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.
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.