By Neil Wolkodoff
Denver is known for an active lifestyle and ranks fourth in the U.S. in golf rounds per capita. What might surprise you is how many excellent courses are friendly and welcoming to cigars. The following is a sampling of interesting courses you can play during a visit that combines great golf with stogies.
Be advised, if there is a high fire danger, these courses might limit on-course smoking. This happens in this area about five days per year, and much more in the mountains than along the front-range.
Most of these courses allow on-course smoking, limited patio smoking where available, and have humidors on site (in case you forgot to bring your own cigars).
CommonGround Golf Course is 17 minutes east of downtown Denver and is now the home to the Colorado Golf Association. That means the range, par 3 course and practice facilities are much better than average. Additionally, because the CGA wanted a course that would span all abilities, this can be played by the new golfer all the way to the tournament competitor as tee box placement is proportional to golf ability. The course meanders through a wetlands area was reclaimed, so while not Sherpa golf, there are a few hills, but the course is actually defined by creative meanderings around wetland features and mounds. Walker friendly as well as motor cart.
Close to Boulder in Erie is Colorado National Golf Club, the home course to the University of Colorado golf teams. With the golf teams using the facility, the practice areas are much better than average. The course features five sets of tees all the way to a 7,676 length for the ultimate challenge. The holes meander up and down the prairie hills with a Colorado links feel with great views of the mountains. The Master’s Restaurant is top-notch and can do everything from breakfast to large corporate occasions.
North of Denver about 25 minutes is Riverdale Dunes. This Pete Dye course used to hold mini-tour events and while a part of the Commerce City golf program, is much more than a public course. This is a links course that meanders for many of the holes along the South Platte River, with occasional pot bunkers and mounds interspersed with the use of railroad ties. It might be a public course, yet like others in the list, the conditions are much closer to a private club. The par four, signature #15 has you drive along a lake, then woof leg it again along the lake to the green. Like many holes at Riverdale Dunes, not exceptionally long yet the classic multiple risks with rewards.
Just 39 minutes south of Downtown in Larkspur is Perry Park Country Club. Steeped in early Colorado history, this course weaves through the sandstone rocks and hills with incredible geography and course features. While a private club, you can access the course as a guest through the Private Club Network. The 221 yard, par 3 17th is typical of the vista views and pristine conditions on almost every hole. While you can play the course in a little over four hours, you might want to take five because of the stunning scenery.
Head west of Denver 23 minutes, and get a dose of dinosaur history at Fossil Trace, another public golf course with country club conditions. While Golden is known for Coors, this is a close second as this is a stunning course that goes up and down through the foothills and rock formations. You can even stop on the signature par 5, 12th hole, which features natural sandstone monoliths, and take a three-minute walk through the fossil exhibit. No two holes are the same, and the finishing par 5 up a slight hill and next to the water for half the hole will test your metal.
Highlands Ranch Golf Course is southwest of downtown by about 11 miles, and features a championship track that is used as the home course by the University of Denver Golf Team, and hosts numerous tournaments every year. A Hale Irwin design, the way it follows the land in risk and reward fashion is a little different than most. You can smoke on the special patio after your round while enjoying a beverage or meal.
If you wanderings take you to Colorado Springs, the world-class golf option is the famous Broadmoor, with the East, West and Mountain Courses. The East course sports tree lined fairways and huge greens. The West course changes flavor with undulating fairways and multi-level greens combined with mountain vistas. In the classic Nicklaus style, the Mountain course has wide fairways with guarded approaches to the greens as it follows the contours of the hills. And, don’t forget the world-class hotel and conference center if you need to park it for a few days!
Part way to Boulder is the Omni Interlocken Golf Club and Resort. If you need to stay, then the Omni Hotel provides a friendly option with restaurant, bar, and spa. Golf is unique here in that the Vista, Sunshine, and Eldorado nines are all a little different. Each course twists through the hills and landscape with no holes running parallel to each other. Each nine plays anywhere from 2700-3500 yards, so as much challenge as you want. The Fairways restaurant right in the clubhouse offers beverages as well as breakfast through dinner.
Green Valley Ranch is host to the Colorado Open series of tournaments and weaves through residential and wetland areas. Some memorable holes are highlighted by the 18th, a long par five that gently twists along wetlands to an elevated green. Besides being cigar friendly, the course has the three-hole challenge on the last three holes. Make par on the par four, three and five, and get a free beverage in the bar. And with proximity to DIA, you can get in 18th and then fly home.
Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sport Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During free time, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix with cigars in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, Everett Potter, Travel World and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.