Most people would say the state of Colorado’s best natural assets are the Rocky Mountains. When it comes to golf I’d argue the best thing going for it are the high prairies along the eastern Front Range. The mountain courses, visually dramatic and non-replicable anywhere else, are often difficult to build and unyielding to play and walk. They can achieve high marks for excitement but have to be judged within their own narrow and compromised context.
The rolling terrain, arable soils, winds, creeks and native grasses of the high plains at the base of the mountains are more naturally suited to golf. Architects who know what they’re doing don’t have to manipulate the land much to create natural, compelling hole, and since there’s plenty of space the golf usually comes at an affordable price.
Murphy Creek east of Denver incorporates all of the above. The design roams over the a land at the edge of civilization using the site’s tumbling
contours and fall lines in imaginative ways. Ken Kavanaugh’s bunkering looks great against the vast backdrop of the Front Range. The bunkers also function as guideposts to alleys, ridges and high-risk zones that open up lucrative angles into the greens.
There’s an eponymous creek and a few gulches that are put to good use, like the one that cuts in along the front of the green at the par-3 11th and continues diagonally off the following tee at the long par-4 12th where there’s plenty of room to figure out how to use the wide, firm fairway.
The creek forms the inside corner of a sharp dogleg at the 348-yard 9th (311 from the men’s tee), against which you can hedge your line of play anywhere from the fat of the fairway to a direct shot over the left side of it at the green (at this altitude, its more a possibility than elsewhere).
A reversal of the nines would improve the course. They probably wanted a big hole to finish the round, and the 468-yard uphill 18th qualifies. But 14 through 16 turning through the thick of the adjacent housing development (with two holes hugging retention lakes—Coloradoans love water features because they see so few of them) are the three weakest holes on the course, while the par three 17th is just long rather than especially good. And that little ninth would be a beguiling way to finish off one of the otherwise purest expressions of high prairie golf in the state. (90)
Architect: Ken Kavanaugh