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Posted: July 22, 2009

The Colorado Open: Can you imagine the possibilities

An argument for leveraging Colorado’s diverse collection of golf courses

Bart Taylor

As the venerable Colorado Open tees off today at the Green Valley Ranch Golf Club, I’m reminded of some notes I scribbled down back in 2003, the year the tournament was canceled just days before it was to begin at Sonnenalp Golf Club in Edwards.

I’d wanted to write a column back then about the loss of one the nation’s great regional championships, but got sidetracked somehow. I’m a longtime fan of the event, and I remember being jarred by the sudden and unceremonious cancellation. Player entry fees and other monies collected up front could not be refunded at the time (though they may have been since) – the event was basically bankrupt – and organizers were at a loss to speculate on what might become of the tournament in the future.

Since then, the Colorado Open has found a home at Green Valley Ranch, as well as a sustaining business model.  Three Open tournaments –men’s, women’s and senior’s – are organized and funded by the Colorado Open Golf Foundation, a nonprofit with ties to The First Tee, an ambitious global foundation for youth supported by the PGA, USGA, R&A and other golf heavyweights. The tournaments still rely on local underwriting, but the Colorado Open series appears to be on solid organizational footing today.

The one drawback to the new arrangement is that Green Valley Ranch, improving as it has with age, isn’t among the state’s most interesting or challenging courses for players of Open-level caliber. The tournament currently lacks the drama, for example, that attended the player’s annual battle with Hiwan Country Club – its rolling fairways, fast greens and sweat-inducing lightning.  Since Hiwan, the Open lineup has included Saddleback, Inverness and Sonnenalp, in addition to Green Valley Ranch.  All fun, beautiful golf courses, but given Colorado’s golfing assets, can you imagine the possibilities?

Here’s what I jotted down five or six years ago, contemplating how course selection might help establish a new, improved event:

To start, leverage Colorado’s diverse, rich collection of golf courses on an annual basis. No state in the union boasts a finer collection of public and private, mountain and prairie, links and traditional golf courses than Colorado. As with the U.S. Open, establish an eight or 10 course rotation, highlighting the state’s brilliant collection of courses. Make the venue as compelling as the competition. Sponsors would also benefit from statewide exposure over time.

As host to these courses, Colorado’s communities should share the spotlight. Effort should be made to engage them as key partners and participants in the event’s success. Currently, the focus seems to be on the golfer. The current venue (Sonnenalp) was purportedly valued because of the attractiveness as a vacation destination for players and their families.

Building statewide support for the Colorado Open by visiting the state’s diverse and deserving communities and courses will do more to revive the event than its current player-centric approach. The state, its businesses, its fans and patrons will benefit. The Open Championship of Colorado should be as its name implies: a Colorado-wide event. Build it, and in this case, sponsors and players will come.

Colorado’s golfing community owes a debt of gratitude to the people that saved the Colorado Open. In the future, maybe Green Valley Ranch will be one venue of many to showcase the event --  and the entire state.

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Bart Taylor is the publisher of ColoradoBiz magazine. E-mail him at btaylor@cobizmag.com.

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