Here are our top 15 municipal golf courses – ColoradoBiz Magazine

Here are our top 15 municipal golf courses

Colorado golfers can choose from some great "munis"

Municipal golf is at the soul of the game. Without it, there would be no game, no industry, no golf superstars on television. While country club golf represents the cream of the crop, municipal golf is where every man gets his start.

“Thank goodness for muni golf,” said Ed Mate, executive director of the Colorado Golf Association. “It keeps people in the game who would not have an opportunity.”

As we set out to identify some of the best municipal golf operations in the state, we quickly realized there were two types of “munis,” as they are commonly called. The first are the superstars, courses that can compete in almost every way with the best private courses, except perhaps the trimmings of the wealthy, such as fancy locker rooms with attendants, food and beverage monthly minimums and valets. These star munis have terrific course conditioning with slick greens, clean, huge clubhouses and friendly staffs at good prices.

The second type of muni is no less special. This is the old campaigner, probably one of the first courses in its community. The clubhouse has seen better days, and perhaps was never much to begin with. The bathrooms are to be avoided; sometimes there’s no water on the course. But the trees are ancient, the greens mature and beautiful and the 19th hole has character to burn. Think Patty Jewett in Colorado Springs, Rifle Creek in Rifle, Elmwood in Pueblo, Hillcrest in Durango or Wellshire in Denver.

These are the places of history in the community, where golfing legends and characters have come and gone through the decades. It’s blue jeans golf at its finest. And while these old munis can’t be considered the best of the category, they deserve honorable mention for their places in the game.

Before describing our criteria for great munis, we apologize first for not providing a comprehensive list, as well as favoring the Denver metro area, where most of the golfers are. Here are the criteria we used, in order of importance:

 Course condition. A well-maintained course will survive just about anything. Golfers love lots of grass, smooth fairways and tee boxes and fast, consistent greens. Bunkers should have a decent amount of sand in them and not compacted with clay.

 Affordability, including regular discounts for golf, food and beverage and the pro shop. Muni players are trying to save a buck and can’t play regularly if it costs too much. Discounts for kids and seniors is a must also.

 Speed of play. No one wants to play more than 4.5 hours.

 Service/friendliness of pro shop and restaurant staff. All the top courses got the memo: Be friendly or go out of business.

 Course layout. Is the course full of gimmicks? Architorture, such as fake mounding? Too difficult or unfair? It won’t be popular.

 Location.

 Cleanliness of restrooms, a minus if portable toilets are used on course.

 Men’s, women’s club activity, couples leagues, including good-natured groups and fairness of competition, including anti-sandbagging policies.

 Playability for women and seniors. Are the tees short enough for shorter hitters? They love golf too.

 Junior programs, community activity level. Is the course a center of the community?

Top Municipal Courses

Based on our experiences and interviews of frequent municipal players, group organizers, industry officials and online reviews, here are some top municipal golf courses:

Heritage Golf Course at Westmoor: This city of Westminster course is the most frequently cited by our panel as hitting every category. “Always clean, always in great shape,” said one. An online review said, “My favorite course in Colorado for the price! Friendly staff, phenomenal course for the price.”

Legacy Ridge: Westminster scores again with this Arthur Hills-designed winner. Great layout and conditioning, good pro shop, enthusiastic following and dramatic views from clubhouse.

Collindale Golf Club, Fort Collins: Home of USGA and CGA qualifiers and tournaments, Collindale is on the list for top-notch golf. Play its fast greens for a max rate of $37 with discounts for seniors and juniors, plus a discount card for regulars.

Homestead at Murphy Creek, City of Aurora: Opened in 2000, outstanding Ken Kavanaugh design is a big challenge for low handicappers with fair tees for shorter hitters. The wind blows but the course is usually in top condition, with a farm theme. Prime rib Friday nights in the ski lodge-like spacious bar and dining area are routinely sold out. Pro shop staff is always friendly.

Tiara Rado: This Grand Junction city course meets all of our requirements, plus offers stunning West Slope views and an 18-acre practice area. Tee times can be had for $38.

Eagle Vail Golf Club: Owned by the local metro district, the mountain course benefitted from a $2 million, 2011 redesign that made it more playable. Tops in customer service, condition, men’s and women’s leagues but high season weekend rates – a problem for most mountain courses–reach $105, with some twilight discounting. Active in the First Tee program. Added bonus of a par 3 course.

Highland Hills and Boomerang Links, Greeley: Excellent conditions at these courses help them center the community. Fees range from $19 to $35.

Flatirons, Boulder: Although the facilities are only deemed OK, the parkland course is always in great shape.

Fox Hollow, Lakewood: Solid operation with the advantage of 27 holes. Denis Griffiths design deemed by one of our raters as boring, but usually in good condition. High fees for non-district players.

Denver city courses: With its new clubhouse and course lengthening, City Park offers the best combination of consistently good conditions, good prices and the view of the city skyline with a mountain backdrop. Willis Case also has a modern clubhouse, which is kept clean. Porta-potties on the course are a negative. Many like the old-school course design. Overrated Wellshire desperately needs better bathrooms and a solution to its drainage problem on holes 1 and 10. Kennedy has good conditioning but needs a clubhouse.

South Suburban GC, South Suburban Rec District: This well-placed moneymaker has the conditioning of a private course, without the course design difficulty. But changes to the course and the old clubhouse are in the making, which should vault the center of this community to higher echelons. Sister course Lone Tree always has good conditions, but falls away on high price and tight design.

Riverdale Dunes/Knolls, Brighton: A solid performer for decades, it offers 36 holes, the trophy Pete and Perry Dye Dunes replete with railroad ties, racy greens and the budget-friendly Knolls with its crisscrossing canals. Clubhouse and driving range are solid.

Walking Stick: This city of Pueblo course offers a creative Arthur Hills design, solid conditioning and clubhouse, and from April to October a matinee special including cart and 18 holes for $32.

The Courses at Hyland Hills, Westminster: Older courses lined by trees but with good conditioning. A bit pricey for non-rec district players and play can be  slow, according to reviews. Good prices on range balls and the 18-hole course is accompanied by a 9-holer and two par 3s. New clubhouse helps.

West Woods, Indian Tree, Lake Arbor: These Arvada courses are family friendly, cheap and the centers of their communities. Basic golf. They scored well in many categories. You can buy a chile relleno and eggs at Lake Arbor for $5.25.