The Olde Course at Loveland: A Unique and Memorable Experience
LOVELAND, CO - Golfers who live in the North Front Range region of Colorado know that the area is rich with a variety of good to great golf courses. Favorites here include the difficult but wide-open Ptarmigan Club outside of Ft. Collins, the spacious and challenging Legacy Ridge in Westminster, the rolling and windswept layouts of Riverdale Dunes in Brighton and Buffalo Run in Commerce City, and the sprawling Ute Creek in Longmont, to name just a few.
These are solid, highly respected golf courses to be sure, but they often leave something to be desired in the way of variation. This homogeneity is endemic of new courses as well. Even while garnering accolades and awards for their designs, debut courses such as The Heritage at Westmoor and the Omni Interlocken Golf Course can seem, after a while, only slightly different versions of many of the other courses in the area.
This is the state of golf designs along the Front Range of Colorado. Modern golf course architecture has evolved in this direction and arrived here, emphasizing golf courses as natural extensions of the land that mesh seamlessly with their surrounding environments. This has as much to do with available land as it does with changing design styles. Many would agree that this is both necessary and an improvement, as architects are pushing the envelope of what is exciting and what is environmentally appropriate.
Something is often lost, however, or overlooked in these "links" courses (they are often called "links" type courses though they are closer in actuality to "prairie" style designs), and that thing is the old time charm, the subtlety, the tightness and limited boundaries, the park-like settings, and the trees that only an aged course can provide.
Older Colorado golfers remember the days when this was the only type of course available, when courses were built infrequently, inside the city or town, nine holes at a time. There weren't nearly the number of public golf course options available then. Those who lived here in the late 1960's and 1970's had to travel to Highland Hills in Greeley (1959), Collindale in Ft. Collins (1971), the 9-hole Sunset in Longmont, or take a longer ride to play one of the Denver city courses such as Willis Case (1930) or Wellshire (1928).
Perhaps the most popular option during this period of time was Loveland Municipal, a 9-hole tract laid down in 1959 by the city of Loveland and Henry Hughes (the second nine was added in 1965, also by Hughes). Longtime patrons remember the days when most of the trees on this course were saplings and sight lines were virtually clear from one side of the course to the other. Those saplings have now matured and Loveland Municipal, now called the Olde Course at Loveland, resides as one of the grandfather's of Front Range golf.
With so many other options available to the region's golfer, aged layouts such as the Olde Course often get passed over or dismissed, and players head off to play one of the newer, prairie-style courses that have become the norm for this part of the state. It's typical that the new kid on the block, in this case Mariana Butte, gets most of the attention. More often than not the younger course deserves it, but not at the expense of a treasure such as the Olde Course.
Generally, who can blame golfers for heading to the new designs? Compared to a Legacy Ridge or a Riverdale Dunes, the raw excitement of playing an old city course is barely measurable. But just as true today as it was in 1970, the Olde Course at Loveland holds its own against any in the area. Indeed, as the prevalent design style shifts to wide open, rolling courses with holes blending too easily into one another and fairways bordered by nothing but high native grasses, it's the old-style, parkland course feel the Olde Course offers that is unique and memorable.
Though the course is completely aged there remains to it a youthfulness, a playfulness that belies its years. Too often the joy of playing an old course is diminished in relation to playing expensive, modern courses. Modern designs are literally manufactured to the architect's specifications by bulldozers and landscape decimation, and nothing is impossible to create.
The result is courses that are more dramatic. Pre-1980 courses, by comparison (especially those that are publicly maintained), seem flat and uninteresting, their maturity an archaic hindrance versus the adventure of waste bunkers and island greens. To those who believe this, the Olde Course at Loveland is an influential counter argument.
At par 72 and 6,827 yards from the championship tees, the Olde Course is serious, if not monstrous. The playfulness that keeps the Olde Course young is a colorful flair of design that borders on gimmickry. As one would expect for an old course, certain holes are tight and reward controlled ball flights, and a number of fairways, on both uphill and downhill shots, are sloped toward lateral hazards. Many of the greens are tucked in places that make approach shots precarious, and the greens on the majority of holes are uneven, to put it mildly.
The first four holes are basic, "shake your hand" holes requiring accuracy but offering little in the way of serious trouble. The Olde Course begins its frolic on the fifth hole, a 535-yard par five that goes up a hill, then down. The second shot over the crest of the hill lands in a basin short of a picturesque lake. This same willow-rimmed lake surrounds the green to the left, right and behind. If the second is not played to the right side of the fairway then the third shot is blind, bringing the water short of the green into play.
Over the next three holes, ending with the par 3 eighth, the golfer will hit into greens that are perched near water hazards and guarded by trees. The 398-yard sixth, the strongest of the group, kicks the tee shot right on its severely sloping fairway. The second is a downhill approach to a slick green pitched significantly back to front, with water right and long. It's an enjoyable, adventurous four-hole stretch designed for scoring, but just as apt to punish the golfer who's lost control.
The back nine at the Olde course is hilly, more so than the front, and the greens on this side are larger and more rolling. In particular the green on the 13th, a 531-yard par 5 that requires a carry over a lake, redefines the word undulating. The green on the 16th hole, a 416-yard, downhill dogleg right, is a textbook example of what "multi-tiered" means.
Obviously, creating greens with massive break is not a new concept. In fact, many modern course designers could learn a thing or two in the art of green design by studying the devilishly canted slopes of the Olde Course.
The best par on the course would be the 14th, a 423-yard par four featuring the closest thing to an island green anyone could find at a public course in the mid-sixties. The green isn't actually an island-it's bordered on three sides by water, with a narrow walkway to it from the fairway and one exiting to the left-but it's all the same when trying to hit it with a five- or six iron. The white tees are more forgiving at 368-yards, but the green isn't.
As if to make sure it has left an impression, the course is capped off with a par three, a 198-yard one-shotter threaded through a gap in the cottonwoods to a trim, bunkered green.
The near-gimmickry of the design works because the course is fair and rewards good ball striking and good putting. Most golfers will hit three or four different clubs off the tee on the par fours and will see the need to shape their shots when they can. There isn't much sand, but hazards abound in the form of lakes and a creek that winds its way through the back nine, so all told water is in play on 11 holes.
The Olde Course is anything but old. It is aged and mature, and the wide variety of trees that were planted in the course's youth have now grown to give the course the look and color of an arboretum, a quality no amount of earthmoving can produce (unless your course is called Shadow Creek and being paid for by Steve Wynn).
Count on one or two new Front Range courses to open this year, or next, and feel confident they will be laid out over the grasslands in the same typical prairie or "links" design style. These courses will doubtlessly earn high praise, but don't be surprised if it is the mirthful, aged quality of the Olde Course at Loveland that strikes you as the more unique and memorable.
Green fees at the Olde Course are $22, seven days a week. Visit the website at www.ci.loveland.co.us/INSIDE/golf/golfmain.htm.
The Olde Course at Loveland
2115 West 29th St.
Loveland, CO 80538
Pro Shop: 970 667-5256
Advanced Tee Times: 970 669-5800
February 2, 2012