A completely new version of City Park Golf Course will open to the public on September 1.
Denver golfers are clearly eager to get back out on the course, which has been closed since the fall of 2017 for a flood-mitigation project to protect not just the course, but surrounding neighborhoods. Now, ten days before its debut, tee times are completely booked within ten minutes of becoming available online each day, according to Scott Rethlake, director of Denver Golf.
But the course will be worth the wait. "You have really good views everywhere," promises Rethlake, who gave a tour of the course during an inaugural ceremony on August 20. This is a truly urban course, where golfers can see the skyline of downtown while surrounded by greenery.
For avid golfers, the new City Park Golf Course will feel somewhat familiar for the first six holes; hole three is similar to the old hole two, and hole four is similar to the old hole three. But after hole six, the course is very different. Hole seven boasts a wide, undulating fairway unlike anything on the old course. In general, the fairways are wider and the greens are bigger. There are also two super-long par 5 holes that are each about 600 yards, 70 yards longer than the longest hole on the old course.
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The new course is still 6,700 yards, though, the same length as its predecessor, with five sets of tees for various skill levels. There's a First Tee course of four par 3 holes for kids, and a driving range where both newbies and experts can hone their game. But not too expert: While amateur tournaments will be held in the coming days, the course is far too short for a pro golf tournament, according to Rethlake.
To celebrate the culmination of the years-long project, a number of city officials and others involved with the golf course project took inaugural swings during the August 20 ceremony. Mayor Michael Hancock was on hand, but unable to participate because of a rotator cuff injury. "This is where I played my first round of golf," Hancock said, adding that City Park is his favorite course.
Hancock isn't a very good golfer, he admitted: "I just come out for fun."
(According to Tom Woodard, the former head of Denver Golf who once shot a 61 on the old City Park Golf Course to capture the still-standing record for the lowest-ever score there, none of Denver's recent mayors have been particularly impressive golfers. "It's a tie," he says of Hancock, John Hickenlooper, Wellington Webb and Federico Peña. "However, I‘ll go with Webb because he just purchased a new set of custom-made clubs and he called me for golf lessons.")
In his speech at the August 20 ceremony, Hancock, who has already been invited by three different groups of friends to play at City Park on September 1, noted that City Park Golf Course has been accessible to all golfers, regardless of race or religion, throughout its 100-year-plus history.
The City of Denver began construction on City Park Golf Course in 1912. When the course opened to the public in 1913, its nine holes, sand greens and non-grass tee boxes were all free to play. During its first five years, the course added grass greens, grass fairways and a clubhouse. But it also began charging money.
That was the biggest change over the past century...until the flood mitigation project.
“The golf course was built originally on a low spot in the area,” Rethlake told Westword. “The city has grown up around it. That has actually become the largest floodplain, area-wise, within the city. There’s quite a bit of flooding to the north of the golf course, and the south as well.”
"This project really came with some 'either-or' decisions," Hancock said. The city either had the option of demolishing 51 homes as part of its flood mitigation project, or using the golf course for a water-retention site.
Denver went with the water-retention site, which can hold up to 67 million gallons of water in the case of a catastrophic flood. "We did this project for the safety of our community, with the citizens first," explained Leslie Thomas, the city's chief engineer.
As part of the project, the city moved 330,000 cubic yards of dirt from one section of the course to another. Some of that dirt was used to prop up the new clubhouse, which is 11,300 square feet and features perfect views of Denver skyscrapers and the mountains that frame them.
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The course redesign led to the removal of 256 trees. However, the city planted 760 more trees. And there are now two bathroom stations on the course, as well as the bathrooms at the clubhouse.
But the course isn't completely finished: In order to continue letting the grass grow, carts will not be allowed when the course opens on September 1 and golfers will have to walk. Tee times will be spread out by fifteen minutes instead of the normal ten, and start times will be 11 a.m. during the week and 9 a.m. on weekends.
But come spring 2021, the course will be fully open, and the city expects to return to logging 60,000 rounds at City Park annually.