Riverdale Dunes

Riverdale GC, Brighton. Dunes Course by Pete Dye and Perry Dye, 1986.

One of the best muni courses in the state and I don’t really understand why it doesn’t get more credit nationally as a solid muni. These days if it gets any mention it seems to be as the place where a young Tom Doak got to do some field construction work while working with the Dyes. That probably contributed to the course’s quality, but the course deserves more than that footnote.

To be fair, this is an unassuming spot. Before it was a golf course it was an onion field. But the course is an excellent combination of good conditioning, walkability (always nice to find in Colorado), challenge for good players, and playability for everyone else. It is not terribly long and though there’s water in play on eight holes, in most instances it is easy enough to avoid.

The par 3s are a good example. All have water in play, but the water doesn’t touch the green—or come closer than a few yards—on any of them.

The eighth is a much photographed hole and for good reason. The back tees play 190 but from other tees this is a short par 3 (150 yards from the blue, 125 from white) playing over water and two bunkers short of a green that is very wide but very shallow. Missing short can be bad (that left pot bunker especially is not fun) but missing long in the rough-covered mounds behind the green is worse.

#8 plays to a shallow green (Credit: Riverdale Dunes)

The counterpoint is the 17th, which plays along a lake to the right, with a bunker acting as a buffer and a pot bunker left. Here the green is long but narrow—44 yards deep, but only 13 yards wide—and set at just a slight angle from the tee.

While photos of the course tend to focus on holes like the 15th with dramatic lakes and railroad ties, some of my favorite holes are some that don’t have water in play.

The ninth is a reachable par 5 for most players (again while it’s 520 yards from the back tees it is 465 from the blue and just 450 from the white tees). But most second shots at the green will be blind and the green is set in a small hollow between mounds. Misfire and the mounds may kick your ball onto the green for a chance at the big bird—or you may be left with a very difficult pitch shot from an awkward stance and a lie befitting the final round of a US Open.

The short par 4 14th is another good opportunity to either make something happen or get into trouble. The hole is a short dogleg left with the green tucked back by the property edge behind trees, but the green is potentially reachable for big hitters. Meanwhile, Dye gives you all the world of an open fairway out to the right and it’s so open in that direction that your eye is consistently drawn instead to the green and the trees and the OB fence. This is a real Dye trademark in my mind—offer something simple, then tempt the player away from it against their better judgement.

#15 with water all down the left (Credit: Riverdale Dunes)

The following hole shows off the other side of Dye’s philosophy—simple intimidation. Ultimately, the 15th hole is a short par 4. From whatever tee you play you should be able to hit a drive and a short iron into the green. The fairway is 40 yards wide and the way the green is angled there’s no real need to challenge the left side of the hole. There’s one challenge on the 15th—don’t go left. But because the hazard looks so dramatic, players make bad swings and bad decisions.

Colorado 1st Decile [1996]