PARKER, Colo. – Ben Crenshaw’s popularity on the practice green has soared in recent days as fellow golfers seek him out to possibly unlock the secrets to this challenging course.
The two-time Masters champion is happy to oblige, even if it takes away some of his inside knowledge.
After all, it’s a chance to brag about his baby.
Crenshaw and design partner Bill Coore are the architects behind the Colorado Golf Club, site of the Senior PGA Championship that begins Thursday.
All this week, Crenshaw has felt more like a tour guide than a tour pro, dispensing information he’s gleaned from his work on the course. Things like, don’t leave the ball above the hole on certain greens and the best angles to hit in from on various fairways.
“This is a different role for me,” said Crenshaw, who’s attempting to become the first to win the Senior PGA on a course he designed since Jack Nicklaus accomplished the feat more than 19 years ago at the PGA National Golf Club. “I want the guys to play well and have fun with it. I want them to shoot some good scores.”
A tough assignment.
At 7,490 yards on the scorecard, this is setting up to be one of the longest courses ever for a Champions Tour event. The sprawling design features plenty of rolling terrain, tricky greens and gullies that can swallow up a golf ball.
“Tricky,” Tom Kite explained after a recent practice round. “A lot of local knowledge is required for this course.”
No one really has any depth of knowledge. Only three years old, the course hasn’t been played all that often, outside of local golfers such as Mark Wiebe and Gary Hallberg, who are both in the field.
Even Crenshaw hasn’t played many rounds on the course, just enough to know the lay of the land. Just enough to know it’s going to take some imaginative shots to come away with a win.
The course definitely won’t play easy, especially if the wind keeps howling.
“But they’re pretty skilled at breaking down a golf course and seeing how it plays,” said Crenshaw, who also teamed with Coore to design the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii, which serves as the PGA Tour’s season-opening event.
Like a proud father, Crenshaw has been asking players for early comments on the course: How’s it playing? Is it challenging enough? Do the players like it?
Eduardo Romero couldn’t resist the chance at a good-natured barb.
“I told him, ‘Ben, it’s a great course—for cows,”’ Romero said.
Only then did Romero break into a grin, Crenshaw quickly following suit.
“It’s a great course,” Romero said. “A fantastic course.”
One that’s been a long time in the making.
Coore originally scouted the land in the mid ’80s, hoping to sculpt a course just like this, one that takes advantage of the natural features. Coore and Crenshaw even had a name to go with the property: High Prairie Club.
But it never materialized.
Shortly after inspecting the property, the project was scrubbed for equestrian lots.
“So kaput, there went our golf course,” Crenshaw said.
Nearly 20 years later, another investor contacted Coore and Crenshaw about designing a course in this area. In nearly the same spot, no less, just two miles down the road.
Same type of terrain, so they maintained the same type of approach: study the features and figure out a game plan. Coore even went so far as to examine the deer and cattle trails, just to see how the animals navigated through the area.
“We try to let the site guide us in terms of the character of the golf course,” Coore explained.
What emerged is a range of drivable par 4s (hole No. 14 is just 326 yards) and picturesque par 3s.
“There’s enough for players to have their hands full,” Crenshaw said.
Tom Watson won’t argue there, having become quite fond of Crenshaw’s coursework.
“He delivered the goods,” Watson said. “The golf course is a good test, has great variety to it. He gives you a safe side and a risky side. That’s the way golf should be played.”
To take advantage of this course, Crenshaw surmised, requires patience and someone with an all-around game. It doesn’t cater simply to big hitters or short-game specialists.
“A well thought-out and a well-planned shot will get you around the course,” said Crenshaw, who’s currently designing a course near Hong Kong. “It will be fun to see these guys play.”