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Cougar Canyon Golf Links in Trinidad, Colorado: Retro Nicklaus golf with an Old West flair

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Cougar Canyon Golf Links - Hole 16
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Cougar Canyon's 16th hole boasts a stunning natural island green formed by Gray Creek. (Courtesy of cougarcanyonliving.com)

Cougar Canyon Golf Links, an award-winning new Jack Nicklaus design put a bull's-eye on the southern Colorado town of Trinidad for golf tourists.

TRINIDAD, Colo. - If you walk the historic streets of this Old West coal mining town you can almost envision a history that included lawmen and hooligans - schoolmarms and shenanigans.

Bat Masterson was town marshal in 1882 when Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp arrived (some say they came straight from the Gunfight at the OK Corral on October 26, 1881). Lawlessness did simmer down a bit but a red-light district and 33 saloons kept Masterson busy until he moved on.

It took another 33 years before Trinidad Municipal Golf Course opened, and offered an alternative to playing Texas Hold'em in rowdy bars.

But Cougar Canyon Golf Links might be its best draw for tourists. With a mild climate allowing golf 10 months out of the year, this new golf course is landing honors from all the major national golf publications.

GOLF Magazine placed Cougar Canyon on its "Top 10 You Can Play 2007" list. LINKS Magazine named it one of "America's Premier Properties" 2008-2009. Cougar Canyon topped the list of Nicklaus Design courses at No. 5 in Golfweek's ranking of Best New Courses of 2008 and No. 1 Colorado public access course. And Golf Digest placed it No. 3 on its 2009 list of Best New Public Courses, behind Chambers Bay.

Cougar Canyon Golf Links explores golf history

"When we started studying Trinidad, we saw an old-time coal mining town with a rich history," says Nicklaus Design associate Chris Cochran. "Why not design an old-style golf course?"

There are natural elements and rugged design features everywhere one looks. First, gaze out over the sandy arroyo carved by Gray Creek that snakes throughout the design. In some places it is cavernous enough to hide a posse on horseback and this dry draw serves as fairway boundaries on numerous holes.

Then just take a gander at the bunkers on this minimalist, 7,700-yard par 72 with it panoramic views of the Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristos.

"There are only 33 bunkers, nearly a half to a third what's on most new courses," Cochran explains. "They are retro, a throwback to the 1920s, and they will remind you of old Seth Raynor bunkers that are deep and penal. Still in most of these bunkers you will be able to hit a mid- to long-iron out of them."

To make it even more distinct, these bunkers are filled with a lightweight, black-lava sand or silicate, which originates from Capulin, an ancient volcano about 60 miles south in New Mexico.

Cougar Canyon Golf Links: The verdict

This golf course is demanding. From the back tees there are long arroyo forced carries, tricky sightlines, blind shots and ubiquitous undulations on the greens that command concentration. Place your tee shot on the wrong side of a fairway and you might not even have a view of the putting surface or flag. Stray from the fairways and this is a semi-arid landscape of pinons, junipers, chollas, prickly pear and rocky dirt.

Most dramatic of all the natural features comes on the 161-yard, par-three 16th, which forms a natural island ravine green and is perhaps the best par three in Colorado. It is every bit as imtimidating as No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass's Stadium Course.

Cougar Canyon begins on flatter land before winding to gradual climbs in elevation. Your first adventure with the wash comes on the second, a 188-yard par three, as the draw engulfs the rear with two deep bunkers guarding the right side.

On the sixth, a 545-yard par five with a split fairway, Fisher's Peak comes into view. This 9,600-foot, volcanic, basalt-capped mesa towers over the city, but the panorama also includes the Spanish Peaks and Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Stay, play and practice at Cougar Canyon

Cougar Canyon Resort and Spa (www.cougarcanyonliving.com) opens this summer with 117 rooms that are all suites designed with a Western feel with a contemporary edge. There will be four-star dining, a spa, and large conference and banquet facilities. There's one of Colorado's more expansive double-sided practice ranges, golf lessons, 3,000-acre nature preserve, Equestrian Club, eight-mile walking trail, swimming pool, and huge fitness center.

Cougar Canyon is hoping to attract second-home buyers who still want to be within three hours or so of a major city. Pueblo is less than 100 miles and the airport at Colorado Springs is only 128 miles. They also hope the 300 days of sunshine, the Rocky Mountains, and a fascination with the Old West will draw golfers. True West Magazine voted Trinidad No. 3 on their list of Top Ten Western Towns over Durango, Colo. and Cheyenne, Wyo.

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Cougar Canyon Golf Links - Hole 6Cougar Canyon Golf Links - Hole 15Cougar Canyon Golf Links - Hole 2

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Excellent story

    RJ wrote on: May 18, 2009

    Excellent story. Best written I seen on this golf course. I have played it and it will kick your rear from the rear tees. Helpful hint, move up to shorter tees and play it several times to learn where to place your tee shots and some par five second shots. Positioning is the key on this course or you will not score well.