New layout and clubhouse portend a return to glory for 108-year-old City Park.
By Jon Rizzi
After three years marked initially by controversy, then by construction and now by impatient curiosity, Denver’s City Park Golf Course will reopen this fall for limited play with a completely redesigned layout and a spectacular new clubhouse.
The City of Denver made the announcement Monday, adding that the first events to take place will be the Denver Golf Men’s City Amateur Championship (Aug. 29-30) and the Triple Play Tournament (Aug. 31), a fundraiser for The First Tee of Denver, which headquarters at City Park.
Expect a “soft opening” to the general public in September, featuring a restricted number of tee times to ensure turf conditions (the grow-in has gone slower than anticipated due to weather). Plans call for an official grand reopening next spring.
It’s been well worth the wait.
A Flood of Changes
Precipitated by the need to manage the stormwater that naturally flows through this location and prevent flooding of neighborhoods to the north, the project initially met with opposition from community groups concerned with preserving the historic, tree-lined, 135-acre facility.
The course architect chosen for the project, Todd Schoeder of Broomfield-based GrassRoots Golf Design (formerly Icon Golf Studio), took the public’s input and collaborated with numerous city agencies and the golf community.
With Boulder native and World Golf Hall of Famer Hale Irwin serving as a design consultant, Schoeder came up with a blueprint to improve upon the existing Tom Bendelow-designed course while re-engineering it to capture up to 74 million gallons of stormwater and then release it over the span of eight hours—keeping the course playable and the surrounding neighborhoods inhabitable.
Functional and Fun
A recent tour of the course with the architect reveals how deftly Schoeder and the personnel involved accomplished this. It’s easy to see why, even though the course has yet to open, the architect has already received the American Society of Golf Course Architects’ (ASGCA) 2018 Design Excellence Award and 2019 ASGCA Environmental Excellence Award for the $45 million project.
- Trees: Schoeder removed roughly one-third of the property’s 825 trees and planted more than 700 new ones—all with an eye towards agronomics and strategy. For example, old-growth giants pinch the first fairway, making for an intimidating opening drive, but there’s “plenty of width just beyond,” Schoeder says.
- Returning Nines: The outward and inward nines begin and end at the clubhouse. Returning nines had never existed at the facility, making it difficult to start groups on holes 1 and ten.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: The 260-yard practice range, formerly squeezed into the 80 yards between holes 17 and 18 on the property’s far west end, now spreads to the east of the clubhouse, distantly bordered by holes 4, 8 and 9 and a sweet short-game practice area. At 150 yards wide and 310 yards long, the range features 30 stalls and allows you to hit every club. “It faces east, so when people come to practice in the evening, they’re not hitting into the sun,” Schoeder says. “The range is going to be a new profit center.”
- Bigger Greens: At 5,558 square feet, the average green measures approximately 30 percent larger than the 3,925 square feet they did previously. You’ll find styles such as Biarritz, punchbowl, pushup with multiple tiers and pinnable areas, with 23 of the course’s 35 bunkers guarding the greens—but some not as close as they appear from the fairway. “Matching the height of the bunker to the horizon line of the green creates an optical illusion,” Schoeder points out.
- Tight Lies. The green surrounds are designed to be mown only slightly higher than fairway length.
- Natural Direction: Given the width of the site, most holes still play east-to-west and west-to-east—and along many of the same corridors as the previous iteration. The exceptions are Nos. 6 and 8, which run north-to-south; and Nos. 7 and 12 that run south-to-north. Holes one, nine, 10, 11, 14 and 16 head west, while holes two through five, and 13, 15, 17 and 18 play east.
- Two Strokes Harder: Although the layout’s 6,703 yards mirror the previous version’s 6,708, the course is now a par-70, rather than a par-72. Three of its par 3s are on the par-34 front, and a short par-5 13th and five long par 4s highlight the longer par-36 back.
- Strategy Trumps Length: From the championship tips, the straight-head par-4 15th clocks in at 503 yards—31 yards longer than the narrower, more strategic, water-lined 472-yard par-5 13th.
- Width Trumps Length: The average fairway is now 40 yards wide—11 yards more forgiving than it was before.
- The East of Your Concerns: Only six holes—including the treacherous par-5 ninth, which curls around a large irrigation pond, lie east of the clubhouse.
- Water Your Options: Whereas water factored into only two holes on the old City Park layout, it comes into play on four now, owing to the needs of flood control. In addition to the pond on nine, a large forebay borders the 11th and 13th, flowing into a stream that meanders through those holes as well as No. 14.
- Kids Only: Four perky par-3 holes await members of The First Tee of Denver, who have their own separate learning space and entrance in the clubhouse.
- Family-friendly: Every hole has a “family tee” area. “It’s not just tee markers stuck in the fairway,” Schoeder says. “They’re tees everyone can play from and have fun.”
- The Clubhouse Turn: Schoeder and his team relocated the site of the clubhouse, which stood at the lowest point of the property (the corner of York Street and 26th Avenue), to one of the highest points (near the new entrance at 23rd Avenue between York and Colorado Blvd.). In the event of a flood, water will be released where the old clubhouse was, currently the area between the 14th green and 15th tee.
- Seen Off the Green: The new 11,000-square-foot clubhouse, designed by Denver-based Johnson Nathan Strohe, combines metal, glass, stone and wood, with high, floor-to-ceiling windows rewarding those in the bar and restaurant with views of the first tee, ninth green and a spectacular panorama of the Denver skyline against the Rocky Mountains. The building will also serve as an event space.
- Sign of the Times: In addition to the panorama of the course and cityscape, the clubhouse rewards visitors with another memorable view. A display in the entryway celebrates City Park Golf Course as “the People’s Course,” where “player diversity drives change in Denver’s racial divide.”
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