Murphy Creek GC, Aurora. Ken Kavanaugh, 1999.
This course didn’t open until I was in college, so I never got to play it quite as much as I would have liked, which is a shame because it really must be one of the best municipal golf courses in the country and here it is in the city where I was born and raised.
The first 13 holes are about as good as it gets, mixing tough long holes with risk-reward short holes, natural creeks and rugged bunkers.
The second is 494 yards on the scorecard but plays much shorter downhill and at altitude. The hole is bunkerless but the trick of the hole is the swale of rough in front of the green. Even with a short iron the green can be difficult to hold and the swale makes bouncing a shot on impossible. The solution to the puzzle is a mound at the back left of the green that can act as a backstop if you use it correctly, but miss that mound and this seemingly benign hole (no sand!) can bite.
The third is an epic 640-yard par 5 with three centerline bunkers and multiple routes to the green. The fifth is a par 3 that, depending on the tee placement can be a long hole to a narrow green, or a shot hole to a shallow green.
But the best hole on the front side is the ninth—a slightly uphill, potentially reachable par 4 with the green tucked between a ravine to the left and a deep bunker to the right. Even players who layup must choose their line wisely as the fairway features a large centerline bunker and the green gets narrower the father up the fairway you hit your drive.
One of the issues with the back nine is that it is where they started building homes first; there are now homes (for now) on the front side. The real estate doesn’t bother much on 10-13. The homes are all just to one side of the holes and not really in play.
These first four holes of the inward half are all good ones, too. The 10th skirts along a creek to the left, which the par 3 11th then plays across. Finally the 12th completes the trio or creek corner holes by playing like a Cape hole around the creek with a drive that must carry the creek and a green set next to it.
The 13th moves away from the creek to a fairway that moves left past a cluster of bunkers. This is a short par 5 of 528 yards so drives that hug or even carry the bunkers will have a good chance to reach the green. The fairway then dips through a deep swale until finding the green benched on the other side of the valley set into a hillside with a bunker guarding the front.
But the next four holes lose some luster. Even before homes were built this run felt out of place. The 14th and 15th introduce ponds that feel particularly forced (the 8th hole has a pond as well that’s less than ideal but it’s still not as egregious as the water features on the back nine). The 14th is a mid-length par 4 with the water to the left and the 15th is a long par 5 with water running all along the right. At the 16th and 17th the water has become more of a reedy creek, which feels more natural, but there’s still something forced about it. These holes are sound strategically but they have always felt out of character in comparison to the holes that come before. The fact that homes now totally surround all these holes is a further mark against them.
The 18th emerges back into the plains. It is a brawny par 4 asking the player to choose their line either over, around, or between bunkers, and wind often plays a factor. It’s a fine finisher but the final run of hole overall feels like a bit of a letdown after the inspired run to start the course.
This is an excellent muni and a good place to play out by the airport, but it’s hard not to leave thinking about what could have been.
Colorado 2nd Decile