Ed. note: As GOLF’s chief photographer and visual editor, Christian Hafer visits some of the most gorgeous and exclusive golf courses and properties in the world. Here, in his Field Guide, he’ll take you along for the ride. Lucky for us, Christian never leaves home without his camera. Follow Christian Hafer on Instagram here.
Way out west in the tiny town of Holyoke, Co. — population barely over 2,000 — is a cluster of sand dunes over the rippled landscape of the high plains in Eastern Colorado. It’s on this unlikely spot that Ballyneal was built in 2006 by Tom Doak. It’s quickly rising to become one of the Top 100 Courses in the World (ranked 57th, up 29 spots from the previous ranking), but the experience at Ballyneal is easily in the top 10.
While still a private club, the majority of the membership pegs it all over the country. Lodging on site, a massive putting green, and a crazy fun short course complement the championship layout.
But this place is all about the hang, a place where buddies can converge for 36 holes followed by beers on Mulligan’s (the aforementioned short course). A place where you can play hickories for fun. The wind changes direction on a dime. Par-5s can shift from short downhill, downwind, near-birdie guarantees into pure chaos. We played a few matches and picked our tee location — not just box — based on whomever won the last hole. The variety is spectacular. Peg the tee here or there and change the hole dramatically.
The other thing about Ballyneal is the way the ground moves — often subtle, often not. Massive dunes blocking your path or ripples jetting out on the sidehill slopes make for intimidating lies. You’ll need to work the ball in concert with the wind and understand how the ground impacts your shot. It’s a player’s course… probably why I handed over so much cash during my trip.
After golf, the lodges are a great retreat to recover, but the rollicking putting green in the center of the property will be calling your name to settle grudge matches or side bets. Then, when the sun sets, grab one of the club’s glow balls and roll putts at the illuminated pins. Watch the storms roll off in the distance, get up and do it all again the next day. It’s about the golf, and that’s the way it should be.