As the clock struck midnight on March 18, the first tee times for City Park Golf Course's 2021 season went on sale. Within two minutes, eager golfers had snatched up all of the available tee times — 35 four-person, eighteen-hole tee times, and eight four-person, nine-hole tee times — for April 1, the opening day at the completely revamped course.
"We're very excited," says Scott Rethlake, director of Denver Golf. "It’s a great golf course and has great views."
Long Denver's premier urban municipal course, City Park was closed in fall 2017 for a flood-mitigation project and total overhaul; a reconfigured version of the course opened to the public in September 2020. At the time, though, new grass limited activities: Golfers weren't able to use carts, and tee times were spread out. The course shut down entirely for winter in early November.
Although the course is now looking at a full season, there will still be limitations in April: golfers won't be able to use carts, tee times will be spread out by fifteen minutes, and the tee sheet will start at 10 a.m. Starting May 1, however, carts will again be allowed on the course, tee times will run every ten minutes, and golfers will be able to head out at dawn.
Across the country, golf has been more popular than usual over the past year. Although the City of Denver shut down its recreation centers early on, it kept its municipal golf courses open through most of the pandemic.
"We were up about 25 percent," says Rethlake about rounds played in 2020; Denver Golf also exceeded its anticipated revenue last year. Rethlake is anticipating around 60,000 rounds per year on the new City Park Golf Course.
Longtime Denver golfers will recognize the new course's first six holes: Hole three is similar to the old hole two, and hole four is similar to the old hole three. After hole six, though, the course is very different. Hole seven, for example, features a wide, undulating fairway unlike anything on the old course.
Generally speaking, the new City Park Golf Course fairways are wider and the greens bigger. And there are also two lengthy par 5 holes that extend about 600 yards — 70 yards farther than the longest hole on the old course.
The 6,700 yard-course, which is the same length as its predecessor, has five sets of tees for various skill levels. There's also a First Tee course of four par 3 holes for kids, and a driving range where rookies and veterans of the game can hone their craft.
The City of Denver began building City Park Golf Course in 1912, opening up what was then a nine-hole course with sand greens and non-grass tee boxes. It was not only free, but open to people of all races and religions. During its first five years of operation, the course added grass greens, grass fairways and a clubhouse. It also began charging money.
After a century of play, the eighteen-hole course closed in 2017 for a flood-mitigation project designed to protect not just the course, but also surrounding neighborhoods.
As Mayor Michael Hancock recalled at the August 2020 inauguration of the new City Park Golf Course, the project came with some "either/or" decisions. The city could either demolish 51 homes as part of its flood mitigation project, or use the golf course for a water-retention site. Denver settled on the latter; in the case of a catastrophic flood, the water-retention site can hold up to 67 million gallons of water.
In order to create that site and construct a totally revamped course, the city moved 330,000 cubic yards of dirt from one section of the course to another. Some of that dirt ended up being used to prop up the new clubhouse, which is 11,300 square feet and has huge windows that give diners a view of Denver skyscrapers and the mountains that frame them.
The course redesign did lead to the removal of 256 trees, but the city added 760 new trees. It also installed two bathroom stations on the course to bolster the clubhouse facilities.
Five of Denver's other six golf courses, as well as the Aqua Golf driving range and mini-golf center, are already open (weather permitting). Harvard Gulch Golf Course is currently closed while the city installs a new irrigation system that will involve the construction of a new pond. Rethlake expects the par 3 course to open on May 1, but that will also depend on the weather, since the new grass needs time to grow.
COVID precautions are still in place for Denver's municipal courses. Masks are required in pro shops, and there are no water coolers, sand trap rakes or ball washers on the greens.
However, there should be plenty of fresh air and sunshine on the courses, one of the best values in Denver. But good luck finding a tee time at City Park.