The sliding doors of the Hampton Inn in Centennial, CO slid open, I walked out and was met with sunshine, 65 degrees, and the slightest breeze, a perfect day for golf. What was I ever worried about?
When I was planning this trip to Colorado in September it never dawned on me until very late in the planning process that it could snow? You don't have to worry about snow closing golf courses in the Bay Area so it caught me a little by surprise when the thought of snow crossed my mind. After all it is Colorado, When I think of Colorado I think like most people might be thinking; Rocky Mountains, skiing, the Overlook Hotel from The Shining...no The Shining thing is probably just me, but anyway, you can see why I became worried, was I was heading into weather conditions that will close the golf courses? Bottom line after calling the courses I was headed out to play, every one assured me that I will be able to get the rounds in, that is if it didn’t snow...perfect.
I set out for my first course of the weekend; Patty Jewett Golf Course, which was in Colorado Springs. Basically from where I was, just outside of Denver, it was a left hand turn onto I-25 south and in about an hour I would be there. As I headed out and Denver was just leaving my rear view mirror I was struck by two things; to my left was a wide open flat space as far as the eye can see. I assumed what I was gazing upon was the Great Plains, it was very impressive. To my right was a shear wall of mountains, that seemed to be about 5 miles away from me and even at that distance I think I could have reached out and touched the wall from my car. What I was looking at was yes, The Rocky Mountains. This too was very impressive. For my entire drive down to Colorado Springs nothing changed, flat to left and the wall to the right. Both equally massive, and the contrast of the two very different landscapes was awe inspiring.
During lunch at the Patty Jewett Bar and Grill, which was ranked one of the 50 best 19th Holes in the country by Golf Digest Magazine, I got to meet the Instagrammer for the golf course. We had become sort of pen pals through instagram so it was fun to put a face to someone on social media. He told me that Patty Jewett is the busiest golf course in Colorado with some 50,000 rounds a year stomping up and down the fairways. I could see it was crowded, the course was in great shape, and everyone seemed to be moving along quite nicely. After lunch I headed to the pro shop with some concern running through my head; should I walk or should I ride. This course, like almost every course in this area, has a starting elevation at 5,500 feet above sea level. I’m not used to that. I live, play golf, and do almost everything at sea level. Sometimes when I drive to Lake Tahoe, which sits at about 6,000 feet above sea level, I have to take a moment at a rest stop to catch my breath before climbing to the next Plato. Yes, I said drive to Lake Tahoe, not hike...I’m a sea level guy. My goal is to walk all the courses on The List because that’s how they were designed, there were no carts back then, you had to walk them, but with modern conveniences available, and 5500 feet above sea level, I might consider making an exception and ride?
In the 5 minutes it took me to get to the pro shop to check in I decided to ride, and I was told nope I was walking. It turns out that anyone going out after 2pm has to walk, it’s a course policy, who knew...local knowledge.
So walking it was to be. Side note: While waiting to tee off I figured out the cure to first tee jitters. Think about walking a course at 5,500 feet above sea level for the first time. Looking at the shear wall of the Rocky Mountains in front of you on the first tee, thoughts of gasping for air by the third tee box, and the idea of 15 more holes to go. If you carry those swing thoughts with you to the first tee the last thing you will be thinking about is,” I hope I hit a good tee shot”. By the way I hit a beauty, straight out, framed by the Rocky Mountains, I seriously could have stopped right there and been satisfied!.
At the third tee box I was thinking, walking was not so bad, it turns out that the course was relatively flat, which holds true for these historic golf courses. I was playing with two other folks who were celebrating a 60th birthday on the course. Their goal was not necessarily to play golf this day. It just so happens when they were planning their trip out to Colorado Springs, they rented a house right next to the course, and decided to give this course a try. We were doing well to keep up with the group in front of us and keep the group behind us in mind. Pace of play is a thing here. It was crowded, Everywhere you looked there was activity; on the range, teeing off, players moving up and down fairways. At the same time, I never felt the crowd. Maybe because the tree line fairways kept the sight lines down, maybe I was more focused on the always present Rocky Mountains, or maybe the regular visitors just know the right pace of play to manage the crowd, more good old fashioned local knowledge.
We made it to the ninth green right on time and not too winded. The two folks who joined me decided to break away and get an early dinner at the pub. I decided to press on alone, and I made the turn toward the 10th tee. At that moment I realized that this would make it the first time I would play alone on my quest. To this point I was always matched up with a group. At the tenth tee I stepped back to line up my drive and as I looked out on the ten hole I suddenly felt alone, yes I know I was alone in my newly formed single group. No, this was a feeling of being alone, like the course looked empty? That couldn’t be, it was 4:30pm, there was plenty of light to get the round in, it just had to be that great course design. I tee'd off and headed into the back nine. No one was in front of me at ten, or eleven.
As I made my way to the 12th I pasted this guy and I got a look like I was intruding. Nobody was on the course now. Standing on the 12th tee I could see the 13th, 14th, and the 15th holes, no one. Looking behind me, nobody. It was 5:30pm at least another 90 minutes before the sun set, and an hour ago the pace of play was an art form, where did everyone go?
For obvious reasons I made it thought the next three holes quit quickly, and looking at the time I was sure that I was going to get the round in under 4 hours. 6pm and three holes to play all was good until I stepped up to the 16th hole. I knew right away why folks felt the course early, I understood why the back nine starter looked at me funny when I said yes, I’m heading out to play the back nine.
The Rocky Mountains were staring right at me, I think they were smiling at me, because as I was just noticing for the first time, the mountains massive wall that extends some 7 thousand feet high was about to consume the sun. I stood there for a moment before teeing off pondering what effect this wall will have on the light on course, I tee’d off and at about the same time the sun was eaten. As I was walking to my ball, which was about 240 yards out, I thought I’ll still get the round in. By the time I got to my ball I had trouble seeing where I should be hitting my next shot. By the time I was trying to line up my next shot I was thinking this is going to be my last swing of the round. One thing I know is I hit the, but I had no idea where the ball went.
I quietly walked from the 16th fairway, past the full bar with all the informed regulars enjoying a cold drink, to my car. I loaded my clubs into my car and tipped my hat to Patty Jewett golf course, the Rocky Mountains, and all the local knowledge I gained between the 16th tee shot and the second fairway shot. There is only light or there is no light on the course.
The sliding doors of the Hampton Inn in Centennial, CO slid open, I walked out and was met with freezing rain, 39 degrees, and 40 mph gusts, not the perfect day for golf. I was certain I was not going out today. However I figured I might as well go check out the course anyway. So off to Overland Park Golf Course I went.
I took my time getting to the course, checking out some of the local sites so by the time I got to the course it was a little after 2pm.
The weather had not let up , it was very windy and cold. The rain did stop about 2 hours ago, and it still was not a great day to play golf. I began my tour of Overland Park at the club house. As soon as I walked in everything felt hollow and cold. It was a good functional space, and it seemed a bit dated. The music playing from the empty bar echoed throughout the club house. The pro shop was only occupied by it’s counter worker, and he wasn’t very interested in me as I walked by. This whole place had a ghost ship feel to it. You got the sense that in it’s heyday this was the place to be, and maybe yesterday too, but on a cold dreary day, this place matched the weather outside. If anyone saw the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it’s one of my favorites, great photography! Anyway, if you remember the Greenland bar scene when Walter is looking for a helicopter pilot, that is what it felt like standing at the door of the Overland Park clubhouse.
After a few minutes I decided to brave the weather and go hit a bucket...why not, and besides there was actually one other person out there doing that same thing. It was cold, but kind of cool too. It was a good range with lots of targets to aim at, and after a while I began to warm up a bit. By the time I was 3 quarters done with my bucket the wind had died down to almost nothing, it was still cold, but without the wind...maybe I could get out? I went back into the ghost ship to ask the pro shop attendant about getting out. He was very nice and didn’t blink an eye when I asked to head out. He told me this place will begin to fill up now that the wind has died down, and referenced yesterday, saying the place was at capacity. It was close to 3pm when I was setting up my tee time and with my newly acquired local knowledge I decided to only play 9 holes today.
With the entire course to myself I walked to the first tee, waggled and hit a decent drive to the right side of the fairway, leaving me about 150 yards to the first hole. I got to my ball and I was right, I was looking at about 150 yards from the center of the green, what to hit, what to hit...I then notice off to my left about 3 holes away a lone golf cart heading right for me, or at least I thought it was. I stared at it for a while and yes he was heading right for me. I went from “what to hit, what to hit”, to, “what did I do wrong, what did I do wrong”. I did notice that the driving range already had 3 new people hitting. Was I going to get paired up?? It was the course ranger, or was it the kid in the pro shop...it turns out they were the same. He finally got to me and began to tell me that he saw three coyotes on the course near hole 7 and he wanted to let me know because I was walking today.
He started to drive off while I was thinking about that, I’m the only person on the course, what’s the difference if I’m walking or riding, and what do I do if I see them, or if they see me? That last question prompted me to yell out “stop, wait a second'', he turned around and came back. “What do I do if they see me, and come near me”? Oh, nothing, they will probably just ignore you, but I guess you could wave a club or something”. He replied, I countered with “wave a club, which club”? Without hesitation, he said, “the driver, it’s the longest club”. Good to know...more local knowledge.
By the time I strolled back to the club house the course was hopping. The sun was out, the range was crowded, and people were out on the course. I came though the clubhouse on my way back to my car and was very impressed with how the clubhouse came to life. The music was still echoing through the space, but it was less hollow, it had more energy, the pro shop was busy and the restaurant and bar were filled. As I walked away I felt good for Overland Park Golf Course, it has a great local feel, and looks like this old course will see many more rounds. Once I got to my car and before pulling out of the lot I felt a bit cheated only playing nine, but knew I was lucky to get anything in. Someday soon, I will be back to complete the round. I owe it to myself to see what the back nine will offer me in local knowledge.