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Colorado Golf Club

One of the latest masterpieces in the Coore-Crenshaw body of work is a tour de force of movement, strategy and beauty

By: Tom Cunneff

The symbol of the Colorado Golf Club is a small, bright red flower called the Indian Paintbrush. Legend has it that a young brave tried in vain to capture the sunset with his war paints. Unable to re-create nature’s brilliance, he asked for guidance from the Great Spirit, who gave him paintbrushes laden with the colors he needed. After completing his masterpiece, the brave left the brushes in the field, from which the namesake flower bloomed.

It’s an apt symbol for this Bill Coore/Ben Crensaw stunner near Denver, given the highly artistic course the two minimalist masters have left in their wake. No need for them to summon the Great Spirit. They seem to have little trouble capturing nature’s brilliance here or at anyone of the 18 original courses the pair has collaborated on since getting together in 1986.

Crenshaw called the land, a 1,700-acre former Arabian horse ranch interspersed with meadows, ponderosa pines and washes, “gifted for golf.” Indeed, Coore and Crenshaw moved less dirt here than they did at their most acclaimed design, Sand Hills in Nebraska.

The 7,604-yard Colorado Golf Club layout starts with a downhill 653-yarder that can actually be reached in two if the drive catches the downslope of the generous fairway. You go from the longest hole on the course to the shortest, a 154-yarder perched on a hillside with a tiny green surrounded by four shaggy bunkers. Long is absolutely dead; a chip back has little chance of holding the two-tiered green.

Another accurate approach over a barranca to a false-fronted green is required at the downhill 428-yard 3rd. Two strong par 4s of 500 and 479 yards, and a 251-yard par 3, follow, but the holes don’t play nearly as long as their yardages because of the altitude, and Crenshaw/Coore leave plenty of opportunity to run the ball up to the hole on the longer ones.

As is his wont, Coore spent the final few months of construction living on site in a trailer with his wife and dog. Being so close to the land helps Coore draw inspiration from nature. After a spring snowfall, for instance, snow remained on the side of a hill separating the two fairway levels of the par-5 7th, so Coore took a can of spray paint and outlined the patch to create the bunker that heroic tee shots must carry to reach the green in two.

Golfers are repeatedly given choices like that; there’s more temptation here than there is in Las Vegas. One such risk/reward decision is driveable par-4 14th, where a horseshoe green is fronted by a narrow bunker. Workers were surprised one evening during construction when they saw a tiny fiery glow in the gloaming coming from the greensite. Crenshaw was in the bunker at dusk, smoking a cigarette and shaping the bunker by hand with a shovel.

True artists can be finicky like that.

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