After finishing up at Castle Pines Fred and I loaded up the car and starting making our way to the northeast corner of Colorado to visit Ballyneal Golf Club. I wish I could say that the the u-turn that we had to make in Denver was the only one of the trip, but I’m afraid that there were three more, including a very painful one that was made after pulling off for gas and re-entering the highway going the wrong direction. Unfortunately, we only figured that one out after we’d gone 45 minutes in the wrong direction. Since Fred is not here to state otherwise I’m going to lay full blame on the Apple Maps application on my iPhone. It is possible that I, the co-pilot, may have played a ever so slight role in the confusion, but I highly doubt it. Regardless of whose fault it all was, we did eventually find the right gravel road, drive through the correct cornfield and find our way to Ballyneal Golf Club.
Ballyneal Golf Club is one of those “middle of nowhere” clubs that no one in the world would have ever heard of if not for the fact that they have a golf course that has been critically acclaimed by all of the major golf publications. I suppose that if you’re going to build a golf club in a rural Colorado town with a population of just over 2,000 it had better be darn good if you want to attract anyone to come play and/or join. The founders of Ballyneal clearly knew this and hired Tom Doak with the hopes that he could create something that would be special enough to attract golfers from around the country and the world. Doak is of course one of the hottest architects putting shovel to dirt in the 21st century and having his name attached to the project was exactly what Ballyneal needed to generate some buzz back in 2006 when the club opened.
Earlier this year I was part of a group that went to Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson Kansas and one of the other guys on the trip, Steve, was a golfer based out of Colorado. After the trip we stayed in touch and he mentioned to me that he had recently joined Ballyneal and that he would be happy to host me there when I made my way out to Colorado. The timing couldn’t have been better, so when I began working on the Colorado trip for this summer I touched base to see if the offer still stood . . . thankfully it did. Due to some obligations at home Steve was unable to join Fred and me for our visit, but as luck would have it our paths did cross for just a few minutes. When Fred and I arrived to the club we were able to catch up with Steve for 5 minutes before he had to rush out to the nearby airport and hop a plane back to central Colorado. Had APPLE MAPS not gotten us lost on the way to the club we probably could have arrived in time for dinner with him. It was an unfortunate chain of events and I hold the ghost of Steve Jobs personally responsible.
Once we said hello/goodbye to Steve and his friends Fred and I sat down in the restaurant and ordered some food. Not long after Steve left another Ballyneal member and one of his guests came in and sat at the table next to us. They were more than friendly and before we knew it we were engrossed in conversation about all things golf. The member indicated that he would be in the group behind us tomorrow and joked that we had better not hold them up. A few beers in by then I took that opportunity to overstate how fast Fred and I like to play and boasted that not only would he never see us after the 1st hole, but that we would be finished with 18 holes in less than two hours. That veered the conversation in a whole other direction that then carried over to the bar and into the night. Needless to say the members (and staff for that matter) at Ballyneal, or at least the ones that we came into contact with, are a fun and friendly bunch who go out of their way to make guests feel welcome.
The next morning we awoke early and made our way from the cozy cottage over to the restaurant for a little breakfast. We ended up eating with the same guys from the night before and then made our way to the pro shop to get ready for our tee time. Ballyneal is a walking only facility and we were each assigned a caddie to carry our bag. Our caddies, Zander and Kade, were high school kids who were probably between 15 and 17. It always makes me feel good giving a bag fee to a young kid who is trying to earn a buck and has enough hustle to find himself a job. Some of the kids who work at Ballyneal travel from as far as an hour away for the opportunity to work. I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
Once the guys had our bags saddled up we skipped the practice range and went straight to the 1st tee box. At Ballyneal there are no official tee markers and players can tee it up anywhere they wish on the designated teeing ground. The caddies told us that each hole had several options and that they could put us in the right places if we told them roughly what yardage we wanted to play. We said 6,600 yards let them lead the way to the 1st tee.
Hole 1 / 381 – 320 Yards / Par 4
This was a fairly short hole from where we played. A driver here will leave just a short wedge into the green.
Here is a look at the green from the right side of the hole.
Did I mention that this place is remote? Take a look out across the prairie and there is nothing for as far as the eye can see. Pretty cool.
Hole 2 / 490 – 360 Yards / Par 4
This hole played as a fairly long par 4. There were quite a few tee shots where we had a bunker directly in front of us that wasn’t in play, but gave the shot the appearance of being a little more tight than it really was.
The shot into the 2nd green.
Hole 3 / 145 – 90 Yards / Par 3
Here is a look at the first one shot hole on the course. It’s a fairly short one and when the wind is favorable it’s even shorter.
Another view while walking up to the hole.
Hole 4 / 573 – 360 Yards / Par 5
Wow, what a view from this tee box. Note the yellow tint to the hills. Those are all dandelions. Normally, from what I understand, they come and go very quickly in the spring, but this year there had been more rain that usual and they were still prevalent in August. As we stood on the tee discussing them my caddie off handedly queried “I wonder how many there are out there?” Good question . . . more than we could ever count. It must be quadrillions. Oh yeah, par 5 from an elevated tee box. Bomb the driver down there as far as possible.
The short chip into the green for the third shot.
Hole 5 / 165 – 110 Yards / Par 3
Here we have another one shot hole that is not terribly long. Normally at Ballyneal the wind is blowing pretty good. For us it was a pretty mild day and the wind was only affecting our shots by about one club. On a more windy day this shot could play over 200 yards if it is into the wind.
Fred in the bunker on the right side of the green. Those clumps of grass inside the bunkers are not anywhere that you want to be.
Hole 6 / 480 – 370 Yards / Par 4
This hole is a lengthy par 4 with a nice wide fairway that will give some extra roll once the ball gets on the ground.
The approach shot into the green.
Here is a look at the 6th green. The folds and undulations are very common here at Ballyneal. This course looks and plays like a links course so a lot of the courses character comes from the movement and shaping on the ground.
Hole 7 / 352 – 285 Yards / Par 4
This was my favorite hole on the course. I’m a sucker for a short par 4 and I think this one is just fantastic. It’s possible to drive the green on this hole with a shot that is aimed down the left side which will kick right up by the green. the safe shot is a short shot out to the right side.
Here is a look at the landing area short of the green. In order to reach the putting surface the ball has to have enough steam to get to the hill and feed down, but not so much that it rolls across the green ends up in the bunkers on the right side. When the hole is up front like this I would have to believe that a hole in one is a possibility.
Another view of the green from the left side.
And here is a close up look at the uniquely shaped green. It almost looks like the letter E.
Hole 8 / 515 – 340 Yards / Par 5
This three shot hole may be reachable for some players when the wind conditions are favorable and if they are able to place their drive just right. Be sure to avoid the right side as the bunker in the distance can be in play.
I didn’t place my drive very well and the second shot for me was basically a blind one. Note the tiny white flag in the distance beyond the left side of the bunker.
Below is the view of the approach shot into the green. It’s not visible in this photo but the green here is very undulating.
Here is a better view of the green.
And another view looking back from up near the 9th tee box.
Hole 9 / 362 – 315 Yards / Par 4
Here we have a shortish par 4 that plays straight up the hill. As many of the fairways at Ballyneal are, this one is nice and wide.
The approach shot into the green which also plays uphill.
This angle shows a little more of the ground movement up near the green.
Hole 10 / 509 – 380 Yards / Par 4
The 10th hole starts from a elevated tee box and is a par 4 that can be stretched out a good long ways. The bunkers on the right can be in play from the tee.
Here we have a look at the approach into the 10th green. Note how open it is in front of the green. The “ground game” as the golf nerds say is alive and well at Ballyneal!
Hole 11 / 200 – 125 Yards / Par 3
The first one shot hole on the back side is the longest one yet. It plays uphill which can give a little added length before we even calculate in what the wind is doing. We played this from two different tee boxes over our two rounds. The photo below was from the morning and was a little more visually intimidating.
Here is the view from the tee box we used in the afternoon.
I just never get tired of standing on top of these greens and being able to see for miles.
Hole 12 / 375 – 240 Yards / Par 4
Here we have another hole that has a bunker in front of the tee box that serves as window dressing and deceives the first time player as to the true nature of the hole.
There is room on the right side of the hole, but it is way down in a valley. There is still a clear shot to the green from down there though.
Hole 13 / 510 – 330 Yards / Par 4
The 13th hole has a wide open fairway, but there are some bunkers out there that need to be avoided on the drive.
I’m not sure how long we played this hole from, but I had a long approach shot into the green.
Hole 14 / 362 – 300 Yards / Par 4
I really liked the drive on this hole. Again there is a bunker in the foreground that provides some distraction on the tee shot. The only thing that needs to be avoided here is the bunker that is visible in the distance.
I should have taken my own advice. This was a very unfortunate break on this hole. Luckily, it was not a long hole and it was only a short shot into the green and was manageable even from the unfavorable lie.
Hole 15 / 237 – 135 Yards / Par 3
Here we have a nice little one shot hole where the green sort of sits in a little bowl. With some hole locations, anything is possible on this hole.
A view of the green.
Hole 16 / 546 – 410 Yards / Par 5
The 16th hole is a three shot hole that plays uphill and doglegs to the left. The best line from the tee is the right most bunker on the hill in the distance. My caddie said it was shaped like a W, but I still think that is a bit of a stretch.
The approach into the green. The bunker in front is placed in the perfect spot to catch a lot of shots from different angles. Don’t think you are safe until your ball stops rolling!
Hole 17 / 481 – 365 Yards / Par 4
This is another hole where I just wasn’t quite sure of where to hit it off the tee. Fortunately our caddies gave good lines and we followed their direction pretty well. Too far to the right and players will find themselves in trouble on this hole. We played it right down the middle and got pretty lucky. It seems a fine line to walk with this tee shot.
The approach shot into the green.
Wow, another crazy undulating green.
Hole 18 / 463 – 375 Yards / Par 4
The home hole here is a lengthy par 4 that tempts the player with the opportunity to aim left and shorten the approach shot into the green. The further left the player aims the longer the ball must carry. The safe shot is out to the right side of the fairway.
As we walked down the 18th fairway we spotted this beast in the adjacent fairway. no its not a wolf, but is an enormous dog that belongs to one of the club’s members. The dogs owner was out playing golf and the dog was having himself a leisurely stroll around the course. I do love a golf course that allows dogs, so I was pleased to see this.
A view of the 18th green. Clearly the left side of the putting surface is not the place to miss here.
Our round at Ballyneal was basically perfect. Being the first group off we had no one behind us and because of our penchant for playing quickly we never had anyone behind us either. Our caddies were fantastic and kept up with our pace which moved us around the course in 2 hours and 45 minutes. We stopped to smell the dandelions a little bit so my boast of a sub-two hour round from the previous night was off by quite a lot. Thats OK though, this is not a course to rush around. With the tees and greens situated so closely together it is an easy walk and the type of place where you’re geared up to go again as soon as you hole out on the 18th green. We did have a second round planned but rather than going directly to the first tee we headed the restaurant to have a quick bite to eat and to wait and see if our new member friend was going to finish in time to join us for the afternoon round.
After a some food and with still no sight of the group that started directly behind us in the morning we met up with caddies again and headed to the 1st tee. We played at a leisurely pace for our second round as well and finished in just under 2 hours and 30 minutes. Our caddies couldn’t believe it and I wondered if their Moms were going to think they cut out of work early after their morning loop.
Since I was on the redeye which was leaving around 11pm and Fred was going back the next morning we discussed making a third loop around the course before we left, but ultimately decided that we would hang out for a little while longer and then make a leisurely drive back to Denver. We went back to the restaurant and ended up meeting some more members and chatting with them for a while before leaving.
The whole Ballyneal experience is simply amazing. One thing that is really cool about it is that once you arrive you park your car and don’t drive it, or a golf cart, again for the duration of your stay. The sleeping quarters, clubhouse, restaurant and proshop are all located within a stones throw of each other and the 1st tee is literally just steps outside of the clubhouse. It’s really an amazing setup and something that is unique to all the clubs that I’ve visited. Here is a photo of the cottage we stayed in and the restuarant.
And here is a shot of the cottage we stayed in and the clubhouse. The 1st tee is just to the left of the stone stairs on the left.
As far as the course goes, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I have a lot of friends who have visited here and some of them loved the course and some of them strongly disliked it. These are all people who’s opinions I respect, so I was literally ready for anything. I found it to be a golf course that I loved. The course has a ton of personality and features a lot of unique shots and interesting options for getting a golf ball from the tee into the hole. Courses that have variety and a distinctive character get a lot of bonus points from me. If you want to play a golf course where you can always see where you are hitting the ball, can play stock shots into the greens and will not be subject to quirky bounces and rolls (good and bad), this may not be a course for you. To me the kind of golf that Ballyneal is offering is fun golf and that is exactly what I like. Ballyneal is about as enjoyable a golf experience as anyone could ask for and is well worth a visit to the northeast corner of Colorado.