Denver Area

Sandstone cliffs surround the 12th green at Fossil Trace

NO. 1 COURSE: FOSSIL TRACE

LOCATION: Golden, Co.

DIRECTIONS FROM DENVER: Take 6th Avenue/Hwy 6 west turning north (right) onto Jefferson County Parkway then take first left onto Illinois St. The golf course clubhouse is five blocks north, one block north of the round-about.

PHONE: 303-277-8750 (web site: www.fossiltrace.com)

OPENED: 2003 (Architect: Jim Engh)

GREEN FEES: Rates vary widely depending on the season, on age and on county. It ranges from as low as $17 to $75.

LAYOUT: Par 72, 7,530 yards (five tee positions)

LOWDOWN: It’s located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Front Range with views of Boulder and Golden Valleys. Dinosaurs walked among the fairways and greens, although considerably before designer Jim Engh unveiled his creation in 2003. Both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine voted Fossil Trace as one of the Top 10 new golf courses to play in the country when it opened.

There are also remnants of the clay mining operations and equipment throughout the layout. The course is only 15 minutes from downtown Denver.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 12, par-5, 569 yards. You have to play this hole to be believed. There are  sandstone pillars, 80 feet to more than 100 feet high, along much of the fairway and surrounding the green. The 64-million-year-old stone has trace fossils of palm leaves and triceratops footprints.

NO. 2 COURSE: FOUR MILE RANCH

LOCATION: Canon City, Co.

DIRECTIONS FROM COLORADO SPRINGS: Go south I-25 and turn right on Hwy 50. After you pass Justice Center Rd. look for the course on your right.

PHONE: 719-275-5400 (web site: fourmileranch.com)

OPENED: 2007 (Architect: Jim Engh)

GREEN FEES: Rates vary widely depending on the season and season passes are available. Call the clubhouse for information.

LAYOUT: Par 72, 7,053 yards (five tee positions)

LOWDOWN: You seem to play all the holes on ridges, with waste areas all around. You need to carry on some drives while on others you have to play safe or you could fly too far into trouble.

The course is at the gateway to the Royal Gorge with the fast-moving Arkansas River alongside. It’s a fun experience and architect Jim Engh has built that factor into his layout.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 6, par-5, 570 yards. You have to hit over a waste area on your drive then you have a decision to make with your second shot (third for shorter hitters). Your approach to the green is blind because at the end of the fairway is a waste area dropping down onto the green. It’s take precision and a prayer.

NO. 3 COURSE: BEAR DANCE

LOCATION: Larkspur, Co.

DIRECTIONS FROM DENVER: Take I-25 S toward Colorado Springs and exit at Plum Creek Pkwy. Go straight through the light at bottom of the off ramp, the west frontage road heading south for five miles. Turn right at Tomah Rd. and take immediate left at Bear Dance Dr. Go three miles. Course in on the left.

PHONE: 303-681-4653 (web site: beardancegolf.com)

OPENED: 2002 (Architect: Corey Aurand)

GREEN FEES: Rates vary widely depending on the season, from $49 to $109.

LAYOUT: Par 72, 7,726 yards (five tee positions)

LOWDOWN: It’s a wonderful layout in which no hole is similar and all 18 are among the tall pines, with mountain ranges visible in nearly every direction. You can see the Rocky Mountain Front Range, Pike’s Peak, Dawson Butte and Devil’s Head.

There is a lot of elevation changes with numerous carries off the tees to clear waste areas. The course also mixes in plenty of water hazards and bunkers, including the ‘Bear Claw” traps on No. 6 that features 11 bunkers in front of the green. In 2006, Avid Golfer Magazine voted it the Best Public or Resort Course in the country.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 16, par-4, 431 yards. It’s a stunning view from the tee, 140 feet above the fairway. You can see Pike’s Peak and the Rocky Mountain Front Range. There’s a wide fairway to land your tee shot but don’t drift into the right-hand bunkers. Your second (or third) shot needs to clear a pond in front and right of the green. To the left are trees and a sizable bunker. It’s a thread-the-needle approach.

NO. 4 COURSE: FOX HOLLOW AT LAKEWOOD

LOCATION: Lakewood, Co.

DIRECTIONS FROM DOWNTOWN DENVER: Take C470 and get off a Morrison Rd. Go east for 3 ½ miles. Fox Hollow is on the south side of the street.

PHONE: 303-986-7888 (web site: www.lakewoodgolf.org)

OPENED: 1993 (Architect: Denis Griffiths)

GREEN FEES: $45. Call the clubhouse for rates.

LAYOUT: Three nines: (Canyon) par 35, 3,479 yards; Meadow, par 36, 3,333 yards; (Links) par 36, 3,555 yards (five tee positions each)

LOWDOWN: The three nine-hole courses, in the Rocky Mountain footballs adjacent to Bear Creek,are each distinctive. The Canyon has more elevation change and features the 80-foot drop into Coyote Gulch on the No. 5 hole.

The Meadow deals more with Bear Creek and water hazards while the Links nine is just as it says, a more Scottish style experience with feathery roughs and wide fairways. The courses are operated by the City of Lakewood.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 5, par-4, 440 yards (Canyon course): The drive is routine but your approach clearly is not. As you close down on the pin there is a 80-foot drop from the fairway to the green.

NO. 5 COURSE: RIDGE AT CASTLE PINES NORTH

LOCATION: Castle Rock, Co.

DIRECTIONS FROM DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: Take Toll Rd. E-470 South to I-25 South. Travel South on I-25 to Exit 188/Castle Pines Pkwy. Turn right and go west two miles. Course is on the left.

PHONE: 303-688-4301 (web site: playtheridge.com)

OPENED: 1997 (Architect: Tom Weiskopf)

GREEN FEES: Depending on the season, the rates range from $60 to $140.

LAYOUT: Par 71, 7,103 yards (four tee positions)

LOWDOWN: This course winds its way through some tree Colorado firs, as each hole has its own personality. Water comes into play on several holes and there seems to be more than the usual number of traps defending greens.

It has been selected one of the best places to play in the state by GolfWeek and the 74th best play to play in the U.S. by Golf Digest.

SIGNATURE HOLE: No. 5, par-5, 535 yards. On your drive, there hazards on both sides of the fairway, with homes or the right and homes and a long length of water on the left. After you get past the water, it doglegs left to a relatively small green protected by a yawning bunker.

- Bob Sherwin