After two days of golf at the historic Oakmont Country Club, I boarded an evening flight to half way across the country. I shifted from the industrial surrounds of Western Pennsylvania to the mountains around the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. Before starting to play the three top 100 courses in Colorado and the one in Nebraska, I drove from Denver to Beaver Creek to visit a longtime friend and former work colleague, Gary and his wife Lisa. Gary and I were joined by Keith and his brother Larry for a round of golf at the Summit Golf Course near the former Cordillera Resort that was made famous by accusations against Kobe Bryant. Gary had met Keith decades before when they lived in Texas. They reunited when they discovered they both had houses in Beaver Creek. The round at the Summit Golf Course was my first ever mountaintop golf experience and yes, golf balls do travel farther at high altitudes.
I departed the home of Gary and Lisa at 4:30 the next morning to make the two and a half hour drive back to Denver for my next round of golf on my top 100 course golf tour. On this bright sunny day, I had a 7:27 am tee time at Cherry Hills Country Club just south of Denver and a 1:00 pm time tee at Castle Pines in Castle Rock.
I arrived at Cherry Hills Country Club just as the club was opening. I made my way to the men’s locker room to change my shoes. I then headed to the practice range to warm up. My golf balls continued to have a little extra distance, but not as much as they had the day before at higher altitude near Vail. After warming up, I met my playing partner for the day, Jacob. A friend Jeff had requested that John Ogden, the head pro at Cherry Hills host me at the course. I very much appreciated Jeff making the request and John agreeing to host me. John had arranged for me to play with Jacob who was working as a summer intern at Cherry Hills.
As Jacob and I chatted, I asked him where he attended school. He answered that he was a student at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I then asked him if he knew Dylan whom I had met when I played at Valhalla. Dylan was also a student in the golf program at Sam Houston State. Not only did Jacob know Dylan, Jacob had been Dylan’s mentor. Another case of how small the world we live in is.
Our Caddie for the round was Matthew. Matthew was from New Jersey but had made his way to Colorado. As with many guys that find themselves in a different part of the country than the part they were born in, there was a girl involved. He had come to Colorado three years ago and now calls it home.
As we stood on the first tee overlooking the first hole Jacob told me about some of the rich PGA history at Cherry Hills. In the 1960 US Open, Arnold Palmer drove the green on the first hole and went on to birdie the first four holes in route to a front nine 30 with one bogey. Mr. Palmer eventually won the tournament as Ben Hogan hit his ball in the water on both the 17th and 18th holes. A feat I matched during my round.
While I replicated a couple of Mr. Hogan’s shots during my round, my round started out a little more conservatively as I decided that I would not attempt to match Mr. Palmer’s drive on the first hole. The first hole is a short par four which plays just 340 yards from the blue tees. The hole is lined with trees on both sides and has a fairway bunker on the left in the landing zone.
I hit my first drive at Cherry Hills Country Club 250 yards down the middle of the fairway to leave 95 yards for my approach shot. I hit my approach shot 25 feet past the flag. I left my birdie putt 8 feet short, but made the second putt for an opening hole par.
My next drive on the 400 yard par four second hole was just as accurate as my first drive. The second hole is even more narrow than the first. Additionally, there are several bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Jacob recommended that I hit the ball down the left side of the fairway. This left 180 yards to the flag.
Adhering to my normal pattern, I made a double bogey on the second hole. While I was accurate off the tee, I hit my approach shot long and to the left. Unfortunately, there was water long and to the left. I used what would normally be my 170 yard club for a 180 yard shot, given that I was in the mile high city. I should have hit my normal 150 club. I took a drop, pitched onto the green and two putted for my double bogey. I also went on to make double bogeys on the third and fourth holes. This was also a part of my pattern of letting one shot, in this case the approach shot on the second hole, linger in my head.
I hit a good drive into the fairway on the 3rd hole, but put my approach shot into the bunker. I then took two shots to get out of the bunker before two putting for the double bogey.
The fourth hole plays 425 yards with a slight dogleg left. I hit my drive into the trees and took three shots to get to the green. I then two putted for the double bogey. Those three holes and the final hole defined my round. In total they accounted for 26 of the stokes I took during my round. In between I played some good golf.
I started my long road to recovery on the par five fifth hole. It is the only par 5 on the front nine. The hole is short at just over 520 yards, but is rated as the toughest hole on the course. While the fairway is narrow, I thought the hole was straight forward; just avoid the trees on the left and the right, the fairway bunker on the left and the massive bunker in front of the green and you will score well on the hole. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway, laid up with my second shot to 70 yards, then put my approach shot to within 12 feet of the cup. I missed my birdie putt, but was happy to get off the double bogey train.
My recovery continued on the short par three sixth hole. The hole was playing 145 yards. There is no trouble between the tee box and the green. The green is protected by bunker on the right front, along the left side and on the back of the green. Matthew and I debated club selection, but as always, the caddie won out and I was happy he did.
My tee shot landed pin high and 40 feet to the right of the flag. Picking up where he left off on club selection, Matthew gave me an excellent read. He was so confident that I’d sank the putt, he took pictures. Yes, I drained it for a much needed birdie.
The seventh hole is a long par four which plays 415 yards. It has a dogleg left and lots of trouble to go with it. There are several bunkers on the left side of the fairway as it makes the turn to the left. There are also trees that hug the left side of the fairway.
I hit my drive 250 yards to the left side of the fairway, just short of the bunkers. This left 145 yards to the green. I missed the green to the right but cleared the right green side bunker. The pin was on the back left side of the green. I pitched on, the ball headed straight toward the hole. It skimmed the hole and rolled to the fringe. I missed my par putt and recorded my first bogey of the round.
The eight hole is the second of the par threes on the front nine. Jacob told me that the hole was lengthened to move it closer to the creek. The hole plays 195 yards from the blue tees.
I hit my tee shot to the right side of the green with the flag positioned on the left side of the green. The ball landed 50 feet from the flag. Matthew gave me another good read and I hit the ball with good speed, just not enough. The ball was tracking to the hole, but stopped 3 feet short. I made the putt for par.
I was feeling good about my recovery on the front nine as we approached the ninth tee box. The ninth hole is long and narrow. It plays 430 yards from the blue tees. It has the customary trees along the left and right sides of the fairway. There is also a series of bunkers along the right side of the fairway and a lone bunker on the right front of the green.
I hit a good drive and was hopeful to par the hole after hitting to the middle of the fairway with 190 yards to the green. It took three shots for me to reach the green. I then two putted for a double bogey to close out the front nine with a 43.
While the front nine opens with a short par four, the back nine offer no such gift. The tenth hole is a long par four at 410 yards. It also has a narrow tree lined freeway with a big bunker on the right hand side of the fairway. There is more room on the left side of the fairway than the right, but never the less, Matthew told me to hug the bunker on the right with my drive. Well I hugged it a little too tightly and my ball landed in it. I did however end up with a good lie that was far enough back from the lip of the bunker for me to hit a 180 yard shot to the green. My ball landed just short of the green
I used my Texas wedge and putted the ball to within five feet of the hole. I made the putt to start out the back nine with a par.
Earlier during the round, I had mentioned to Jacob that I played golf at the Summit Golf Course at Cordillera on the day before with two guys whose nephew was a member and former club champion at Cherry Hills. While walking to the 11th hole, Jacob pointed out Andy’s house. Andy is the nephew of Keith and Larry who Gary and I played a round with on the day before.
The 11th hole also holds special memories for Phil Michelson. He won the US Amateur in 1990 due partly to his ability to reach the green in two when no one else could. How did he do it. Phil switched to a longer driver than the one he normally used. This driver with its 45 inch shaft allowed Phil to hit his drive to the top of the hill. He was then able to go for the green in two. In several of his rounds he birdied the hole.
I stuck with my Epic driver and its original shaft lenght for my round at Cherry Hills. It enabled me to hit a long drive, but not one long enough to go for the green in two. The hole plays 540 yards from the blue tees. As with all the other holes, the fairway is narrow and tree lined. There are bunkers on both the left and right sides of the fairway that come into play on the third shot. I hit my drive 260 yards to the middle of the fairway. I then hit a layup that didn’t go nearly as far as I expected. I was left with 172 yards to the flag. I then left my approach shot just short of the green. I chipped on to 15 feet and then two putted for a bogey.
The par three 12th hole plays 170 yards from the blue tees with a carry over water. This was a hole that Rory McIlroy four putted two days in a row during the 2014 BMW Championship. Again, just as on the previous par three on the front nine, Matthew and I had a good discussion on club selection. He thought that I should hit a five iron. I was concerned about going over the back of the green and thought I should hit a six iron. Again, I yield to my caddie and hit the five iron. Again, he was right, the ball landed on the right side of the green, just past the flag and 20 feet to the right. Unfortunately, I left my birdie putt two feet short of the cup. I made par on the hole.
The 13th fairway is one of the widest on the course. The problem is that it has a large bunker that cuts into the right side of the fairway at about 250 yards out. My drive made a beeline right to that bunker. I hit my six iron a little thin and the ball caught the lip of the bunker leaving 125 yards to the pin. I then tried to stretch my sand wedge to 125 yards and left the ball short of the green. My chip shot rolled past the flag, I then one putted for a bogey.
Jacob told me that the fourteenth hole was one of his most favorite on the course. The hole was designated in 1965 by Sports Illustrated as an All-American hole. It is a beautiful tree line hole that dog legs left.
I hit a nice drive to the middle of the fairway on this All-American hole. My approach shot wasn’t All-American. I missed the green to the right and landed in the greenside bunker. My sand shot went 20 feet past the hole. We misread the putt. I hit it on the line we read, but it turned away from the hole. I tapped in the next putt for a bogey.
On the par three fifteenth hole I hit my drive into the left greenside bunker. It was one of those dreaded straight balls that didn’t cut as expected. I then hit one of the best 60 yards bunkers shots that I’d ever hit. The problem is that the pin was only a few yards away. To make matters worse there was a big tree between the ball and the green for my third shot. I was able to hit a 60 degree wedge over the tree onto the green, but didn’t get close enough to the hole for a one putt. I two putted and made a double bogey on the hole. This was my first double on the back nine.
On the sixteenth hole I hit one of those high pop ups to the left on my drive. The hole plays 400 yards with trees along the fairway. My pop up landed in the trees on the left. My second shot advanced toward the greens but stayed in the trees. This left me with a very difficult third shot.
To get to the green, I needed to hit under the trees, over a creek and over the greenside bunker. Two out three wasn’t good enough. I got under the trees and over the creek, but not over the bunker.
I hit out of the bunker onto the green and two putted for my second double bogey in a row.
The back nine closes with two par fives. The first of those is 512 yards. I hit my drive to the right side of a generous fairway. With water in front of the green, I tried to lay up to 80 yards but hit my shot so flush it landed 70 yards from the flag.
This left me with less than a full shot to the front pin location. I should have just taken my medicine and put the ball on the green past the flag. Instead I was thinking about how I needed to birdie the hole to improve my scorecard. This is never a good swing thought.
I took too much off the shot. The ball landed just over the water and then rolled back into it. While we were walking to my ball to make that shot, Jacob had told me about Byron Nelson’s troubles on the 17th hole during the 1960 US Open. Mr. Nelson hit his second shot into the water and tried to recover by hitting out of the water. That did not go well for him. So, I thought back to how I hit my drive on the 18th hole at Merion right next to where Mr. Nelson hit his drive. He hit the perfect one iron from that spot to birdie the hole. I hit a 3 hybrid from that spot to just short and right of the green. I got up and down for par, but he had bested me on the 18th hole at Merion.
I decided that it was now time for me to best him. I decided to take off my shoes and socks and go into the water to hit my ball and save par. The ball was just off the bank. I was successful at getting the ball out of the water and onto land. I later found out that my swing may not have been a swing but possibly a scoop. Scoops are not allowed under the USGA rules of golf. This I learned from a USGA official, weeks after my round and after describing my swing motion to him. But since there was no TV coverage of my round, there was no one to call in and contest the shot. There was also no way to verify whether it was a legal swing or not, so my bogey on the hole stands. Yes, after hitting the ball out of the water into the rough just short of the green, I chipped on and one putted for a bogey, but one with an asterisk.
While I didn’t take a penalty on the 17th hole, I think the golf gods rendered their verdict on the 18th hole. The hole is the second of the closing par fives. It requires a long water carry to take advantage of how short the hole is. On a direct line, the hole plays only 460 yards from the blue tees.
I hit my ball into the water on my first drive. After I reached the fairway on my second drive and third shot, I then hit in the water again as I went for the green on my fourth shot. I hit my sixth shot onto the green and two putted for a round ending triple bogey. This was one of very few triple bogeys that I’d made during my quest.
With a triple bogey on the final hole, I scored 47 on the back nine. This gave me a total score of 90 for the round. This was a very disappointing start to the Colorado portion of my quest. For most of the round, I played good golf, the three hole stretch on the front nine where I double bogeyed each hole and the closing hole wreaked havoc on score.
After the round, I found John to thank him for hosting me. After chatting with him for a few moments, I jumped in the car and headed south for my afternoon round at Castle Pines.