DENVER -- The Denver area is known for its prestigious private clubs: Cherry Hills Country Club (host of the 2012 U.S. Amateur and former PGA Championship venue), Colorado Golf Club (host of the 2010 Senior PGA Championship) and, of course, Castle Pines Golf Club, the state's top-ranked course and former home of The International on the PGA Tour.
But residents or visitors without a membership can still find a great golf experience. The metro area's public scene offers tremendous diversity, from scenic plays to tournament-worthy layouts.
If you want to entertain clients or enjoy some of the best area layouts with your friends, start at one of these high-end public facilities. Green fees top out at about $130 but in many cases can be half that.
The Ridge at Castle Pines North
Managed by Troon Golf and designed by Tom Weiskopf, The Ridge at Castle Pines North delivers a first-rate, private club-worthy golf experience from the bag drop to the 19th hole.
The layout boasts huge, rolling fairways and plenty of elevated tee shots. The back nine, set through dense pines, is especially scenic, and the final two holes play along dramatic rock outcroppings.
The clubhouse, home to The Ridge Bar & Grill, has a gorgeous patio area that offers views of the 18th hole as well as the surrounding area. Meanwhile, the practice facility, which includes numerous short-game greens, is enormous and range balls come with your green fee.
Arrowhead Golf Club
Unquestionably metro Denver's most scenic golf experience, Arrowhead Golf Club boasts a 40-year-old Robert Trent Jones Sr. design set among 300-million-year-old sandstone rock in Roxborough State Park. The clubhouse, a favorite venue for weddings and banquets, overlooks the 10th hole, which features a backdrop of dozens of jagged formations. There's plenty more scenery and wildlife on this golf course.
Colorado National Golf Club
Just north of Denver, semi-private Colorado National Golf Club boasts a stern 7,676-yard test, worthy enough to be the home course of the Colorado University golf team and host NCAA tournaments. Designed by Jay Morrish, the course rolls up and down the front range on 232 acres and offers five sets of tees if you're not a big-hitting college kid.
Plum Creek Golf Club
Formerly a TPC venue that played host to the Champions Tour, Plum Creek Golf Club in Castle Rock boasts a challenging Pete Dye design to go along with a facility originally designed to host professional golfers and local members.
Red Hawk Ridge
Also located in the upscale community of Castle Rock, the Jim Engh-designed Red Hawk Ridge delivers long views from its high ground.
Omni Interlocken Resort Golf Club
Located on Highway 36, the road toward the Rockies foothills between Denver and Boulder, the 27-hole Omni Interlocken Resort Golf Club delivers resort course-worthy service and amenities for guests and locals. More than 400 feet in elevation change, an extensive practice area and Fairways Bar & Grill make it a top northwest area splurge.
Mountain golf in Summit County
From Denver, it's just about an hour or so drive over the continental divide to Summit County. Set at 9,000 feet in elevation, this world-class ski destination is also home to a handful of refreshing, dramatic summer golf courses.
In Silverthorne, Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks , designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, is a true mountain golf course. It features a 300-foot elevation change on one hole, the downhill ninth, and mountain views and wildlife are abundant, including an eagle's nest on the third hole.
Meanwhile, the family-friendly Keystone Resort has 36 holes of its own, the Keystone Ranch (designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.) and Keystone River (designed by Hurdzan and Fry). Both offer non-resort play and dazzle with mountain scenery.