Saddle Rock

Saddle Rock GC, Aurora. Dick Phelps, 1997.

A course I played a ton in the couple of years after it opened—it became one of our school’s home courses, despite being a bit of a drive. Back then it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and it felt like a great adventure over prairie hills. Now, of course, housing surrounds all the holes and so that feeling is gone.

The opener is a lengthy uphill par 5 with a shallow ravine that threatens along the left side of the hole and eventually pokes in short of the green. I suppose the long hitters today can reach this green, but it was never a thought in 1997. The next couple holes head more steeply uphill—the second is a shorter dogleg left, the third a longer par 4 that moves left only slightly.

Thee tee shot on the fourth is blind over a low area but your line is directly over a rock on a hill in the distance—Saddle Rock, presumably. The fifth is a medium-length par 3 in a lovely spot, played over a ravine with natural vegetation and trees, but the green isn’t much and the bunkers are just sort of there.

The green at #5 looking back toward the tee (Credit: City of Aurora)

The sixth is a 593-yard par 5 but drops 100 feet in elevation, so doesn’t play nearly that long. Then the seventh heads right back uphill, playing 70 feet uphill over the course of its 380 yards. (Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough to walk Saddle Rock.) Then the par 3 eighth plays steeply downhill again and the drive on the ninth is downhill as well, and needs to be fit between a pond on the right and a road on the left.

The turn to the back nine starts off flatter with three holes that play along a creek and among tall cottonwoods. The 10th demand a 200+ yard carry over the creek to an angled fairway with the creek running along the left and a bank to the right. If you can work a draw into the fairway without overdoing it, this hole can be pretty simple, but it must be a nightmare for anyone who hits a fade.

That’s quickly balanced by the 11th, a par 5 where, ideally, you’d hit a fade off the tee and then again on the second shot if you have the shot. Off the tee the creek is on the right and crosses the fairway around 300 yards out, but the fairway bends left to right and a large tree just left of the fairway here cause havoc for draws. The second shot is over the creek to a fairway with three bunkers staggered through the landing zone and you can pick you poison as to how much or how little you want to challenge them, but whether you stay back or try to clear everything the best bet is to stay to the left side to open up the best angle for your third shot to the green.

#8 green with #9 fairway in distance (Credit: City of Aurora)

The 12th plays along a small tributary of the creek, but the primary concern are the large cottonwoods that grow on either side of the fairway. The hole doglegs to the right and to have a clear look at the green you need to find about a 15 yard wide portion of the fairway—where exactly that portion of fairway falls varies depending on how far you hit the drive.

Following that the course returns more to the character of the front nine, with holes that play through hilly prairie grassland (though now surrounded by homes). The 16th tee is the back nine’s high point and the best view on the course, looking directly west to the Rockies, but it was a more inspiring visual before all the homes went in. The hole itself isn’t anything special—a downhill par 3 with three pot bunkers left that try to help keep pulled shots from a worse fate in a wetland area below the green.

The course finishes with a long par 5 in the 17th that plays along wetlands and then an 18th hole that asks for a position drive and then returns to the creek with a second shot that must carry it and find a green set between the creek and a bunker.

#18 looking back (Credit: Visit Aurora)

Ultimately, this is a fine course, but that’s about as far as I can go. The site is nice, but probably too hilly to be called really good. That said, Phelps didn’t do anything special with it. There aren’t any really interesting greens or even any holes that ask a compelling strategic question of any kind. On the other hand, there aren’t any bad holes here (the 12th may be borderline). For a muni, this seemed pretty good when it was built. But that was before all the homes went up, and before better munis like Murphy Creek and Red Hawk Ridge came along.

Colorado 4th Decile [2001]