Bear Dance Golf Club in Larkspur, Colorado: Preserving history major role in scenic layout
LARKSPUR, Colo. -- History is a triple play at Bear Dance Golf Club.
There's history in the land, history in the golf course name and there will be history in the clubhouse -- a place where archives and keepsakes of the Colorado PGA will be preserved.
The name Bear Dance comes from a sacred Native American ritual, and after of years of searching for the right situation, the Colorado PGA chose it as a permanent home.
Next spring, when the 14,000-square foot clubhouse is finished, the 750-member Colorado Section will have the second floor and 2,700-square feet for its offices.
That space will also include a 1,000-square foot memorabilia area showcasing such members as Dow Finsterwald, captain of the 1977 Ryder Cup and 1957 Vardon Trophy winner, and Paul Runyan, a two-time PGA Champion.
Bear Dance Golf Club also chose a historic area in Colorado history. Although there are no visible remains, the area was a defensive point for the entire West Plum Creek Valley during the Indian Wars of 1868. It was called Fort Washington, a log stockade that enclosed a homestead cabin and a large well.
Traditions of the game are also honored. One only has to look at the names of each hole to take in more golf lore -- Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, The Babe, Payne Stewart, The Bear, Bobby Jones, The Slammer, Iron Byron, Francis Ouimet, Tom Watson and The King are some of the celebrated names.
The dream of this golf course started with Gene Taylor, a retired Frontier Airlines pilot, who learned persistence as a Depression-era youngster. Like his peers of the day, school was secondary to working and keeping his family fed.
Taylor first visited the land known as Douglas Park in 1982. He was financially unable to buy all the acreage he wanted, but finally in 1994 he bought 671 acres. Just north of the 11th tee is his home, a spot where he and his wife Joan enjoyed the view for 12 years, sipped coffee and dreamed of someday building a golf course.
Taylor Mountain Ranch is offering only 47 home sites, keeping the area as natural as possible, and all the homes you see on the course now are Taylor's children's.
Ask Taylor who the architect was and he points toward the heavens. "But a few of us mortals had a small hand in it," he says.
The other mortals are golf pros, construction workers and the owners of Bear Dance Golf Club -- Dennis Hogan, Corey Aurand, Phil Currie and Stuart Bruening (design consultation from Brian Whitcomb). The company is Southwest Greens of Colorado, L.L.C., and they also designed Club West, in Phoenix; The 500 Club, Phoenix; Mountain Brook, Mesa, Ariz.; Western Skies, Chandler, Ariz.; and Lost Tracks, Bend, Ore.
When Taylor didn't have luck giving the land to Douglas County for a public-use golf course, the four golf pros found him. Hogan had been eye-balling the property for years, but it had no access. When the two factions came together, a deal was struck. Taylor exchanged the land for the pros' expertise to build the dream.
"No hard money was exchanged," Hogan said. Just hard work.
Taylor actually created an original routing with help from Rick Phelps and parts of that design were incorporated into the final Bear Dance layout, which includes 62 bunkers and fairways lined with Ponderosa pines and gambel oaks.
The quartet of golf-pro owners did everything -- they paved the parking lot, drove the bulldozers, loaders and scrapers.
"The other guys already had the construction experience," said Hogan, a past president of the Southwest PGA Section. "I was doing the marketing for the company, but these guys had already done eight other courses so I learned the construction end of it from them."
High-handicappers might squirm when they see the length of Bear Dance's stunning par-72 layout. The Pro Tees measure 7,661 yards and the Black is a healthy 7,279 yards. Even the Blue Tees are 6,814 yards, but Hogan, the Director of Golf, reminds you that many holes play downhill and with an average altitude of 6,800 feet, you will get that additional light-air carry.
Elevation varies 600 feet throughout the layout with a slope of 141 as you dodge a gauntlet of flashed bunkers with white sand, fly muscular mounds, negotiate twisty fairways that turn left and right and elude eight ponds.
"Still, No. 1, a 502-yard par 4, requires a solid tee shot, even if it is downhill," Hogan said. "But the hole that everyone is talking about is No. 9. Make a tiny mistake here and you will pay for it on the scorecard."
The ninth, Iron Byron, also a 502-yard par 4, plays uphill through a chute of trees and over a huge native ravine. The tee shot demands power and accuracy, missing a huge Ponderosa pine guarding the right fairway boundary. Bogey 5 will be the norm here.
Interestingly, the first hole-in-one recorded at Bear Dance was on the downhill par-4, 315-yard No. 6, that features a minefield bunker complex. From the tee you can't miss the vision of a bear paw in sand.
The views could be distracting and include Pikes Peak, Raspberry Butte, Devil's Head, Dawson Butte, Larkspur Butte and the snow-capped Continental Divide as your round concludes with imaginative, thought-required shotmaking on the finishing holes of 16 through 18.
Be precise on the 100-foot drop, downhill tee shot and approach at No. 16, keep your mind off the tumbling, rock-strewn creek bordering the par-3 17th, and stay left-center on your No. 18 drive, away from those pot bunkers positioned right. From the back tees the finale is 655 yards.
Another meaningful detail -- Hogan says by all means don't be distracted with your approaches. The greens slope from back to front and average 7,000-square feet.
"Keep the ball below the hole," he injects. "If you don't, you will have some three-putts. The greens are rolling eight on the Stimp Meter now, but toward the end of the summer they will be at 10."
With "keep the ball below the hole" constantly in your head, sometimes many golfers think that is impossible when the pin is up front and the greens are firm.
And then you face this scenario: Your approach is just short of the elevated, mesa-placed green. The pin is up front and there is a ridge or mound between you and the putting surface. If the ridge or mound is cut cleanly and tight, pros will tell you one way to play the shot is a bump into the mound. Playing the ball back in your stance, if struck correctly, the ball will hit the mound and pop up in the air, losing most of its forward momentum and sit softly by the pin.
June 27, 2002