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Your 2019 Executive Golf Guide

Colorado golf clubs ride the wave as booming economy and population growth buck national trend


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Ask Colorado Golf Association Executive Director Ed Mate to describe the condition of golf in the state, and he begins to use the word “flat” so often, you’d think we were in Kansas. 

CGA membership, at about 60,000 rounds, “flat.” Rounds “flat.” Revenues “flat.” 

But don’t think he’s complaining. Good winter weather and a growing population have protected Colorado golf from the national decline two years running. 

“When I say we’re flat, that’s a pretty good, solid performance for the last couple of years,” Mate says. “The rest of the country wasn’t nearly as fortunate.” 

Elsewhere, golf has slipped into a valley. Here, exclusive, member-owned clubs are still hard to get into. Clubs that once had waiting lists don’t have those anymore, but at least they don’t have waiting lists to get out. And for-profit clubs have shored up their amenities, building clubhouses, fitness facilities, pools and pickleball courts to market to new members. 

It’s a buyers’ market, to be sure, but not to the sad, desperate 2010 tune of “please please PLEASE join.” “I think Denver clubs are doing pretty well, and there’s a great attraction in the range of clubs here,” says Jason Murphy, Club Management Association of America Mile High chapter president and general manager at Pinehurst Country Club. “Options. We all do things differently, so people have a wide selection of really great clubs.” 

Indeed, there is a range, within the traditional country club model and beyond. In the state are 52 private clubs, 18 semi-private clubs, 11 resort courses, three military courses and 156 public courses. 

GOLF AND MORE, MUCH MORE 

You want to play tennis and pickleball? Hang out by the pool? Jump on the treadmill? Keep the kids busy? Have something to do every day and something to eat at every meal? This is the contemporary country club, exemplified by Pinehurst (muchmorethangolf.com), Pradera, Country Club at Castle Pines and many others. Cherry Creek is one with a popular summer camp for kids. 

Often, these are member-owned equity clubs with high entry fees, monthly dues and food and beverage minimums. Sometimes, though, they are for-profit clubs owned by corporations or individuals. That may make them a less expensive option, or in the case of Cherry Creek, with an entry fee starting at $40,000, maybe not. 

Sometimes the “much, much more” attracts more memberships than the golf. Southglenn Country Club, a few blocks from the Streets of Southglenn shopping complex, rocks the swimming pool scene all summer alongside a frequently empty nine-hole par-3 course. It’s an affordable option for families, at $1,100 for the year. 

“I think that’s really the trend: a little bit of golf, but not so much,” says Cortney Murphy, managing director of the Club Management Association of America local chapter. “There just aren’t as many die-hard golfers out there.” 

YEAR-ROUND SPORTS CLUBS 

The golf is awesome in July, but then what? Clubs above the Front Range actually count on the snow to allow them to appeal to skiers, ice skaters and snow shoers. Frost Creek, the Club at Cordillera and Monument’s modestly priced Country Club of Woodmoor ($1,500 entry fee, or a golf membership as low as $195 a month) all transition to winter sports when the snow comes. 

GOLF GOLF GOLF 

Yes, that’s still out there and to be expected for members of Cherry Hills, Denver Country Club, Castle Pines Golf Club and, oh yes, the all-male Bear Creek. “Some clubs are definitely geared to the good golfing member,” Murphy says. “That’s what they want, that’s what they do.” 

You’d better prize the golf at Castle Pines, at $135,000 and up to join. Add up the initiation, the monthlies, food and beverage minimums, tips and cart fees, and a member may find the cost of a round to be about $2,000. “That’s pretty much the soliloquy of many private club members,” Mate says. “But I think at the end of the day they obviously see enough value in it to keep doing it. They’re joining for easy access to golf, and for business reasons, social reasons, lots of reasons.” 

Note that the golf-golf-golf clubs are not necessarily exclusive and pricey. Meridien offers little aside from golf yet has lower fees than the fore-mentioned clubs and promises “no snobby atmosphere, no difficult application process, no food and beverage minimums.” Bear Creek offers trial memberships at $1,000 plus monthly dues. ClubCorp-owned Black Bear and Blackstone charge initiation fees starting at $2,000 a month, with dues as low as $219 a month. 

Then there are the semi-private clubs such as Inverness and Highlands Ranch. They share their courses (the first with a hotel, the second with a university) and because of that, simply charge an annual fee (about $6,500 for two) that entitles members to unlimited, preferred tee-times. 

Of course, just about every municipal course has clubs attached to it, including men’s and women’s 18-holers, women’s 9-holers and sometimes men’s seniors or couples clubs. A hopeful joiner can find out about clubs attached to Denver city courses athttps://www.cityofdenvergolf.com/clubs/. It’s likely they’re all open to new members, and for municipal golf clubs, one need only apply, not host any cocktail parties. A few have handicap or estimated score requirements. 

One type of club largely missing from the Denver area is the traveling club, which forms based on some particular mission (to have fun, to create competition for mid-handicappers, to offer co-ed events) and plays different courses from week to week or month to month. The Front Range Golf Club operates 16 events and costs $125-$165 to join; the LPGA Amateur Golf Association’s Denver chapter has weekday after-work leagues and weekend tournaments, memberships ranging from $65-$120. 

Mate isn’t sure why these traveling clubs are big in California and not in Colorado. 

“We’re pretty antiquated,” he says. “I’ve had people ask, ‘Why aren’t there more traveling clubs or co-ed clubs? Everything here is so formal. Men’s clubs, women’s clubs, it’s like the Dark Ages.’ I think part of it is just culture.” 

The CGA, now merged with the Colorado Women’s Golf Association, tried its first co-ed event last year, the “Duet Duel,” and received feedback positive enough that it plans to roll these out regionally. Mate notes that anyone with a group of 10 can create a “Type 2” club – for example, the CGA staff belongs to its own “Bushwood” CGA club, with official USGA handicaps. He’s hoping to see more traveling and Type 2 clubs as millennials formalize their interest in the game. 

FOR THE REST 

Even the shy golfer can delve into the club scene through the CGA’s internet membership, CGA Club, which this year will have five regions and competitions in each. And, the non-committal golfer can always find a casual group on Meetup.com. Membership fee: zero. 

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Susan Fornoff

Susan Fornoff has covered U.S. Opens and the Masters for the San Francisco Chronicle, written two golf books and founded GottaGoGolf.com, a website and newsletter for women golfers. She recently relocated to Littleton, and hopes to play all of Colorado’s 10 toughest golf courses – from the most forward tees.

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