WITH ITS DIVERSE TOPOGRAPHY, THE CENTENNIAL STATE IS A GOLFER’S PARADISE, HOME TO SOME OF THE BEST GOLF COURSES IN THE COUNTRY.
YES, IT’S TRUE. Golf balls really do travel farther in Colorado’s thin air, meaning a sea-level duffer can look like a hero at altitude. But added distance is the least of the many reasons to hit the links here.
With stunning views and terrain ranging from rolling plains to mountain valleys to red-rock desert, Colorado is a golf course designer’s dream. The state also has a rich golfing history dating back more than a century, including some of the biggest names in the history of the sport.
We’ve put together a list of the seven best courses in Colorado, as well as a rundown of top municipal courses in mountain towns. Ballyneal, Cherry Hills Country Club, Colorado Golf Club, The Broadmoor, Sanctuary, Red Sky Golf Club and Castle Pines are perennial favorites on Golf Digest’s annual rankings. Of course, the best golf courses are usually the most exclusive. The private courses on our list may tempt you to consider a club membership or a resort hotel stay with course privileges. You can always cozy up to a member—or catch a round of competitive golf as a spectator, as many of the top private courses serve as championship venues.
The course at Ballyneal evokes the seaside dunes of Ireland and Scotland. PHOTO BY CHANNING BENJAMIN
Located near Holyoke in northeast Colorado, in an area locals call the “Chop Hills,” Ballyneal (ballyneal.com) is a low-key private club with one of the finest layouts in the state. The links-style golf course is meant to be walked (there are no carts) and savored at a leisurely pace. “That’s our vibe,” says Dave Hensley, Ballyneal’s general manager. “We’ve dubbed it the ‘Ballyneal experience.’ It’s not stuffy or pretentious. We’re not going to shine your shoes.”
The course was the dream of Jim and Rupert O’Neal, who grew up in Holyoke. They noticed similarities between the Chop Hills landscape and the seaside dunes of Ireland and Scotland. The brothers purchased 700 acres of farmland and hired minimalist designer Tom Doak to find 18 holes among the windswept hills.
“It clearly had the right stuff, but it was a complicated site,” Doak says. “It took me over a year and a half to sort out the routing.” The course found its final shape and opened for play in 2006. A small village with a 1-acre putting green called the Commons was added, as well as a creative 12-hole, par-3 course called the Mulligan Course.
“[Ballyneal] is a challenging course for good players,” Doak says. “But the challenge is more about the wind and the contours than about length or losing golf balls.”
Just south of Denver, the golf course at Cherry Hills Country Club (chcc.com) is all but synonymous with Arnold Palmer and the 1960 U.S. Open. Palmer was trailing by seven strokes going into the final round—battling golf icon Ben Hogan and a 20-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus—when Palmer birdied the par-4, 346-yard first hole. The king of golf sealed the victory with a round of 65 for his one and only U.S. Open title.
This venerable private club south of Denver was designed by William Flynn, one of the leading course architects of the day. Cherry Hills opened in 1922 and in 1938 became the first club west of Minneapolis to host a U.S. Open. Since then, the golf course has hosted a string of prestigious tournaments, including two U.S. Opens, the 1993 U.S. Senior Open (won by Nicklaus) and two U.S. Amateurs. In 2023, Cherry Hills will be the match-play co-host (with Colorado Golf Club) of the U.S. Amateur once again.
Flynn, who also designed Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., has called Cherry Hills “a top-notch layout with few equals and no superior.” Utilizing the property’s rolling terrain, which, yes, included a cherry orchard, Flynn conjured up a classic layout that has stood the test of time and earned Cherry Hills a rightful place as one of America’s most celebrated courses.
The 18th hole at Colorado Golf Club affords Front Range views. PHOTO BY RUSSELL KIRK
Coming off the resounding success of Nebraska’s Sand Hills Golf Club, course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw set about transforming a 1,600-acre former horse ranch near Parker into an acclaimed golf course. The designers opted for a natural approach to course construction, moving very little earth, essentially discovering holes already laid out by Mother Nature. Colorado Golf Club (coloradogolfclub.com), a private, members-only course, opened for play in 2007.
“I was there when Coore and Crenshaw were evaluating the property,” says CGC spokesperson Tom Ferrell. “They said, ‘Man, this property is gifted for golf.’ You have multiple ecologies, starting off in ponderosa pines at 6,100 feet and then you play down into a beautiful, open meadow and across rugged, dry washes, with 100-mile views of the Front Range.”
CGC burst onto the national scene when it hosted the 2010 Senior PGA Championship, won by Tom Lehman, and the 2013 Solheim Cup, which drew some 125,000 spectators to the course. “The entire world came to Colorado Golf Club,” Ferrell says. “That was the thing that truly established the club on the trajectory it has remained on.” Next year, CGC will serve as the stroke-play co-host (with Cherry Hills) when the U.S. Amateur comes to Denver. Expect more USGA, PGA and LPGA tournaments to be held at CGC. “It’s in the club’s charter to contribute to the game of golf by serving as a championship venue,” Ferrell says.
The Broadmoor’s formidable West course features multilevel greens and demanding hazards. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BROADMOOR
The grande dame of Colorado golf, The Broadmoor (broadmoor.com) in Colorado Springs has been the setting for championship events ever since the original layout, designed by legendary course architect Donald Ross, opened for play in 1918 on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain.
Ross, who built East Coast golf courses from Florida’s Seminole to Pinehurst in North Carolina, once declared The Broadmoor his best work. And while the venue oozes tradition, there have been renovations (like adding length) to the course since Ross’ time. When Broadmoor East opened in 1918, it was America’s highest golf course (at the time) at 6,400 feet. Another legendary architect, Robert Trent Jones Sr., added additional holes over the decades. Other holes were swapped between courses and redesigned, and in 1964 the East and West courses finally settled into their current configurations.
“It’s the experience of the entire resort,” says Russ Miller, The Broadmoor’s director of golf. “When you come here, it feels iconic. You feel the history.” The Broadmoor has hosted dozens of historic tournaments, including the 1959 U.S. Amateur, won by a 19-year-old Jack Nicklaus. And in 1995, Annika Sörenstam, 24 at the time, won her first LPGA event at the U.S. Women’s Open. Most of those championships have been contested on the East course, which will be the venue for the U.S. Senior Open in 2025.
The Broadmoor has a private membership, but anyone staying at the landmark resort can book a round on the East course. Just remember this tip: Putts on the challenging greens break away from Cheyenne Mountain, even if it looks like they’re breaking uphill.
Hole 6 at Sanctuary, a Jim Engh-designed course. PHOTO BY DICK DURRANCE II
The most important stats at Sanctuary (sanctuarygolfcourse.com), a Jim Engh-designed marvel in the hills near Sedalia, have nothing to do with pars, yardages or low scores. Since opening in 1997, this unique golf course has helped raise $117 million for charity through 538 charitable events.
Owned by Gail and Dave Liniger, co-founders of Denver real estate network Re/Max, Sanctuary is not a members-only club and it’s not open to the public either. It can only be played by invitation—or as part of a charity event.
When the Linigers originally interviewed architects to design the course, some thought the property, 222 acres of rugged foothills with big views of the Front Range, couldn’t accommodate 18 holes. “But Jim Engh made it happen,” says Rudy Zupetz, Sanctuary’s head golf professional. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.” The much-ballyhooed layout is surrounded by 12,000 acres of dedicated open space. “It’s exceptionally peaceful and quiet,” he says. “It really is a sanctuary.”
It’s a sanctuary that the Linigers envisioned as a resource to raise funds for the community. “When the course was ready to play, Dave invited 11 charities and challenged them to net $100,000 from one-day golf events,” Zupetz says. Today, Sanctuary hosts 30 charities a year. “It has far exceeded anybody’s expectations.”
Unless you’re golfing in the right charity circle, it might be hard to score a tee time at Sanctuary. But Engh, a Colorado State University alum, has designed seven more celebrated courses in Colorado, including Fossil Trace in Golden, Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction and Lakota Links in New Castle.
Red Sky Golf Club offers a true mountain golf experience. PHOTO COURTESY OF RED SKY GOLF CLUB
A lot of Colorado courses are touted as “mountain golf,” but, in reality, they play along a valley floor. Not so with Red Sky Golf Club (redskygolfclub.com), located in Wolcott, which has 1,000 feet of elevation change across the property’s 800 acres and two golf courses.
“Gravity is in full effect,” says Andrew Hedrick, general manager and director of golf at Red Sky, which is owned by Vail Resorts. “A lot of the holes play across the slope or across the fall line.” The spectacular property and low-density development—there are only 80 residences, set well back from the courses—give Red Sky a true ranch feel and have helped elevate both the Greg Norman course and the Tom Fazio course in the ranks of Golfweek’s top 100 resort golf courses in the U.S.
There is a caveat to the notion of public play here. In the shoulder season, Eagle County residents are free to book tee times. In high season, however, Red Sky is open only to club members or guests staying at one of 40 Vail Resorts lodging partners.
In September, Red Sky hosts the Golfweek Red Sky Classic, an NCAA Division 1 women’s golf tournament, bringing in college players from across the country. All that great golf takes place hidden in the hills less than a mile and a half off Interstate 70. “There are people who have lived in the Vail Valley for a decade and have no idea Red Sky is there,” Hedrick says. “The quality of the golf, the topography, the impressive views and the proximity to Vail and Denver make this place special.”
Founded by Denver oilman Jack Vickers in 1981 and designed by Jack Nicklaus with the intention of providing the world’s best golfers with a stern test, the Castle Pines Golf Club (castlepinesgolfclub.club) course plays across the hilly terrain north of Castle Rock and serves up elevated tee shots, big views of the Front Range and stunningly beautiful fields of wildflowers. The thirsty hummingbirds that buzz around those flowers are the inspiration for this private club’s two-hummingbird logo.
From 1986 to 2006, Castle Pines staged a PGA Tour event called The International. Over its 21-year run, the tournament produced such illustrious champions as Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. The popular tour stop was scrapped in 2007, but those two decades of national exposure firmly cemented Castle Pines as one of America’s greatest courses.
ADMITTEDLY, IT CAN BE A CHALLENGE to get on Colorado’s best courses without being a club member or hotel guest. Fortunately, many Colorado mountain towns own municipal courses where anyone can tee it up.
Haymaker Golf Course (haymakergolf.com) in Steamboat Springs is the first golf course in Colorado to be certified by Audubon International for its eco-friendly course construction and management practices. The Keith Foster design plays across rolling former ranchland with restored wetlands, native grasses and wide-open views of the Yampa Valley and Mount Werner. Another Audubon International-certified course, Aspen Golf Club (aspengolf.com) is a great walking course just 2 miles from downtown Aspen that serves up wetlands, wildflowers and Elk Range vistas. The Frank Hummel design is known for its treacherous greens and ponds and creeks that come into play on 14 holes.
Vail Golf Club (vailrec.com/golf) is another great walk, although its rentable golf bikes are fun too. The course plays along both sides of Gore Creek, which comes into play on eight holes. The scenic design by Ben Krueger features views of the Gore Range, mature trees, beaver ponds and a back nine with little residential development. The 27-hole Breckenridge Golf Club (breckenridgegolfclub.com), composed of three nines, was designed by the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus. Playing through woodlands and meadows that once housed a miners’ tent city, Breckenridge offers stirring views of the snowcapped Ten Mile Range, and the course’s 9,300-foot elevation can add yards to your drive. –TH
Haymaker Golf Course in Steamboat Springs. PHOTO COURTESY OF HAYMAKER GOLF COURSE