BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. -- One could say Breckenridge Golf Club, in a spot near where the largest gold nugget in North America was found in 1887, is a strike-it-rich, award-winning golf experience. The 13.5-pound chunk of gold, by the way, was about the size of a human head and is now on display at the Colorado Museum of Natural History in Denver.
A hundred years later, Breckenridge Golf Club was destined for lofty praise when it opened in 1987. It has a stunning backdrop of Colorado's 10-Mile Range, the Gore Range and Williams Fork, plus at a soaring 9,324 feet in the clear mountain air, you can expect many 65-degree days on long summer days.
At this elevation the golf ball flies farther and straighter than at lower elevations, as there is less air resistance.
But perhaps it was the foresight rather than background that was even more important. Breckenridge is the world's only 27-hole municipal layout designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Erroll Miller, head professional, was here from the beginning, and said the town's knowledge to pick the Nicklaus brand showed they knew golf and understood that name would be valuable. It was also at a time when Nicklaus-designed golf courses came at a lower price tag.
The original layout, the Beaver Nine (3,564 yards) and Bear Nine (3,702), measured 7,266 yards, a par 72, has a 146 slope rating and takes you through lodgepole pines, wetlands, beaver ponds, sagebrush and native grasses. In 2001, the Elk Nine (3,556) was added, with even higher elevation changes, to complete the 27.
Breckenridge Golf Club: Award-winner receives more praise
In May, 2014, Golfweek magazine listed Breckenridge Golf Club at no. 25 in its "Top 50 Municipal Courses," which was a jump from 34th the previous year. After eyeballing the new list, I personally think it is too low. A couple of courses ahead of Breckenridge that I have played I would rank below this mountain beauty.
Three municipals on the list have hosted or will host a U.S. Open -- Bethpage Black (ranked no. 1), Chambers Bay (no. 2) and Torrey Pines South (no. 4).
Of roughly 1,300 municipal courses nationwide, the magazine narrowed its list to around 175, and each were evaluated by members of an international ratings committee.
Favorite holes include no. 8 on the Beaver Nine. This testy hole -- a 571-yard par 5 -- requires you to measure a drive with a creek on the right and another feeder loop of the creek that crosses the fairway heading to a beaver pond. Hit your drive short of the water crossing, and then layup in front of a green that has four more beaver waterways.
The next hole has a beautiful vista of Buffalo Mountain, the last active volcano in the Gore Range. This par 3 measures 195 yards and has, you guessed it, a beaver pond with trout swimming around, snuggling up to the left side of the oblong green with a bunker in front and two in back.
If you are observant, you can see piles of rock to the left of holes 6, 7 and 8, left by the gold miners.
The Elk Nine produces a really fun hole from the highest spot on the golf course. No. 7 flies downhill 436 yards before making a turn right and leaving you with a downhill lie over a ravine to a green with a bunker right. The toughest par 3 is no. 5 on the Elk; a 239-yard bullet is required to survive lodge pole forest left and a deep bunker left of the green.
Breckenridge Golf Club: Final thoughts
Breckenridge is not a pushover like most Nicklaus designs -- you must pay attention all day while enjoying the cool summer temperatures. Thankfully, you will find holes that bend left and right -- some of Nicklaus' earlier designs were fade-happy excursions. From the correct tees, you can score well, and many locals walk with push carts.
Golf Digest "Places to Play" has rated Breckenridge as a four-and-a-half-star facility and as one of their top "Upscale Places to Play" in the nation.
Golf is only part of Breckenridge's colorful past. It is a neat 19th-century mining town with an award-winning ski resort and countless summer outdoors activities.
They call it a powder rush today instead of gold rush -- Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Vail, Beaver Creek, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone ski areas are all nearby, and more excellent golf can be found at Keystone, Vail and The Raven at Three Peaks.
Stay-and-play golf packages
The Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center (970-453-6000, beaverrun.com) has golf packages for Breckenridge Golf Club. Located on the ski slopes, there are 515 slope-side guest accommodations including everything from hotel rooms, studio, one- and two-bedroom condominiums, as well as large executive and specialty suites with full kitchen, covered parking and concierge services. Your room includes a great view and complimentary Wi-Fi. Log on to gobreck.com for more things to do on your golf vacation.