Breckenridge Golf Course: Nicklaus Leaves His Mark

By Kevin Williams, Contributor

Breckenridge, CO - It was one of those days that was tailor-made for the golf course -- cobalt skies dripping sunshine, temperatures hovering somewhere near perfection. The fact that we were staring at snow-covered peaks didn't hurt any either. My photographer, Rod, and I were standing on the first tee of the Breckenridge Golf Course, the only Nicklaus-designed municipal course in the world. The Golden Bear himself made roughly a dozen visits to Breckenridge and the golf site prior to and during construction.

At 9,324 feet, the Breck course is significantly higher than your average 18 holes, meaning thinner air and as much as 15 percent further flight. My partner and I figured this increased altitude could translate into some monster drives. It turned out we were right; trouble was, we couldn't seem to keep them on the fairway.

"The degree of difficulty is up there, especially from the gold tees," intones 58-year-old John Voniak, shop manager and golf aficionado. "You can't stray from the fairway; there's not too much forgiveness on this course."

Throughout the day, Voniak's words would echo with our club swings.

The first hole, a relatively straight-forward 337-yard par 4, hugs the access road that takes you to the clubhouse. We stepped up to the tee box and hit our drives, steering clear of the two traps on the right that skirt the Kentucky Bluegrass fairway. As we motored off in our cart (mandatory on weekends and holidays before 1 p.m.), we were reminded to stay on the paved path, a precautionary measure that helps maintain course conditions. Course conditions that are quite amazing, I might add.

After chipping up and putting, we crossed the access road to #2, a gorgeous, if somewhat narrow, par 5 that looks off into one of the many snow-capped ranges. Lodgepole pine lines the left border, leaving little room for an errant drive. This hole, and the course in general, caters to a precision player. Assuming you can stay out of the trees on your first two strikes, you should have a relatively short chip to a green guarded by three bunkers.

The rest of the front nine boasts more of the same: tight fairways, scenic Backdrops, and the occasional sand and water hazard. On every hole, distances to the center of the green are demarcated at varying intervals on the cart path, as well as on sprinkler heads.

En route to the back nine, Rod and I took advantage of the drink cart, throwing back a couple of cold beers. "This is what it's all about," my partner mumbled, visibly relaxed. I nodded my agreement as we arrived at the bent grass tee box on #10, ready to take on the latter half of the course.

The back nine incorporates more water into it's design than the front. Wetlands have been artfully integrated into the make-up of many of the holes, providing some challenging, and beautiful, obstacles. If you do happen to hit into the wetlands, they are off limits; your ball becomes forever enshrined within this natural habitat.

It is not uncommon to see wildlife on or near the course. Deer, elk, fox, hawks, and beaver are frequent visitors, sharing the links with their human counterparts.

We played through the 280-yard #10, eventually coming to #12, the course's signature hole. This 482-yard par 5 features serpentine brooks that fence in the tee boxes before coalescing into a larger stream beyond the trap to the right of the fairway. At its convergence point, the stream begins to meander toward the other side of the hole, cutting across directly in front of the green.

This poses a bit of a dilemma: do you lay up with an iron or try to hit a long second shot? I opted to go for the green and proceeded to hit my ball directly into the middle of the watery hazard. I comforted myself with the knowledge that this was Nicklaus' brainchild I was up against.

We finished the rest of the back nine, soaking up the sunshine and awe-inspiring views, of which there are many. Four mountain ranges are visible from the course -- the Ten Mile Range to the west, the Gore Range to the northwest, the Williams Fork Range to the north, and the Front Range to the east. Wildflowers abound, with Colorado's state flower -- the Columbine -- most visible by the 15th tee boxes.

All told, water comes into play on 12 holes, and there are 48 traps strategically scattered on 16 of the holes. Total yardage ranges from 5,066 yards for the forward tees to 7,279 yards for the Nicklaus tees.

The course is quite busy, with a relatively short season, usually from Memorial Day weekend into October, weather permitting. It's popularity stems from the beautiful natural surroundings and the unique layout of the holes.

"It's a challenging mountain course, with tight fairways and a lot of wildlife," says 24-year-old Gary Provenchei of Breckenridge, a big fan of this public course located in his "backyard."

On top of the 18 holes, the Breck course offers two putting greens, a practice sand trap, and a driving range. Nine more holes are scheduled for 2001, along with an expansion to the clubhouse.

If you do come to play the course, make sure to also check out the town of Breckenridge itself. This mountain getaway has a distinct alpine charm, with tastefully painted stores and restaurants lining it's main street. Do a little shopping, eating, and exploring at the base of the Breck ski area before heading to the outskirts of town, where you can go mountain biking or do a little hiking.

It's a beautiful town, guardian to a beautiful golf course. Throw in a little sunshine and some good company, and you're in for quite an enjoyable experience.

Breckenridge Golf Course
P.O. Box 168
200 Clubhouse Dr.
Breckenridge, CO 80424
Phone 970-453-9104

Kevin Williams, Contributor

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