Trip Dispatch: Mile-High Variety around Denver and the Rocky Mountains

By Brandon TuckerAugust 30, 2012, 6:09 pm

Travel editor Brandon Tucker spent a long weekend this August perusing the Rocky Mountain golf scene.

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. -- For golfers not used to how their ball flies at 9,000 feet of elevation, determining which club to hit on the par-3 8th hole at the Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks requires some high-level math. 

184 yards. Downhill. Swirling wind. Back pin. Trouble deep. Add altitude. Wait, where was I? 

Thankfully, the straightaway 9th hole, which plays over 500 yards and heads downhill 300 feet from tee to green, needs no such computation: just swing for the fences.

The ball sails forever and the air is brisk in Summit County, which hits the spot for anyone who lives down south. Staff at the Raven say Texans make up a good amount of their course's patrons, and that's evident in a hurry. In the parking lot, I spotted a couple cars with Texas Longhorns stickers, and I was eventually paired up with a father & son from Houston, staying in Vail for the week.

As a resident of Austin myself, you don't have to explain to me Colorado's allure. I've visited the state four times in the past last year, which has included cycling Lefthand Canyon, hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, white water rafting Glenwood Canyon and skiing Eldora and Beaver Creek at Christmas time. 

Finally, on this brief trip, I fit in some time to play golf.

Summit County is the closest resort hub to Denver on the western slope, a little more than an hour's drive west of downtown. While the ski resorts here lamented terrible powder conditions all winter, area golf courses benefitted, opening in mid-May rather than the usual start well into June. This meant the county's courses had a bonus month to show off their layouts, which besides the Raven, also include 36 holes at the Keystone Resort and a Jack Nicklaus-designed municipal course in Breckenridge. 

And while Texans can bask in the dry, August air, autumn is one of the best times to play golf in Summit County. Not only do the aspen trees lining the mountainsides change color, but courses like the Raven drop their rates, so pack a sweater and a camera (and for the 8th hole, maybe a scientific calculator).

Progressive city and classic golf collide at Flatirons in Boulder


Flatirons Golf Club, established in 1938. 

On day two, I headed back over the pass to the front range city of Boulder. It's a cyclist's utopia, as more people bike to work here, about 10%, than any other city in the United States. Triathletes, runners, hikers, even cross-country skiers make it their year round base camp. So it's to be expected that the city's only public golf course, Flatirons, receives a hearty share of walkers on this classic, 1930s design. Unexpected is exactly who it is that tends to take a golf cart.

'We get world class triathletes who come out in the afternoon and take a cart,' said Doug Cook, Director of Golf at Flatirons. 'For them, golf isn't exercise.'

Flatirons is a municipal course, but it's roots are that of an old, private club. The course opened in 1938 as Boulder Country Club, and today, the course's firm greens and lush fairways wind through a scenic, 130-acre rectangle of mature parkland available to all. Boulder will never be known as a 'golf town,' but Flatirons hosts 45,000 rounds annually. Recent investment into the facility for both playability and environmental factors, show the game still has a soft spot among its active, eco-conscious residents.

Public standouts in Denver: Arrowhead Golf Club and The Ridge at Castle Pines North

The Ridge Course at Castle Pines North

The 18th tee of The Ridge Course at Castle Pines North: 'On the Rocks.'

Denver, despite a wealth of public golf, is better known for its private clubs, like 2012 U.S. Amateur host Cherry Hills, which was immortalized in 1960 by Arnold Palmer's U.S. Open win. It's remarkable to think that this city, a sports-mad, top-20 media market, hasn't hosted the PGA Tour since the final staging of The Sprint International in 2006 at Castle Pines, another prestigious private club ranked by some panels as the state's best. 

While Denver itself is predominantly prairie land, the courses along the front range deliver the best topography without having to go over the pass. In the shadow of Castle Pines, The Ridge at Castle Pines North makes a strong statement as the town's top public facility. The Tom Weiskopf design dangles on high ground overlooking the surrounding hills, while back nine takes on a mountain tone, winding through tall pines and rock outcroppings. Finally, on the 18th tee, golfers tee off near the edge of a rocky cliff.

But Denver's most naturally spectacular course is in Littleton at Arrowhead Golf Club, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design opened in 1972. Jagged, sandstone formations along the foothills jut up into the sky, while other massive sandstone boulders frame the fairways.

The same week I played Arrowhead, Golf Digest named it a Top 50 Most Fun Course in the U.S. 

'Do they actually play this course or just photograph it?pondered Golf Digest. Rest assured, RTJ Jr. deserves praise for crafting plenty of fun holes within a setting suitable for a remote, national park, not a small community just south of a major metropolis. But the Denver area isn't your normal golf town. 

Arrowhead Golf Club

Arrowhead Golf Club's dramatic 13th. 

Click here to view more Colorado golf courses and tee times 

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Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

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Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

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Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”

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Garnett's six-shot lead dwindles to two in Punta Cana

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 10:57 pm

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - Brice Garnett took a six-stroke lead into the wind Saturday in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He came out with a two-stroke advantage.

Garnett bogeyed three of the final six holes in the wind and rain for a 3-under 69 and a 16-under 200 total.

''Once we made the turn coming back, all those holes coming in toward the north, it was all we wanted and then some,'' Garnett said. ''I kind of took advantage of some holes going out, some holes downwind, some par 5s, and then we were just trying to leave it in the right spot those last four or five holes. Pars are pretty good scores on those holes.''

Canadian Corey Conners was second after a 67, and Tyler McCumber also had a 67 to get to 12 under. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped out Friday, finishing last in the 132-man field in his PGA Tour debut. He shot 77-82 playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.

A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, Garnett opened with a bogey, birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6, eagled the par-5 seventh, and made two more birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 12th. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

Full-field scores from the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

''I looked once and the lead was a little bigger than what it is now,'' Garnett said. ''The eagle was huge, kind of gave me that confidence that I can push it on out and stretch it a little bit more. That wind was tough and I'll take a two-shot lead into tomorrow.''

The 34-year-old Garnett is winless on the PGA Tour. He won twice last year on the Tour.

''You've got another 18 holes. So much can happen,'' Garnett said. ''Just going to try to keep the golf ball in front of me. I have that self-belief this week and that's what I had last year when I won, so I'll just keep my head down and just keep going.''

Conners had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine and added a birdie on No. 12.

''Really happy with the round,'' Conners said. ''I got off to a nice start, made a bunch of birdies on the front nine and kind of held it together on the back nine. It was playing really difficult. The wind was really blowing out there, made things challenging.''

McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, has played his last 39 holes with a bogey.

''Second shots have been pretty solid,'' McCumber said. ''Putting pretty well, short game is pretty good. Just really being in the right areas and staying below the hole.''

Tom Lovelady was fourth at 11 under after a 68. Seamus Power (71), Denny McCarthy (71) and Seungsu Han (72) were 10 under.