Heather Ridge

Heather Ridge GC, Aurora. Dick Phelps, 1973.

This was a private club when I was growing up and I lived within walking distance of the back nine. It tells you a lot that despite how golf obsessed I was and how close this place was to our home, we never gave any serious consideration to joining.

This is the tightest course I have ever played, if not in fact then at least in how it feels, because here it’s condos and homes encroaching, which is rather more intimidating than just trees. It makes up for that tightness by being very short and offering a lot of forced layups and shots over water. Even in the days of persimmon clubs and balata balls it was possible to play here and never feel the need to hit driver. I suppose now some of the short par 4s are now more reachable, but they’re also more dangerous with wider dispersion patterns.

After three mundane holes to start, the fourth is an early example of the recurring theme. 314 yards on the card, it is only 290 to the front of the green on a direct line (at Denver’s altitude), but there is water short of the green, out of bounds long and condos to the left. Even at elevation, most won’t try to make the carry, so the layup is the play. The fairway runs out at about 200 yards. That’s the day in a nutshell—a mid- or long-iron lay-up off the tee and a wedge in. At the fourth the approach is to a green with a freeway for a backdrop. That’s pretty ugly but the alternatives the rest of the greens offer—condos, office buildings, or roads—are not much better.

The fifth is a 110-yard par 3 over an ugly pond squeezed between a freeway exit ramp and an office complex. The sixth is another very short par 4 that on the card seems like it may be reachable, just 287 yards. In fact the hole is a hard dogleg left and if you cut the corner the green is just 245 yards away, but taking that line requires carrying sand and trees and a street. One bad kick off a branch and you’re out of bounds. Playing it the “right” way is again a 180 yard layup followed by a wedge. The opposite side of the hole is the driving range, so the aesthetics of this hole are not high, either.

One of the worst is the 10th—a hole that gets credit for not requiring a wedge, but not for anything else. It’s a 200-yard par 3 whose tee sits immediately between a pond and an apartment building, with a second apartment building poking uncomfortably out into your field of vision about 60 yards down off the tee and making the entire left side of the hole blind. Because that left side of the hole is blind, the first time you play the 10th you don’t know that anything more than a couple yards left of the green has a good chance to find the parking lot for that apartment complex (which you can’t see from the tee, remember). At least there’s plenty of room to bail right—the 18th fairway and a nice fairway bunker are over there, totally safe but for oncoming drives.

The back nine continues this way. The 13th is just 309 but because of a pond in front of the green and a slope before the pond the best way to play the hole is with a 165 yard drive and 145 yard approach shot. The 15th is only 292 but the green sits in the corner of two streets so has out of bounds long right and long left and has a small wet hazard in front. So, again, it’s a layup and a wedge.

Ultimately, this is the kind of course that is very easy for a good player who can execute shots—low handicap players should have wedges into at least 11 of the holes, unless they decide to try to reach one of more of the par 4s or 5s—but can be quite difficult for a higher handicap player who strays into the rough, the water, and the OB all day.

The course was nearly closed a few years back but it survived and reopened as a public facility, because what a course like this needs is more play.

Colorado 10th Decile [1997]

Credit: Golf Advisor