As I wind down to the last twenty or so courses of my Top 100 quest I’m finding that a big reason these courses are the final ones is because I simply don’t have any contacts at them. There was a time when, if I didn’t know a member of a club, I could keep plugging away at my goal by just moving on to one of the dozens of clubs on the list where I did know a member. Now that I’m nearing the end I don’t have the option of moving on and I’m having to face all of my toughest challenges. I’ve had Colorado on my radar for quite some time and have been wanting to go because there are three top 100 courses that can be visited with a flight into Denver. Unfortunately, my friends and contacts in Colorado are pretty slim and I wasn’t having much luck.
Of the three Colorado courses on the Top 100 list the one that ended up giving me the toughest time was Cherry Hills Country Club, located in a suburb of Denver. Cherry Hills was established in 1922 and was designed by William Flynn for a fee of $4,500 . . . about $60,000 in today’s dollars. That’s a far cry lower than what the top architects of today are getting for their services.
Cherry Hills is best known as the site of the 1960 U.S. Open that was won, in quite a dramatic fashion, by The King himself, Arnold Palmer. The club’s rich championship tradition began in 1938 when they hosted their first USGA event, the U.S. Open. Since then the USGA has returned two times (1960 and 1978) with their premiere championship and the PGA has used the course twice to host their championship (1941 and 1985). In addition to major championships there have been a significant number of important golf tournaments contested here over the years and that tradition will continue next year when the PGA Tour brings the BMW Championship to Cherry Hills as the third leg of the FedEx Cup.
Since I was able to arrange some other golf in Colorado, I decided to go ahead and book my flight to Denver even though I didn’t have anything set up for Cherry Hills. As the time grew near I continued to strike out and it was looking pretty grim. As a last ditch effort I sent an email to my club pro to see if knew anyone that might be able to help. About two days after I sent that email I was at the course playing in my clubs Thursday night 9 hole group when the director of golf came over to chat and tell me that he was going to make a call to see if he could help me get a game at Cherry Hills. At that point one of our new assistant pros overheard the conversation and piped up “who wants to play Cherry Hills? I have a friend that’s a member.” The rest as they say is history. Again, if I weren’t there myself I wouldn’t believe it.
So with a game lined up at Cherry Hills the trip was complete. My buddy Fred from Philadelphia was with me and after an early morning at CommonGround Golf Course we hopped in our rental car and made our way over to Cherry Hills. When we pulled into the parking lot we were greeted by the magnificent entrance to the clubhouse. What a beautiful building!
On our way into the clubhouse we immediately got a feel for the pride the club has in rich championship history when we saw this statue of Arnold Palmer memorializing his infamous victory hat toss at the 1960 U.S. Open.
Unfortunately, our host was unable to play with us, but the club arranged for us to play with one of the members of the professional staff. Upon arrival we checked in, changed shoes and hit a few balls before heading to the 1st tee. Fred is always adamant that he wants to play from the tee “where the members play”. It doesn’t matter if it’s 7,200 or 6,100 yards . . . if it’s the tee where the members play from that’s where he wants to play. In this case the member tees were 6,698 so that’s where we played from.
Hole 1 – 340 Yards – Par 4
The very first thing we saw on the 1st tee box was a plaque that paid tribute to Arnold Palmer’s bold shot in the final round that reached the green on this shortish par 4 and kicked off his round of 65 that ultimately won him the championship.
Here is the view from the tee box that we played from. Fred and I both took a rip with our drivers, but even with the extra distance from the high elevation neither of us came close to hitting the green like Palmer did.
The short chip to the 1st green.
Hole 2 – 398 Yards – Par 4
The second hole is a lengthy par 4 that bends slightly to the left with bunkers running down the left side of the fairway. The shortest path to the green is down the left side of the fairway.
Here we have a look into the green. Note the open front which allows for shots to come into the green bouncing.
Hole 3 – 317 Yards – Par 4
I loved this short par 4 which, with the thin mountain air, is drivable for longer hitters. The left side of the hole is the most direct line to the green.
This photo doesn’t show it, but the green is a tricky one and it falls away around the edges. Even though it’s a short pitch to the green, it is wise not to get too aggressive with hole locations that are close to the edges.
Hole 4 – 423 Yards – Par 4
One would expect a 423 yard par 4 to be rated as one of the tougher holes on the course, but this hole is only the 11 handicap hole which is pretty surprising. The bunker in the distance is in play from the tee. Players who can hit a high draw will be able to hit the ideal shot on this hole.
Here is a look into the green.
Hole 5 – 522 Yards – Par 5
I really liked this three shot hole which, because of the extra yardage from the elevation, is reachable for many players. As I lined up my tee shot I had visions of carving a beautiful cut into the fairway and hitting a nice little hybrid into the green. Ummm, that didn’t happen.
There is a stream that crosses the fairway on this hole so players who lay up need to take that into consideration or else their safety shot could end up getting rinsed.
The entire front of this green is protected by a huge and deep bunker. Getting home in two will require actually flying the second shot onto the green.
Hole 6 – 154 Yards – Par 3
Here we have our first one shot hole which had a tricky little green sloped back to front.
Hole 7 – 396 Yards – Par 4
This longish par 4 doglegs to the left and players who want to try to shorten the hole can challenge the bunkers on the left. Really bad drives that go way left like mine will be rewarded with a short iron or wedge shot out of a bunker to reach the green.
Here is a look at the green from the left side of the hole.
Hole 8 – 194 Yards – Par 3
Here we have a pretty straight forward par 3 that will take a mid-iron or hybrid to reach the green. Plenty of room to miss short.
Hole 9 – 431 Yards – Par 4
The final hole of the front nine is one of the more picturesque holes on the course. The hole is long and plays uphill so pounding the driver as far as it will go is the best play for most of us.
Depending on how long and how far left a player hits their drive the approach shot into the green may be a blind one. Below is a view of the green from the middle of the fairway about 100 yards out.
Hole 10 – 407 Yards – Par 4
The back nine starts out with a great hole that plays from an elevated tee box. Balls hit down the right side will likely get a bounce back to the middle of the fairway.
This photo does not do the green justice, but this is a tricky little son of a gun that tilts from the right to the left. All of us had putts that were on the right side of the hole and that got away from us.
Hole 11 – 542 Yards – Par 5
Here we have another three shot hole that is going to play as three shots for any mortal player. The bunker on the left is in play from the tee, so something to the right of that is ideal.
It can’t be seen in this photo but there is a cross bunker that comes in from the right and juts out into the fairway. It’s something to be considered when players are contemplating their layup shot. Below is a look into the green.
Hole 12 – 172 Yards – Par 3
Here we have a one shot hole over water. On the back nine water plays a much more significant role than it did on the front nine.
Hole 13 – 381 Yards – Par 4
This is a fairly straight forward two shot hole. A good drive up the middle will leave a relatively short shot into the green.
The approach shot into the green. Note the bridge which means that the creek is running across the fairway. This creek meanders all throughout the back nine.
Hole 14 – 463 Yards – Par 4
A lengthy par 4 with a blind landing zone for the drive that sets up for a nice high draw off the tee.
One of the prettiest greensites on the course. The creek on the left is bigger than it looks and balls that go anywhere near it will not be recoverable.
Hole 15 – 188 Yards – Par 3
A straight forward par 3 . . . but wait, it looks like that pesky creek is lurking on the left.
Yep, it sure its. This photo was taken from the 16th tee looking back at the 15th green.
Hole 16 – 400 Yards – Par 4
I really liked this hole. It set up well for my natural ball flight and just felt good on the tee.
Here is a view of the green from about 130 yards out.
Hole 17 – 512 Yards – Par 5
The 17th hole is not one to be taken lightly and can be difficult to play for the first time. It looks fairly straight forward but there are two cross bunkers out there that have been recently restored after having been removed long ago. From what we understood the bunkers are a bit polarizing among the members.
Here is a view taken just short of one of the aforementioned cross bunkers.
The 17th hole at Cherry Hills Country Club is often believed to be the original island green. This was highly unconventional in 1922 when the course was built. There is a great photo in the club’s Hall of Champions showing Ben Hogan with one shoe off hitting a shot from the edge of the water in the 1960 U.S. Open. An interesting part of golf architecture history here.
Hole 18 – 458 Yards – Par 5
The closing hole is another par 5 so Cherry Hills ends with two consecutive par 5s. For tournament play this hole is played as a par 4, but for member play it is a three shotter . . . which I was pretty happy about. Players can bite off as much as they like with this risk reward tee shot. Balls hit further to the left will have to carry a longer distance to make the fairway. The safe play it to hit something safely out to the right.
Below is a view of the shot into the green from about 150 yards out.
Fred and I were both really looking forward to Cherry Hills. Both of our home clubs have William Flynn designed courses so you could say that we have an affinity for his work and were not disappointed by Cherry Hills. With the rolling topography and the creek that wanders through the back nine this is very typical William Flynn golf and very different from the mountainous courses that are so synonymous with Colorado. It’s almost like Cherry Hills is a little piece of Philadelphia tucked into the Denver suburbs. We both really enjoyed playing the course and spending some time in the Hall of Champions reading up on the clubs history after we finished our round. All in all it was a great afternoon of golf and we were very lucky to have had the rare opportunity to play there.