The Bogey Golfer © Course Guides
Estes Park Golf Course - Overview
Three important features spring to mind when discussing the Estes Park Golf Course: 1) What a gorgeous setting! While playing your favorite outdoor game, you get to enjoy majestic mountain vistas in literally all directions. Estes Park basically sits in a basin in the Rockies, so everywhere you look, it's fabulous. 2) As a perfect complement to the scenery, you can also enjoy the concomitant wildlife. Elk herds grazing on the fairways are a common sight. 3) The course combines "short" and "long" in an unusual and challenging way. At just 6321 yards from the tips, the overall course length is pretty short by today's standards. However, the course remains challenging because the fairways are relatively narrow, and most of the greens are small and well-defended. And if that isn't enough, five of the par 4s exceed 400 yards in length! What gives? Well, there are also five par 4s that are less than 330 yards. Furthermore, the back nine only has one par 5, so the par for the course is 71. Yet the course rating is 69.0, and the slope is a respectable 121, so even par-shooters will get their share of challenge here.
Because of the long par 4s, you're going to be relying on your short game a lot -- those approach shots are going to be short and/or wide. In order to save bogeys, you'll need to be sharp with your chipping and putting.
The clubhouse has a log cabin look to it, combining a rustic exterior reminiscent of ranger cabins in the nearby National Park, with an utterly charming interior that brings to mind a well-appointed ski lodge.
Weather in the mountains is changeable. Storms can appear in a hurry, so be sure and bring rain gear. Late afternoon thunderstorms in the mountains often bring lightning too, so be prepared to cut the round short if necessary. The day I played was gorgeous - slightly overcast, temperature in the low 70s. A sudden squall blew up as we were putting out on #18. Bring sunscreen, because at 7000 feet of elevation, UV exposure is pretty high even on a cloudy day.
Estes Park Golf Course - Detail
This course review is written (for a change) from the back tees instead of the second ones. At 6321 yards, the back tees are not that long. However, as I later realized, this winds up exposing the bogey golfer to five 400 + yard par 4s, which is bit harsh. On the other hand, the air is thinner here, and you're going to get a bit more distance than you're used to.
There's a stream (Fish Creek, I believe) that runs along the east side of the valley. The fairways tend to slope in that direction, so on most of your tee shots you want to favor the uphill side of the fairway. And on any of the greens that appear to be level, play for a little bit of break toward that creek.
Pay attention to the yardage markers. There are signs off the side of the fairway at 150 and 75 yards, and there are fairway markers at 200, 175, 150 and 100. Both the 150 and 175 yard markers are white, so be sure you actually read the numbers.
The opening hole is a 441 yard par 4 (whew!). Be sure to pay attention to the location of the group in front of you. The fairway has a big dip that you can't see, and the group in front can disappear from sight and make you think you've fallen behind. However, it takes a heckuva drive to get to the bottom of that dip. For most bogey golfers, this is going to be a three-shot hole, no matter what you hit off the tee. If you've had a chance to warm up with your driver, go ahead and give it a try here. If not, stick with a fairway wood or an iron. As you approach the green, the fairway narrows down considerably, and there are trees on the left. The green slopes severely from back to front, so make sure you stay below the pin on your approach shot -- those steep downhillers are scary. Bogey is a good score here -- your chances for pars and birdies will come later on...
Hole #2, for instance. This is a short par 3 (143 yards) with minimal protection. There is a bunker short left, and the green is pretty small, but here's a chance to make par. Ignore the pin placement, and plan to land in the middle of the green (burms surrounding the green make chip shots out of the rough a bit more difficult).
The third hole is another long (409 yards) par 4. The fairway necks down between a couple of trees on the left and a bunker on the right. So despite the length, you need to favor accuracy here. Play a mid-iron off the tee, followed by a mid-iron on the second shot, and plan to get close on the third shot.
Hole #4 puts the blue tees right behind a little pond. The pond is just there to get inside your head -- ignore it and concentrate on making good contact with the ball. The fairway slopes right, so you want to aim down the left side. However, if you get too far left into the trees, you can wind up behind an outhouse. This is another long hole at 420 yards, and it's best to play for accuracy again.
Hole #5 coming back the other way is also pretty long, at 398 yards. Accuracy is again at a premium because of the narrow fairway (there's OB to the right). If you can manage two 200 yard shots in a row, you can get to the green in two, but 200 yards is a long approach shot for a bogey golfer, and you might want to consider laying up. As you come up to the green, you'll need to get across a swale, kind of like the Valley of Sin that you see on TV at St. Andrew's. A lot of the pros favor low running shots or even putts. If you choose to chip instead, make sure the chip doesn't land on the upslope of that swale, or it'll stop it short.
The sixth hole is a par 5, playing 540 yards. The blue tee box actually sits across the road leading into the course, so watch for crossing traffic! The fairway angles back to the right from off the teebox, and you need to decide how agressive to be in cutting the corner off the dogleg. A local (thanks, Warren!) told me that the ideal line is right over an L-shaped notch in the trees on the right. Any further right than that, and you'll land in the trees. There is some room left of that line that you won't run out of fairway, particularly if you tend to hit your driver with a little bit of fade. If you tend to hit draws off the tee, you might want to use a fairway wood instead of a driver. The green is fairly large (for this course) and has a serious amount of break, which because of optical illusions, you may not see.
The seventh is a 163 yard par 3. It's a bit downhill, but not enough to club down. The wind can have an effect on your club selection though. This green is pretty well-protected, with trees right, and a bunker left. Landing short and chipping on is a good strategy if you don't think you can land on the green.
The eighth is a short uphill par 4. It only plays 342 yards, and according to Warren, all shots want to land at 100 yards from the pin. A big huge monster drive is going to hit the uphill slope and stop dead (at 100 yards). A shorter shot is going to land on a downslope, and get a huge forward kick, and roll to the 100 yard marker. (And if you top it off the tee, it will only go to the women's teebox...). The green is protected by a bunker and a tree on the left. This is another optical illusion green, that looks pretty flat, but breaks hard toward that creek.
The ninth is a benign par 5, playing 489 yards. If you notice just to your right, it runs parallel to #18, which is only 40 yards shorter, but which is a par 4! More on that one later... There's plenty of room off the tee to hit driver, but the fairway narrows down a lot on your second and third shots. Don't be long on your approach, because there's a rockpile behind the green. Hit it straight, stay in the fairway, and you can get yourself a par here.
The tenth hole is a downhill par 3. It plays 175 yards. My experience at other courses has been that you should back off a club or two playing from an elevated tee. Not so here. I hit my normal club for this length (a six iron) and came up a bit short. One of my playing partners took an extra club and almost flew over the net behind the green. So play it straight up as listed. Be mindful of the pond on the left. Short and right is a good bailout.
Hole #11 is a short par 4 (332 yards). Aim at the trees on the left side of the fairway, because the fairway slope will want to drag everything downhill to the right. There's a bunker short and right you want to avoid. Because of the length, you can get a par here if you hit accurately.
Hole #12 is a medium length par 4. First you go down a steep hill, and then back up the other side. At 352 yards, the hole isn't that long, but you want to land as far up the other side of that hill as you can manage. There's tons of trouble left, but not much trouble on the right (a few small trees). If you can get a decent tee shot, there's a chance to score on this one. The green's slope is back to front, but it's not as severe as some.
Hole #13 is a dramatically steep downhill par 4. It's only 312 yards, and big hitters can possibly reach the green on their gee shots. I wouldn't recommend trying this, because the green is small and well-protected (OB left, sand right). Hit a five iron and a sand wedge. The second shot, wherever you land, is going to have a downhill lie. Let your weight lean to your forward foot, and try to get your body perpendicular to the slope. If you're trying to stand vertically, you'll have a tendency to hit the ground behind the ball. The green slopes back to front, so you can hit the green without it rolling off the back.
Hole #14 is a very short par 4, playing only 269 yards (it's ranked as the easiest hole on the course). Keep it anywhere on the fairway, and you can get home in two easily -- a real scoring opportunity.
A brief side note: We saw a small group of elk grazing on the 14th fairway. There was a young bull, wallowing in the mud, two cows, and a calf. Since they were not in much danger of getting hit, we just played our normal tee shots, and then gave them a wide berth as we were walking to our balls. Warren had a great story about an elk that he saw pick up a golf ball and carry it off. He also said that elk can be unpredictable, especially in mating season, which was why we tried not to get too close to them. Evidently, most of the cases involving elk charging people involve the cows, not the bulls. Elk are bigger than horses, and while they're not normally agressive, it's best to leave them plenty of room.
Hole #15 is a devilish par 3. It plays 186 yards, most of which is forced carry over a pond, and some tallish trees. You can bail out to the left (which I did), but that leaves you a tough chip shot from the side into an elongated green. A better approach might be to take an extra club and go straight at it. That's what the par-shooters do anyway...
Hole #16 is a 361 yard par 4. It doglegs right, and you can't see the flag from the tee. A sand trap guards the dogleg, not to mention all the trees. Aim it straight down the middle, and you'll be in great shape. 240-260 yards is the perfect length. Much longer, and you start to run out of fairway. The green is very small, so go straight at it. If you can get close on your second shot, this is a scoring opportunity.
The 17th is a 541 yard par 5. You can take your first shot down the right hand side of the fairway (allowing for a severe left-hand roll toward the creek), or you can cut the corner off the dogleg by aiming over the right rough at the gray house. You don't save much distance doing this, but you do get the right to left sidehill roll out of your head. A creek runs across the fairway right in front of the green. And a 100 yards from the green there are a pair of fairway bunkers on either side of the fairway. Actually the fairway runs out about twenty yards further toward the hole, so you're hitting out of the rough if your second shot is "too good." So the ideal layup is right between those bunkers. Then you need to hit a crisp clean shot to the middle of the green. I hit mine fat and splashed it.
Coming home you get to finish with a brutal 448 yard par 4. Hit your driver, by all means. If it goes astray, you'll be hitting out of the rough, but there isn't any water or sand in play. Whatever happens, plan to come into the green from the left side. The right side of the green is guarded by a long skinny bunker. It's a tough shot to clear the bunker and not roll off the other side of the green, so come in from the left hand side.
This course is a lot of fun in an idyllic setting. Green fees are pretty reasonable at $40 for non-residents (there's a late afternoon PM rate for $24). Despite the mountainous surroundings and altitude, you can still walk this course without wearing yourself out too bad. Bring a camera, practice your short game, and hope for good weather!