Still the Same–Riverdale Dunes

Holes like the short par-3 8th across a corner of a bulkheaded lake was a rare thrill for Coloradoans when Riverdale Dunes opened.

A hole like the short par-3 8th across a corner of a bulkheaded lake was a rare thrill for Coloradoans when Riverdale Dunes opened.

Growing up along the Front Range north of Denver, I and most of my friends considered Riverdale’s Dunes course to be the crème de la crème of Colorado golf. Pete Dye seemed exotic, like a Darth Vader of golf inflicting pain wherever he went, and Riverdale was a Death Star packed with all his cool weaponry: Lakes! Pot bunkers! Railroad ties! (We didn’t get out much.)

We weren’t wrong about how good the course was, just the reasons. As is almost always the case, what makes a golf course great is the small things, not the big. Against the wide open prairies and uplands of the Front Range, Riverdale Dunes’ bulkheaded water features and penal bunkering are unique but obvious. Everyone’s favorite hole was (and for many still is) the par-4 15th that hooks sharply around a lake because it wasn’t something you ever saw in Colorado.

The 15th, which encourages players to cut drives over the edge of the lake, gives locals a taste of what it's like to play golf in Florida.

The 15th, which encourages players to cut drives over the edge of the lake, gives locals a taste of what it’s like to play golf in Florida.

But it’s the the rambling ground contour and shaping of the course between the holes, with faux dunes and billowing prairie grass (created from a dead flat site), that continues to elevate the course above teenage adulation.

I’m reluctant to use the L-word, but a number of holes, particularly on the north side of the property, use the mounding in similar ways as links would, playing alongside, around or even down between the hillocks. A high mound on the left side of the par-4 6th, for instance, obscures portions of the green if drives aren’t played far enough out to the right. The par-5 16th turns in a continuing arc around high, choppy hills so the small, pedestal green doesn’t come into view until late.

The rolling fairway at the uphill par-5 11th kicks shots sideslope left-to-right all the way to the exposed, severely tilted green. Other greens, like the par-5 9th and brutish par-4 13th are set in pockets and hollows offering only partial views of the flag.

There’s so much going on at foot level and in the greenside shaping you can overlook out of place holes like the 15th, the par-3 17th along the rim of another lake, or Dye’s redundant 5-3-4 finish. The course is also a refreshing reminder that every Dye family endeavor doesn’t, or at least didn’t, actually have to be a Death Star. It’s the little things here, set against the open Colorado prairie, that make Riverdale Dunes what it was and still is–one of the best. (92)

Riverdale Golf Club–Dunes Course

Brighton/Denver

Architect: Pete & Perry Dye

Year: 1985

The long par-3 4th offers a sense of the wide open landscape and sense of pure golf at Riverdale.

The long par-3 4th offers a sense of the wide open landscape and pure golf environment at Riverdale. (photo from greenskeeper.org)

 

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