Dinosaur Fossils and Golf Preserving History and the Land

By Jay FlemmaSeptember 10, 2008, 4:00 pm

fossil trace
An aerial view of No.12 shows the sandstone monuments that pepper the fairway as well as the muscle bunkers.
 
In building Fossil Trace Golf Club, architect Jim Engh had to face incredibly stringent environmental restrictions, four different ecosystems on-site, the looming alternative use plan for the site of a detention center and ' with 64 million year old fossils on the property ' twelve years of battles with archaeologists, environmentalists, nay-sayers and meddlers.
 
The result? One of the best municipal courses in America and a national golf masterpiece the town of Golden now celebrates as a Colorado treasure.
 
Engh's assistance in the recovery, research and preservation of Triceratops, Hadrasaur (a relative of the Velociraptor) and vegetative palm frond fossils is the greatest achievement at Fossil Trace, augmented by the genius in designing a routing of eighteen holes around not only the fossils, but the tricky topography in the rest of the site.
 
The land sits shoe-horned into a mere 130-140 acres within the Golden city limits and Rocky Mountain front range. The course features four completely different environments: open prairie (holes 6-9); an old clay mine (holes 11-15); a wetlands area (holes 1-5); a lowland pond areas (holes 10, and 16-18).
 
The land on which the fossils resided was owned by the Parfet family who had mined clay on the property for five generations. Fossils were known to be there since 1877 when the family began mining, but since the land was private, no amount of public outcry could influence the Parfet's use of the land. Mining went on continuously until 2001, although the family took great care to preserve all the archaeological treasures they found.
 
In 2001 the Parfet family donated to the city of Golden the 52 acres upon which holes 11-15 now sit. The land became public and well organized resistance to building the course erupted.
 
Skeptical that a golf course architect could ever be respectful of the ultra-sensitive environment and claiming that development of Fossil Trace would exploit the precious remnants of history, paleontologists and environmentalists united with a neighboring housing community in a determined effort to convince the Golden city council to scuttle the project.
 
But Engh knew the first duty of a golf architect is to be respectful of both the land and the history of the property and to preserve and promote both at all costs. Turning lemons into lemonade, he convinced the Golden city council, the well-meaning researchers and the fervent environmentalists that golf course architecture is not merely an exercise in land development and money grabbing.
 
To their credit, despite years of fervent battles, the course's opponents proved not merely 'loud for loud's sake' and blindly political to their agenda.
 
Perhaps showing deference to Engh's prior successes at beautifully natural sites like Redlands Mesa and Sanctuary, perhaps heartened that a fellow Coloradan was the architect chosen to promote and protect a state geological marvel and perhaps buoyed by the thought that Engh could work productively with Dr. Martin Lockley from the University of Denver and archaeologist T. Canner on the site, foes became friends and dream ultimately became reality to the golf world's inestimable delight.
 
Fossil Trace contains many of the trademark features Engh's fans have come to embrace. 'Muscle bunkers' (as the Engh design team calls them), i.e. deep, rolling bunkers lined with bumpy hills that resemble a flexed muscular bicep, are turned perpendicular to the line of play, often with their axis pointed directly back down the fairway. They can be as much as ten feet deep.
 
Believing that undulation is the unsung soul of the game, Engh designed greens and fairways surrounded by high, pronounced sidewalls which rebound approaches, chips and even putts back onto the green and closer to hole locations. As a result, there are a lot of muni-friendly good bounces at Fossil Trace.
 
Finally, Engh takes full advantage of the stunning natural settings the site enjoys. Elevated tee boxes showcase stunning panoramas and green backdrops. Native grasses serenely line the edges of the sidewalls adding color and texture to the canvas.
 
Fossil Trace is a triumph on more levels than most golf courses can even imagine. With the forces that conspired to scuttle the effort from its inception, it's a miracle the course exists at all, let alone as the strategic and historic tour de force that into which it has evolved. Although he moved about 400,000 cubic yards of earth ' a goodly amount ' Engh still made the course flow naturally with the landscape. It won second place for best new public course in 2003 and deservedly so. At 6,500 feet above sea level, the 6,400 plus yards play shorter, but still present plenty of challenge. For a muni, it's downright stellar and a steal at $60.
 

Jay Flemma
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 260 nationally ranked public golf courses in 39 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan.
 
Related Links:

  • Find Tee Times
  • All Courses & Travel
  • Find Golf Packages
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

    Getty Images

    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.