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|Punctuated by sandstone monoliths and squiggly bunkers, No. 12 is Fossil Trace Golf Club's most scenic hole. (David R. Holland/WorldGolf.com)|
GOLDEN, Colo. - Former New York City mayor Ed Koch sent an e-mail protesting the ground-breaking, but even some dinosaur fossil-huggers couldn't stop the building of Fossil Trace Golf Club.
It did, however, take more than 10 years of talk and red tape before this Jim Engh-designed award winner was finally in play. And they haven't stopped coming since that day in 2003.
"We have been sold out every day for five and a half years," said Head Professional Jim Hajek. That equals to 45,000 rounds a year and cold or snow day closure equaled about 65 days this winter.
Both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine voted Fossil Trace as one of the Top 10 new golf courses to play in the country in 2003. Golf Digest gave it 4 1/2 Stars Best Places to Play from 2006 through 2009. And Golfweek names it one of the top public courses in Colorado year after year.
Fossil Trace is much more than an award winner - it is a municipal with preserved footprints of beasts that roamed this part of Colorado 64 million years ago.
The site is a combination of swamp wetlands, flood-protection retention ponds, a former dump ground for fly ash and an old clay mine. It includes the tracks of a duckbilled hadrosaurs, crocodile-like reptiles known as champosaurs and carnivorous dinosaurs called theropods, and the track of a triceratops.
Just off the 12th fairway a huge piece of sandstone was lifted upward millions of years ago displaying remnants when this was a rain forest. The fossils even include a palm frond. And check out the clubhouse for a replica skull of a triceratops, a three-horned dinosaur, and other dinosaur fast facts.
Golf-course architect extraordinaire Engh was actually tinkering with the layout at Fossil Trace before his trifecta of awards came from Sanctuary (1997), Red Hawk Ridge (1999), and Redlands Mesa (2001) in Colorado. He followed that with Golf Digest's Best New Upscale Course in 2002 for Tullymore Golf Club in mid-Michigan.
And many think this was his most creative job, jamming an entertaining golf course into an ultra urban area. The perimeter of this Fossil Trace Golf Club is pure Americana - modest homes, a high school, strip malls, a multitude of power lines and Adolph Coors Brewery in the distance. Look upward and the most scenery you find, other than scenic No. 12's fossils, is Table Mountain that towers over Golden.
Maybe golfers miss the power lines because they are having too much fun. "One comment I will never forget came from a gentleman who at the turn told me this was the most fun he had had on a golf course in 50 years," Hajek said. "And he hadn't even got to the best yet - the back nine!"
Fun is the verdict on this 6,833-yard, par 72. On the first hole, a par 5 of 575 yards, something interesting happens. A bowled fairway bends left and just in sight of your second shot is a chimney of a brick kiln that was left in the middle of the fairway. The view from here is downhill to one of Engh's devious, cavernous, squiggly bunkers on the left, then a long, depressed, serpentine green and cottonwoods lining the right side.
Tip No. 1 - avoid at all costs any 10-foot deep zig-zagging bunkers filled with heavy Idaho white sand - such as the huge one that fronts the 409-yard uphill, par-4 seventh hole. It sits directly perpendicular in front of the elevated green and is made even more muscular with mounds of thick rough.
Now, the par-5 12th hole - try and imagine a fairway with 20-foot tall pillars of sandstone placed like monolithic minefields in your pathway to the green, 585 yards away. There's the 60-foot rock wall on the left that is the home of the dinosaur tracks, and there's old clay-mining equipment in sight. After you finish the hole, a split-rail fence leads you to a viewing area for the fossils.
"You know, even with the beauty of No. 12, I'm thinking 13 is my favorite," Hajek said. "It is a 394-yard, downhill par 4 where you can see Table Mountain and you have to throw a dart in there. If you don't hit a good tee shot you are done, but even if you nail the green you have a roller-coaster putt."
Aside from the golf, Three Tomatoes at Fossil Trace is a much heralded restaurant ready for fancy dinners, weddings and banquets. And the golf instruction on Fossil Trace's double-sided practice range is divided into adult, junior, women's and beginner's classes.
Fossil Trace's state-of-the-art GPS golf carts can tell the staff almost anything - like that it takes 13 minutes and 57 seconds to play the second hole.
And would you believe all this is affordable? Locals can play for as little as $43 on weekdays with $8.50 per cart rider. Golf travelers can come for the Coors tours and play for $58 plus cart.
Castle Marne (Tel. 800-926-2763; 1572 Race St.), a historic mansion minutes from downtown Denver, is an excellent bed & breakfast. It belongs to the Historic Hotels of the Rockies. For more information, see www.castlemarne.com.
June 10, 2009
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 at @David_R_Holland.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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