Willis Case

Willis Case, Denver. El Jabel/City of Denver, 1928.

Not a championship course these days, but a great place to walk 18 or enjoy a pleasant day outside. There’s no water here and only 29 bunkers, so it’s a decent place for beginners, but small greens and sidehill lies keep it interesting enough for better players.

The front nine is longer and a bit tougher than the back, with a number of holes that gently dogleg between trees and play along a side slope.

The first hole starts at the top of the hill and heads west with a spectacular view of the Rockies. The fifth is as simple and elegant a par 5 as you’re likely to find. At 576 yards and uphill for much of the way it’s a three-shot hole for almost everyone playing here. The hole bends to the left against a hill that goes the opposite way. The drive is pretty wide open but the challenges begin with the second shot. There’s just one bunker on the hole—about 150 yards out on the left side. Shorter hitters or anyone who misses the fairway with their drive need to be sure they can carry this bunker, or else play around it. For everyone else, the key on the layup is simply to find the fairway—this small green is not a target you want to try to hit from the rough.

#5 (Credit: City of Denver)

The back nine is a bit more open and considerably shorter, but the holes are more varied. The 10th, a fairly short par 3 behind the clubhouse, used to have the option to play to two different greens, though it appears the right green has now been retired. The 11th hole is a short par 4 down the hill to a fairway guarded by several bunkers. This used to be a very simple and plain downhill hole, but about 15 years ago a new green was added 50 yards further up and offset to the left, making it a clever drive and pitch hole. Big hitters can try to reach this green but out of bounds sits very close to the left if you stray too far that direction.

Short, sometimes even reachable, holes are the rule through the 14th. But the course gets more stern right at the end with a mid-length par 3 at the 17th and then the uphill 18th to a green set beyond one of the deepest bunkers on the course and with the clubhouse nicely above it.

But the 18th is also an example of some of the less desirable quirk at Willis Case. There are two bunkers 15 yards right of the 18th fairway (I can’t bring myself to even call them fairway bunkers) 160-205 yards off the tee with trees between them and the fairway. Old aerials show that these were once fairway bunkers, but the fairway line has changed. Now I just wonder: If you’re maintaining the bunkers, why have the trees? Or, if you have the trees, why not let the bunkers go? Such are the mysteries of muni maintenance.

Anyway, you’re not here for golf architecture. This is a place for fun golf and good views of Lakeside across the freeway and the mountains across the city. Sometimes you don’t need anything more.

Colorado 8th Decile [1998]

View from #1 tee box (Credit: City of Denver)