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Cherry Hills Country Club

Once a frontier upstart in an Eastern-dominated sport, this William Flynn opus has proven its pedigree through a string of hard-fought national championships

By: James W. Finegan

Appeared in April 2002 LINKS

In 1937, deep in the Great Depression, not every first-rate club was bent on hosting the U.S. Open. But suburban Denver’s ambitious Cherry Hills Country Club was an eager volunteer. The USGA accepted, with a condition: Cherry Hills would have to guarantee the USGA $10,000. 

“Ten thousand dollars?” roared Cherry Hills member Will Nicholson, who was on the USGA Executive Committee. “Hell, we don’t have enough in our treasury to buy a case of ketchup!”

Members raised the money, Ralph Guldahl won, and the club netted a badly needed $23,000, plus widespread acknowledgement of its outstanding golf course, designed by William S. Flynn. As at Tulsa’s Southern Hills, the high ground is occupied by the rambling and graceful clubhouse, the 1st and 10th tees, and the 9th and 18th greens. The body of the course stretches away at the bottom of the hill, over gently rolling terrain, in Flynn’s imaginative yet natural routing.

It was on the then 346-yard opening hole (below) during the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open that Arnold Palmer, seven strokes off the pace, launched a titanic tee shot from the hillside down into the tree-framed fairway. The ball bounced through a band of rough and scurried onto the green, stopping 20 feet from the hole. His birdie detonated an explosion of five more birdies, on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th, leading to his only Open win.1stFifteen years later, he and his course design partner, Ed Seay, were retained by the club to toughen up the course for the 1978 Open. They added 155 yards overall, including on the 1st hole, stretching it from 346 to 404 yards (it's now 389), and added eight bunkers, including on the opener. Arnold is reputed to have taken a devilish pleasure in these additions, which would, he felt, prevent any other player from duplicating his feat.

The first nine is full of strong holes like the 409-yard 2nd, where in the 1941 PGA Championship, on the second hole of sudden death and the 38th hole of the match, Byron Nelson three-putted to hand the title to Vic Ghezzi. But it is the second nine that is genuinely adventurous. Backdropping the roller-coaster 447-yard 10th are the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

The 520-yard 14th is probably the finest hole on the course. A mammoth par four of 520 yards, it curves gently left with the second shot dropping to a green imperiled at the left front and along the left side by the ubiquitous Little Dry Creek.

The 441-yard 16th (top photo) is superb, and extraordinarily beautiful. That sinuous stream, spanned here by three arched bridges, first works its way along the right side through the trees, then crosses the softly sloping fairway, finally edging up toward the left side of the green. In the third round of the 1990 U.S. Amateur, Phil Mickelson, one down at the time, pulled his tee shot into the right rough. With a tree blocking his path to the green, he started an 8-iron left, out over the water. Reaching its apex, and as though on command, the ball veered sharply right and finished eight feet behind the hole. “That shot won me the Amateur,” says Mickelson.

Low comedy and high drama both come to mind at the 487-yard 18th. On the tee in the second round of the 1960 Open, the tempestuous Tommy Bolt, distracted at the top of his backswing by a fish jumping out of the water, hooked his drive into the lake and then, enraged, hurled his driver in after it.

Going back to the “Ketchup Open,” Cherry Hills has staged its fair share of national championships. Most recently, the aptly named Birdie Kim chipped in on the final hole to win the 2005 Women’s Open, to write the latest chapter in the colorful history of Cherry Hills Country Club. History will continue to unfold at the 2012 U.S. Amateur, as well as the 2014 BMW Championship.

Par: 71
Yardage: 7,466
Year founded: 1922
Architect: William S. Flynn

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