Aspen GC, Aspen. Frank Hummel, 1970.

A mostly flat course in the valley with incredible peaks all around, and generally kept in condition more befitting a resort course than the muni it is (well, this is Aspen, after all). Unfortunately, the course doesn’t live up to its setting.

Mountain courses tend to have a lot of water in play—small creeks, wetlands, beaver ponds—the snow melts and the water has to go somewhere. There’s water in play on at least 11 holes at Aspen, but that’s not really the issue. It’s not a Florida course with lakes lining every fairway and green—only five greens are protected by water and a couple of those the water is ten or more yards away. No, the issue is more the narrow fairways with awkward turn points for doglegs and, most of all, the small hazards hidden at many of those doglegs.

The seventh is a compelling example. At 561 yards this would be a reachable par 5 (this course is at 8,000 feet of elevation remember, and the blue tee yardage is only 520) except that the fairway pinches at 275 yards between a bunker on the right and a nearly blind creek and wetland area on the left. The hole turns left around the water. It would take a carry of 295 yards to clear it, and that’s on a blind line over trees. The fairway between the water and the bunker is only 13 yards wide, so really the play is to drive short of them to the “wide” part of the fairway, which is still only just over 25 yards wide.

Similar dilemmas are presented at the second, the fourth, and the 11th. But then that’s only the holes that narrow due to water. Several other holes—the fifth, the sixth, the 12th, the 18th—have the same issue with awkward doglegs that simply play around bunkers. It makes for a very frustrating day.

Then there’s perhaps the most memorable hole, the par-3 14th. It’s a relatively short par 3 over a pond, but a large spruce stands along the edge of the pond roughly in line with the left edge of the green. Most players will take a line to the right of the tree, or be able to go over it, but anyone who has a low cut working toward the green will be none too happy when their ball finds a hazard in the air midway along its path.

For all that, most vacationers will find a nicely conditioned course with some beautiful shots and moments. The 10th plays into and through a beautiful thicket of trees and the 11th, before the mess that comes out in the fairway, has a beautiful tee on a hill in an aspen grove. The course is walkable, which is a rare treat for any course in the mountains and the views really are great. If that’s still not enough … well, you can try to find an invite to Maroon Creek, or just visit Aspen for the skiing.

Colorado 8th Decile [1993]

Credit: Golf Pass