Bruce Maness built a par-3 course and driving range on his Cortez dairy farm.
On Bruce and Nancy Maness’s lush, 40-acre property, tucked alongside Mount Hesperus into the state’s far southwestern corner, spread nine punctiliously groomed par-three golf holes. They range in length from 124 to 238 yards. They dogleg left and right, strategically traverse creeks and skirt cottonwoods. Sagebrush rough borders the wide fairways and the subtly breaking greens roll true.
A 72-year-old retired mechanic and dairy farmer, Bruce Maness built, owns, operates and maintains the entire facility, which he calls the South Forty Golf Course and Driving Range. You won’t find it in any directory of Colorado golf, and you won’t find Bruce or Nancy out there enjoying a round with their children or grandchildren. That’s because Bruce and Nancy Maness—a couple that’s living the dream of every avid golfer—don’t play golf.
“Not a lick,” says Nancy, a retired school counselor who jokes her job is “to look pretty while Bruce does everything else,” but ably handles South Forty’s customer service, marketing and communications.
Bruce first had the idea of building a golf course in 1973. After working on oilrigs and airplanes during his twenties, he had returned with his wife to work with his parents and siblings on the family dairy farm. Bringing home the cows one evening, he looked over the property and thought, Wouldn’t this make a lovely golf course?
The idea marinated while he and Nancy raised their three sons, none of whom demonstrated much interest in working the farm. “We also realized that dairy farming was a financial risk that changed almost yearly,” Nancy says. “The siblings had all gone and his parents were ready to retire. It was obvious that running the farm by ourselves would not be practical.”
So by the late 1980s, Nancy fulfilled her dream of becoming a school counselor and they sold the dairy herd. But when it finally came time for Bruce to announce his ambition, Nancy panicked. “A golf course?” she remembers thinking. “They cost a lot of money and we don’t even play golf. So like any good wife, I ignored him and thought it’d go away.”
But Bruce was already applying his mechanic’s mind and farmer’s work ethic. And when Norm Trivett, who had run golf courses for 20 years, moved in across the street, Nancy “knew the jig was up.”
Using the non-agricultural portion of the property, in 1995 they started by installing a gravity-fed irrigation themselves. They built the driving range while frugally and methodically using the money it generated to build the course. They employed farm implements, garage-sale mowers and other equipment Bruce would overhaul. He once spent 16 hours towing a seven-blade Toro Gang Mower in a trailer from Denver.
“Norm said he wouldn’t leave until the last green went in,” Nancy reports of the good neighbor who stayed the entire 10 years the project took.
Today, a small white A-frame serves as the clubhouse, built by Mennonites from Farmington, New Mexico, and kept warm by the geothermal heating system Bruce put in. He also bought three golf carts, which he charges with solar panels installed and hauled in a wartime bomb wagon he refurbished. The Manesses still lease part of their ag land and have in the past allowed Navajos to pasture their goats and sheep to control the weeds. Nancy says Bruce is also hatching a plan to train crows to pick the range.
With Bruce keeping the homespun course in in great shape, South Forty makes good on its promise of a “carefree relaxed round.” That is, as long as you avoid the sagebrush. It has some surprisingly good holes, which provide different angles from different tees. The fourth, for example, with its green hidden behind cottonwoods and fronted by a creek, presents a tougher challenge from the back tees than the front ones to the right.
To play nine holes costs $10, which you can slide into the pay slot if George, the 90-year-old attendant, isn’t around. High Five Fridays cut the price in half. South Forty also sells a $225 season pass. The driving range, which faces Ute Mountain, is self-service as well, thanks to Bruce’s retrofitting of the ball dispenser with a dollar-bill reader. Thirty balls cost $2. The machine takes tokens too, which the San Juan Coffee market at the local City Market sells at no extra charge.
The course, which cost the Manesses less than $100,000 to build, sits five miles southwest of Cortez’s municipal Conquistador Golf Course and is a quick drive to Mesa Verde, Durango and New Mexico. With none of their kids interested in taking it over, do Nancy and Bruce plan to sell it or retire? “As long as it pays for itself and keeps Bruce healthy,” Nancy says, “we’ll keep doing it.”