Bear Creek

Bear Creek GC, Denver. Arnold Palmer with Ed Seay, 1985.

This men-only club on the west side of Denver is quite simply one of the hardest golf courses I have ever played and a difficult walk, too. As a place with very limited play, the conditions are great and the views here are good with only minor housing around the course.

But the golf isn’t just hard, in too many places it is needlessly, awkwardly hard. The first shot of the day is, for many, a forced layup short of a canal that crosses the fairway in the landing zone of a long par 5.

Then there are the multiple holes throughout the course (if memory serves, these include the fourth, sixth, 12th, and 14th) where you must carry a stream or pond but the gap in the trees is so small that even within the narrow fairways many angles are blocked. Consider the sixth, which is 445 yards long, has a fairway that is all of 35 yards wide and only about half of that offers a clear view of the green.

Credit: Golf Advisor

The 16th would be a difficult hole even without trees—it is 440 yards to a sloped fairway set between a bush and grass-covered hill on the left and a pond to the right. The green is on a peninsula set out into the pond. Palmer and Seay do give the player a 60-yard wide fairway on this hole, though the fairway narrows to 35 yards and even less in the range of where a driver would reach. And that’s almost a moot point anyway because the tee boxes are in a chute of trees extending for the first 220 yards of the hole, nearly all the way until the fairway begins, and this chute effectively cuts off the entire right side of the fairway. About the only way to play the hole (unless you are a modern bomber who is able to and feels comfortable taking a blind line over the trees to a fairway that slopes right toward water) is to hit a 270 yard drive to the fat part of the fairway, then have 190 yards left to the green from a hanging lie.

So, yes, it’s a pretty course and the conditions are amazing and, yes, if you want to test the absolute limits of your game this is the place to do it—the back nine alone features at least eight forced carry shots—but I just can’t imagine wanting to be a member at a course this hard.

Colorado 2nd Decile [1993]

#14 has a creek, trees, and a tiny green (Credit: Golf Advisor