CASTLE ROCK, Colo. -- Tell a golfer from another state you live in Colorado and most likely he'll respond: "Have you played Castle Pines?"
The next question is about Cherry Hills Country Club, where three U.S. Opens have been staged along with two PGA Championships.
Located just 22 miles south of Cherry Hills, Castle Pines Golf Club is a stern test of golf designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1981. Because the television eyes of CBS show the beauty and competition of The International, Presented by Qwest, every year, folks from all over the world tune in and have a front-row seat for the stunning Rocky Mountain foothills setting and the entertaining variety of shots the pros have to execute.
"I think this is one of the top three courses on tour condition-wise," said Ernie Els, champion of the 2000 International. "I love playing Jack Nicklaus golf courses, so I love this course and I think he is a great designer. Even at this altitude, the 7,500 yards can still play short, but it ranks with Muirfield and Augusta as the courses in top condition on the tour. Year in and year out the greens are great."
Situated at a lofty 6,400 feet in elevation among Ponderosa pines, boulders and scrub oak, this 7,503-yard up-and-down hilly golf adventure is one of the toughest walks the PGA Tour players face.
Castle Pines G.C. will present you with some narrow fairways, but overall the tee shot is not as intimidating as the approach. You will definitely get some uneven lies, face large elevated greens with multi-tiers and be required to steer your ball around lakes and streams on seven holes.
The opening hole is a birdie chance. The 644-yard, left dogleg features a 180-foot drop from tee to green and offers a spectacular view of the Rockies. It's the longest hole on the PGA Tour and for the many the second shot will present you with a downhill lie.
No. 9 is another long 458-yard, par-4 aesthetic walk, but requires an accurate tee shot or you will be in a series of ponds and waterfalls that line the right side. The approach is semi-blind with a 5- or 6-iron to a green that slopes back to front. Staying below the hole is a must.
The real test all the pros will talk about is No. 10, a 485-yard, par 4, requiring an approach shot measuring more than 210 yards over water to the green. This hole has ruined many rounds in the tournament.
The 422-yard, No. 12 is one of Castle Pines' most beautiful holes, but it can be tricky. The hole requires a drive out of a chute of trees and an approach to a treacherous green guarded by a colorful flower bed on the left.
The 17th is where the tournament can easily be won or lost. It's a par-5, 492-yard eagle opportunity. If it is a close tournament, the lead can change several times at this hole.
You finish at 18 with one of the more interesting looking holes in golf. It's a 480-yard par-4. Players aim at the flag pole because the fairway is elevated to the right, then breaks off and drops lower into rough on the left side, which is also littered with many bunkers. The green is a figure-eight shape funneling down from both sides to the center. Needless to say when the pin is in the middle birdies are more frequent and if you are on the right tier putting to the left you must go through the low swale in the green.
Golf Digest rated this course 48th best out of "America's 100 Greatest Courses" in 1995-96, and 44th best for 1997-98. The same publication rated it as the 2nd "Best in State" course for the years 1995 through 1998. GolfWeek ranked it 9th among "America's 100 Best Modern Courses" for 1997, 12th for 1998 and 23rd for 1999. Golf Magazine selected it 87th among the "Top 100 Courses in the U.S." for 1997.
Castle Pines Golf Club's 10th hole was recently picked in 2000 by Golf Digest as one of America's 18 greatest holes.
Long-time golf writer Dan Jenkins and golf course architecture editor Ron Whitten featured the par-4, 485-yard Jack Nicklaus hole in a two-page picture article in March, and wrote:
"From the elevated tee, sweeping downhill to a green nestled right behind a pond -with Pikes Peak looming in the background -- this hole looks like a brilliant par 5, and certainly can play like it is. Sure, the ball's supposed to go farther in Colorado, but only if you get it in the air. The green mainly accepts a high fade -- it's a Nicklaus, remember."
Jenkins first picked "America's Greatest 18" for Sports Illustrated in 1965. Then 35 years later he went back to choose his favorite modern 18. He then combined the list to pick the "All-Time Best," in which Castle Pines' No. 10 was selected, replacing No. 10 at Winged Foot.
The "All Time Best" list included nine new holes. No. 14 at Muirfield Village replaced Cherry Hills' No. 14, the only other Colorado representative. Among the back nine on the "All-Time" list were No. 12 at Augusta National and No. 18 at Pebble Beach.
May 21, 2002