Plum Creek

Plum Creek GC, Castle Rock. Pete Dye, 1984.

This was built as a TPC venue and briefly hosted a senior event, but the course has never entirely lived up to aspirations and over the years they have struggled with ownership, conditions, amenities, and more. It’s been private, public, semi-private, private again, public, bankrupt, and just about everything else you can imagine. But for now it is still there, and I’m glad of it, because—when it is in good condition—this is a good golf course.

The course makes a big deal out of some silly stuff—a par 3 with 10,000 railroad ties and a waterlogged finishing trio they they insist is great, but as is often the case with Dye, it is the less obvious holes that are really some of the better ones.

Give me the fourth, a par 4 where you drive downhill to a sloped fairway in which flat lies are tough to find, then play a wedge or short iron to a green that’s big but plays small because it has so many humps and hollows. The hole doesn’t look Scottish but is has all the tricks Dye learned in that part of the world.

#5 looking back (Credit: Plum Creek GC)

In fact the rest of the front nine—including the next four holes that run alongside the train tracks, which both serve to add some quaint flavor and keep houses away—are solid holes.

The fifth is is a lengthy par 5 with numerous bunkers—two long trench bunkers guard nearly the entire left side of the hole, while eight smaller bunkers take up the task of protecting misses to the right.

The sixth is a long par 4 with just one bunker, though that single front left bunker sees plenty of action on a 460 yard hole that plays uphill and tilts right to left.

The seventh is a mid-length par 3 that’s a typical Dye exercise in mind tricks. The tee shot feels like it’s played out of a narrow chute of trees. With a mid or short iron this is really no problem—any shot that would hit the trees is a shot that would have been miles wide of the green were the trees not there—but there’s still something uncomfortable about the visual from the tee. The green is guarded in front by a bulkheaded bunker, but if you can find the putting surface, it is one of the flattest greens on the course.

#7 looking back to the tee in the trees (Credit: Plum Creek GC)

The eighth is the last hole along the railroad tracks, a reachable par 5 with the green guarded by a pond. Then you turn and head straight back up the hill to the short ninth, where the green is set into an amphitheatre that reminds you that this was once a stadium golf course.

The 12th is the aforementioned hole with 10,000 railroad ties and it is a thing to behold. They build up the tee boxes and bulkhead the green, they create steps from the cart path to the green and they line the hill beyond the green. It all seems very unnecessary, but in the ’80s Dye had a reputation as a man who built golf courses that could burn down and at the 12th he meant to uphold that reputation. Apart from the Sierra Club nightmare, the hole succeeds because of the green. The hole is 198 on the card but plays at least one club downhill. The green is tilted notably from back to front with several ridges, not quite tiers, running through that reward a player who can calculate the elevation drop correctly and hit it close.

#12 and some of it’s 10,000 railroad ties (Credit: Plum Creek GC)

A couple of solid short par 4s follow. At the 13th, you can hit driver into a narrow neck of the fairway guarded by bunkers on the right or lay back for a longer (though, frankly, still short) approach. Plum Creek may still embrace too many of the “tough Pete Dye course” tropes from when it was built but one they have apparently abandoned, happily, is an old dead tree that used to stand in the 13th fairway with a noose hanging from it. Good riddance to that imagery.

#13 in the bad old days before the dead tree and the noose came down

The 15th is a classic Dye switchback hole. It’s a short par 5—at 504 yards it’s barely a par 5 at Castle Rock’s altitude—but it asks for a slight fade off the tee and then a draw into the green. Two bunkers guard the front of the green, one a deep bunker to the left side, the other a tiny pot that loves to gather shots.

And then there’s the dramatic finish—a 460-yard par 4 with water stretching the entire length of the hole, a 135-yard par 3 over water, and a 430-yard par 4 again with water down almost the entire length.

#17 looking back to the tee (Credit: Plum Creek GC)

Truth be told, I think the 17th is a pretty good hole. I enjoy that it’s a shorter par 3, so although you have to carry the water it doesn’t feel so daunting. The green is quite wide but shallow. There are a couple pot bunkers behind, but the worse fate is going long and being between the bunkers and running down into the closely mown collection area, then facing a chip back up to the narrow green with water on the other side.

It’s not that the 16th and 18th are bad—the angle of the drive on 16 and the approach on 18 ensures that—but they certainly feel forced given that there’s only one other water hazard in the first 15 holes. But this was what the TPC network wanted in the 80s and it seems to be the kind of finish people still love today (maybe because they see so much of it from other TPC courses on TV).

Colorado 3rd Decile [1995]

#16 (Credit: Plum Creek GC)