Thanks to an English lord and other well-heeled visionaries, golf was in Colorado four decades before the CGA
Scottish transplants introduced golf to the upper tiers of American society in the second half of the 19th century, and it didn’t take long for the game’s appeal to bleed west. From 1875 until the formation of the CGA in 1915, golf in Colorado was inspired by a collection of colorful businessmen, outdoor enthusiasts and a six-time British Open champion who barnstormed the country.
Golf first appeared in Colorado in the Estes Park Valley compliments of Englishman Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the 4th Earl of Dunraven, who made his first trip to the Estes Park area in 1874 to hunt mountain lions, bears and buffalo. He almost immediately acquired 15,000 picturesque acres. Beseeched by his golf-mad British acquaintances, Lord Dunraven constructed a nine-hole golf course in 1875, and needing accommodations to house his growing number of guests, he oversaw—with the assistance of the preeminent Western artist Albert Bierstadt—the construction of the Estes Park Hotel in 1877.
Pictured: Lord Dunraven
The “English Hotel,” as locals called it, was an instant success despite any frustrations guests may have experienced with golf or “pasture pool” as it was often described. The game fit in so well with the fresh air, scenery and outdoor lifestyle that a second nine-hole course, utilizing sand greens with tin cups, sprang up adjacent to the sprawling Elkhorn Lodge in 1877.
Lord Dunraven departed Colorado in 1884 and sold much of his land to the entrepreneur Freelan Oscar (F.O.) Stanley, owner of the Stanley Dry Plate Company and Stanley Motor Carriage Company. A rugged, eccentric individualist who in 1903 drove his Stanley Steamer—nicknamed the “flying teapot”—from Denver to Estes Park in a record-setting time of less than two hours, Stanley would design and build his own magnificent hotel in 1909 and add a golf course in the early 1920s.
Pictured: Women with skis and golf clubs on the putting green in Estes Park, 1919
Henry Wolcott was headed to California in 1876 to seek his fortune when, besieged by an infected tooth, he sought treatment in Denver and stayed. He soon became the right-hand of mining capitalist Nathaniel P. Hill and mingled with men of influence and standing. Wolcott was a force behind the establishment of both the Denver Club—founded in 1880 at the intersection of 17th Street and Glenarm Place—and the Overland Park Country Club in 1895. Located north of Huron Street and East of the South Platte River, Overland played around and within the existing Overland horse racetrack.
Since Overland Park had an existing clubhouse, built in 1889, establishing a golf club proceeded quickly. Together with prominent Denver attorney and golf nut Frank Woodward, Wolcott attracted as many as 300 members to the club, which held its first men’s golf championship the same year (1895) as the United States Open and United States Amateur. In 1896, the club became the first club west of the Mississippi to earn admittance into the United States Golf Association.
Highlighting its growing prestige, Overland welcomed the great English golfer Harry Vardon, who just two months earlier had won the 1900 U.S. Open at Chicago Golf Club. Vardon played his ball against the best ball of members John Russell, Walter Fairbanks (pictured below) and Woodward, who arrived on the first tee dressed identically to Vardon, right down to the vest and tam-o’-shanter. Playing two loops on the nine-hole track, the Englishman prevailed, 72-74. Vardon played a similar round at Colorado Springs’ newly constructed 18-hole Town and Gown Golf Club (today’s Patty Jewett). He received $500 for the two exhibitions.
Pictured: Walter Fairbanks, 1909
At the turn of the century, Overland club members bought property along Cherry Creek and established the Denver Country Club at its present location, hiring 1896 US Open champion James Foulis—an erstwhile assistant to Old Tom Morris—to design the course. Overland would eventually become the 18-hole city-owned and operated course it is today, while DCC—on the steam of Woodward, who ascended to the presidency of the USGA in 1915—would go on to host the Trans-Mississippi Amateur in 1910 and Western Golf Association Amateur in 1912.
In 1908, a mix of members from Denver and the defunct Overland, looking to take advantage of the recently completed trolley line between the Capitol and Golden, founded Colorado Golf Club on an alfalfa field one mile west of Denver. They hired Tom Bendelow, designer of Medinah’s three courses, as architect. In 1912 the City of Denver enlisted Bendelow to design its first public course at City Park.
That same year, Colorado Golf Club renamed itself Lakewood Country Club. The following year, 1913, it hosted the Men’s State Amateur Championship and an exhibition with Vardon and Ted Ray (who’d played the foils in Francis Ouimet’s historic victory that year at The Country Club in Brookline). In 1916, the legendary Donald Ross refined the layout that exists today.
In 1898, Willie Campbell, a Scottish club professional whose architectural resume included The Country Club in Brookline, authored the first 18 holes at the Town and Gown Golf Club. Two years later, William Jewett, an astute businessman who, among other interests formed the Suburban Land and Water Company, was elected club president and won the club championship in 63 holes. Jewett purchased the Town and Gown Club in 1910 and changed the name of the course to Colorado Springs Golf Club. After his wife, Patty, died in 1915, Jewett deeded the property to the city with the stipulation it would bear her name. It still does.
An exclusive nine-hole course designed by Duncan Chisholm at Cheyenne Mountain Country Club actually predated Town and Gown, opening in 1891 with 100 members from the East Coast, Europe and England. In addition to golf, polo and shooting were the main attractions. The club attracted the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Payne Whitney, William H. Sanford and presidential scion Chester Alan Arthur II. Known as the “Grizzlies,” they counted among their members Spencer Penrose, who in 1918 would open The Broadmoor just blocks away, effectively extinguishing Cheyenne Mountain’s 3,000-yard layout. The club still exists, but without golf or polo.
Pictured: Town and Gown Golf Club in the eary 1900's. Now known as Patty Jewett.
Tucked into a quaint neighborhood on less than 100 acres, Pueblo Country Club hosted its first round on a nine-hole course cleared of cacti and sagebrush by its original members. More than six decades would pass before Henry Hughes would add the second nine.
11 BEFORE ’15
These 11 golf courses predate by as much as 40 years the formation of the Colorado Golf Association in 1915.
1875: Estes Park Hotel Course, Estes Park (nine holes)*
1877: Elkhorn Lodge, Estes Park (nine holes)*
1891: Cheyenne Mountain Country Club, Colorado Springs (nine holes)*
1896: Overland Country Club (now Overland Park Golf Course), Denver (nine holes, later 18)
1897: Polo Grounds at Hotel Colorado, Glenwood Springs (nine holes)*
1898: Town and Gown Golf Club (later renamed Patty Jewett Golf Course), Colorado Springs (18 holes, later 27)
1903: Denver Country Club, Denver
1903: Pueblo Country Club, Pueblo (nine holes, later 18)
1908: Colorado Golf Club (renamed Lakewood Country Club), Lakewood
1909: Interlachen Golf Club (now part of Willis Case Golf Course), Denver
1912: City Park Golf Course, Denver
(* = No longer in existence.)