AURORA, Colo. - CommonGround Golf Course is a prime example of what happens when you take an old Air Force base golf course that has already been renamed once and put it in the hands of Tom Doak, one of America's best classical, minimalist course architects.
What you get is a parkland/links mixture that is walkable and affordable - just what the Colorado Golf Association and Colorado Women's Golf Association, owners of the course, ordered.
This plot of land was once the Lowry AFB Golf Course, but when the base closed in the mid-1990s, the course morphed into Mira Vista Golf Course. The CGA's and CWGA's dream, however, was a completely new golf course. That's when Doak and his Michigan-based Renaissance Golf Design team were hired to transform the 350-acre site.
Interestingly, Doak's crew comprised a lead team with all Colorado ties. Lead designer Eric Iverson lives in Denver, Don Placek grew up in Denver and Jim Urbina calls Pueblo home. And just to expand the story, the team was also working on a multi-million dollar retro of Cherry Hills Country Club in Englewood, host of three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships - attempting to restore it back to the original 1922 William Flynn design.
CommonGround Golf Course: You can see the Rocky Mountains from here
Although the land was flat and not that interesting, on a clear, smog-less day you can see Mt. Evans, Long's Peak and the Denver skyline perfectly in the distance - a view you get from the beautiful 12th, a par 3 of 219 yards, over a creek and tall grasslands, to a huge green and a deep, narrow, tubular bunker right.
The goals of the CommonGround Golf Course, a 7,198-yard, par 71, are all traditional. They want to encourage walking. They want to attract youngsters just learning the game with a $5 Kids Course (par-3 nine holes), partly funded by a $175,000 grant from the United States Golf Association. Adults can only play it if accompanied by a youngster.
"The goal is to grow the game of golf," said Head Professional David DiMartino. "The CGA's outreach program and Mr. Doak wanted it to be something everyone could enjoy. We have great instructors, and we are looking forward to what the future will bring."
CommonGround Golf Course: The verdict
CommonGround just might be the future of golf in today's economy - architecturally interesting, affordable, public and located in a large city.
This is a subtle golf course with angles that make the single-digit player think about his tee shot and positioning throughout the round. There are wide fairways that make the novice smile. There is no "wow" factor, but if you played Mira Vista you will immediately notice the greens are twice the size.
"I think the greens are spectacular," said starter Richard Lord, a former sports department member of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News. "They are undulating, large and have contours and compartments where different pin placements pose a multitude of challenges. The fairways are huge, and might lull you to sleep, but you have to place the tee ball correctly to have the easiest angle to the flag."
CommonGround Golf Course really ups the crescendo at No. 13, a 417-yard par 4.
"It is one of my favorite holes," said DiMartino. "There's a complex of cross bunkers that challenges you, but if you clear them it opens up the line to the hole. Then there's a classic pushup green with a large false front."
From 14 to 18 the tempo steps up a beat, finishing with a 568-yard par 5 that has visual and tactical stimulation. The uphill tee shot over native grass steers you left-center, then the second shot must be positioned to be able to dodge a pine tree guarding the approach to the green.
No. 8, a 355-yard par 4, is another favorite because it dares you to clear a massive cross-bunker on the right side of the fairway. Bunkers are left and right of the green. Your short iron must be precise, or a false front will funnel your ball off the surface.
CommonGround Golf Course: Learning Center, Caddie Program
Check out the CommonGround Web site (www.commongroundgc.com) for details on its Learning Center, Adult Programs, Women's Welcome to the Game, Junior Development Programs and Caddie Program.
The double-sided driving range is more than 400 yards long and accommodates more than 50 players at a time. The back side is reserved for instruction. There's also a short game area with a large putting green and a separate green devoted to chipping, pitching and bunker play. It is conveniently located near the first tee.
The 65,000-plus members of the CGA and CWGA pay only $40, and it is $50 for non-members. Annual passes are also available.
Traveling golfers should consider the "hip" Aloft at Denver International Airport (16470 East 40th Cr., Aurora, Tel. (303) 371-9500 or (877) GO-ALOFT). The hotel has a ritzy pool area, loft-inspired guestrooms and state-of-the-art technology throughout.