Colo.
If the name Golden rings a bell, at least at the bar, it should, as it’s home to the Coors Brewery. These days, golfers thirsting for value have a keg party right next door, at Fossil Trace. Designed by Jim Engh, the modern king of Rocky Mountain architecture, the layout was sculpted in and around an ancient geological site and winds through canyons and rock outcroppings. High on drama, low on cost, this fossil goes for a peak fee of $56, a price that never gets old for this kind of quality.

Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at [email protected]