Coal Creek Golf Course

A flood in September of 2013 destroyed all but three holes at Coal Creek and cost more than $5 million to rebuild.
A flood in September of 2013 destroyed all but three holes at Coal Creek and cost the city more than $5 million to rebuild.

Coal Creek Golf Course in Louisville, Colorado bills itself as “Colorado’s newest 25-year-old golf course.” There’s a good reason why. The course was originally designed and built by Richard M. Phelps (who also designed Alta Mesa Country Club in Mesa, Arizona) back in 1990, but in September of 2013, massive flooding ravaged several cities located along the state’s Front Range.

According to Wikipedia, The Front Range is a “colloquial term for the most populous region of Colorado located just east of the foothills and aligned in a north-south configuration on the western edge of the Great Plains where they meet the Rocky Mountains.” Louisville (pronounced LOUIS-ville) has twice been named “America’s Most Livable City.”

Whatever the meaning, the flooding all but destroyed Coal Creek, which engineers originally designed as a conduit for draining water. As The Denver Post reported in June of 2014, “Much of the floodwater seeped downward from the hilly slopes of the course, away from other, more public spaces… but the course was designed to withstand only a ‘100-year flood,’ not the epic storm that hit.”

While Coal Creek helped prevent the damage that might have been more serious elsewhere, the 160-acre public course was essentially demolished.

One of the three bridges that was lost washed downstream 100 yards, part of the reason it took two years to reconstruct the course.
One bridge washed downstream 100 yards, part of the reason it took two years to reconstruct the course.

“The time to repair the golf course will partly depend on what our options are for paying for it,” Lousiville mayor Bob Muckle told the Monarch High School Howler at the time. “We think it may cost $6 million to fix the course. Just to give you perspective, the annual city general fund budget is around $13 million.”

The Louisville City Council eventually approved a $5.15 million contract with Landscapes Unlimited LLC and Minnesota-based Herfort Norby Golf Course Architects to repair the course, and the reconstruction that was expected to take 6-12 months took nearly two years.

“There was such volume of water, it churned up the soil and tore things up,” said Louisville Park Project Manager Allan Gill, who oversaw the renovation. “We lost three bridges, one that was washed downstream 100 yards. We lost 65-percent of our irrigation system. All but three holes were totally destroyed.”

There are four sets of tees at Coal Creek, each commemorating Louisville’s mining heritage: TNT, Pick & Shovel, Coal Car, and Lantern. Today, there are more than 120 abandoned underground coal mines dotting the area in and around Louisville. The course plays 7,017 yards from the TNT Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 72.1, and a slope of 130. My wife and I recently played the course with my wife’s Uncle Bob while we were visiting Boulder. Here are some of the highlights of the round:

The Par 3 5th hole requires a tee shot through a chute of aspen trees
The Par 3 5th hole requires a tee shot through a chute of aspen trees to a green guarded by bunkers and… more trees!

Holes Worth Writing Home About
My favorite hole on the front nine is the Par 3 5th. It plays 183 yards from the TNT Tees through a chute of aspen trees to a green that slopes toward the tees. There are two bunkers short and right and another long and right to collect any wayward tee shots, and the hole is framed nicely by a grove of trees behind.

The green is narrow and tiny and requires a very exacting tee shot. Louisville sits at a little over 5,300 feet, and I found the elevation to give me about one extra club of distance off the tees and into greens.

On the back nine, the best hole isn’t a single hole, it’s the stretch of holes between 15 and 17. No. 15 is a 403-yard Par 4 straight uphill over bunkers to an uphill green. The hole plays so uphill that depending on where you hit your tee shot, you may not be able to see the putting surface on your approach.

From there, you get the best view of the Front Range anywhere on the course. Hole No. 16 plays 391 yards straight downhill along U.S. Highway 36 and then doglegs left to a green with bunkers in front. You can see four greens from the tee box at No. 16!

Seventeen is a Par 3 measuring just 181 yards to a slightly elevated green. It’s a middle or long iron off the tee. It’s not a bad idea to look at your yardage card, especially on the back nine, because you have to hit the ball in the right spot to avoid trouble and post a score. The course web site also offers a really cool hole-by-hole aerial tour, which you can view here. I highly recommended it before you’re heading out to Coal Creek:



Quiet Please…
On the day before it officially reopened to the public in June of 2015, VIPs were invited by the City of Louisville to play in a shotgun tournament. According to Colorado Avid Golfer, who was there covering the event, “On the par-3 11th hole, Coal Creek Assistant Golf Course Superintendent Alex Kosel pured a 9-iron 150 yards from the Pick & Shovels, watched it hit the well-guarded green, and roll into the cup.” Colorado’s newest 25-year-old course had just seen its first hole-in-one! It was also the first ace for Kosel, who later denied cutting the hole on the green earlier that morning.

Part of the reconstruction
The renovation included a Punch Bowl green, a natural grass putting course like the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes.

There are two practice putting greens at Coal Creek. One of them, added during the renovation, is a Punch Bowl green designed to be a full-length, natural grass putting course. It’s just like the 100,000-square-foot Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes. The only difference is that right now the bentgrass is long and slow because Golf Course Superintendent David Dean is trying to stave off a fungus that’s growing on the greens at the moment.

The grass in the fairways was a little long for my liking, but don’t even think about missing the landing areas. If you do, you’ll be playing out of long, thick, and juicy, bluegrass rough. If you’re unlucky, you might find your ball sitting down and nearly impossible to get to. If you can get to it, there’s a good chance the grass will grab the hosel, causing you to hook it or maybe even shank it.

This course reminds me of Willow Creek Golf Club in Greer, South Carolina, a course I used to play when I was living and working in Greenville.

The rough was so penal, there weren’t a whole lot of great shots being hit. That’s probably why I’m going with a putt. The best shot of the day was a putt I holed out from the left fringe at the par-3 11th. The greens were slow when we got there, but they got even slower after a nearly hour-long thunderstorm rolled through. Playing the back nine after it had rained was like playing a completely different golf course, and the already sticky rough got even more treacherous with the added moisture.

From high atop the 16th tee you can see four different greens.
From high atop the 16th tee you can see four different greens and the best view of the Front Range anywhere on the course.

While We’re Young
We teed off at around 2:25p and didn’t get back to the car until close to 8:00p! On the surface, that sounds ridiculous, but to be fair, we did have to duck into the Sweet Spot Cafe for close to an hour while it was pouring outside.

If you find yourself in the Denver area in late May, expect an afternoon thunderstorm or two. It seems like it rains just about every afternoon this time of year. Under normal circumstances and depending on traffic, there’s no reason why you can’t play this course in four hours or less.

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