Flying in to a new town, lugging the clubs through the airport, counting on Mother Nature to deliver … the traveling golfer faces a demanding checklist. But none of them are nearly as fraught or as intoxicating as this question: Where should we play?
Without a local sherpa to curate a lineup of best courses, or local knowledge to understand where to get the most bang for your buck, where you tee it up can be a bit of a guessing game. In this case, I’m telling you that you can rely on this golf website. If you find yourself in Denver, golf clubs in hand, Arrowhead is a must-visit for visual stimulation alone.
Located in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, just south of Denver, Arrowhead is simply provocative. Mountain golf can feel that way for people from flatter lands. Yes, your drives will fly further with increased elevation, and that’s fun. But most of the arousal comes from the auburn outcroppings you play at, away from, around and even over.
We pegged it in mid-April, just days after the Masters finished up, finding that spring golf in Denver shares the stage with some erratic weather. GOLF.com’s resident Great Golfer, Dylan Dethier, elected to go with multiple layers of pants, and multiple sweatshirts, just to beat the wind.
But as the sun eventually game out and the wind settled, we had the course to ourselves, free to hit stingers off the rocks, play wild slices around jagged corners, even do a little climbing when a ball would go missing. The surrounding prickly flora meant any focused search for golf balls proved fruitful.
Back to stingers off the sediment: there’s something special about aiming shots at rocky peaks, in the same way it’s special to aim your driver at the edge of the Empire State Building at Ferry Point in New York. You don’t get that elsewhere. The blind 5-iron that needs to launch over the peak of the outcropping, hold off the wind and go its full yardage? That’s fun golf. Don’t-worry-about-the-tally golf.
As we turned from hole 7 to 8, a grounds crew member stopped by, impressed that we had gamed it in 45 degree weather and 30 mile-per-hour gusts. He wished us luck on our finish, adding that when we reach 14, make sure to play the back tees. “Just play a single shot from that tee box. You won’t regret it,” he said.
I am happy to report that he was absolutely correct. On paper, the 14th at Arrowhead is a standard par-4, stretching 365 yards with a tiny forced carry. It is nothing more than a driver and a wedge, even for medium-length hitters. But what it lacks in architectural brilliance from fairway to green, it more than makes up for with a tee shot you’ll never forget.
“I feel like we’re in a Golden Tee video game,” Dethier said as he breached the tee. It’s a pretty accurate assessment. Anyone who has ever spent some time on the trackball knows this scene was straight out of the arcade.
It was Mr. Robert Trent Jones Jr. who stuck a tee box back there, probably one of the best mountain tee boxes you’ll find in the entire country. It sits on the far corner of the property, right on the edge of a state park and, well, the rest of the wilderness. Turning around from your tee ball, it’s a lot to take in.
If the 14th doesn’t do it for you, some other hole at Arrowhead will. It could be No. 3, where playing the wrong club sent my ball up onto one of those outcroppings and disappeared forever. It could be 5, where Dethier tried playing hero ball with a mega-slice 3-wood around a giant rocky column into the wind.
Most likely, though, your favorite will be the hole that precedes No. 14. Arrowhead’s 13th (pictured above) will stay with you long after your round.
The par-3 plunges downhill towards the green, splitting the red rocks that shoot up into the sky from either side. The effect is that you’re funneled down to the green, forced to carry the front bunker but stay short of the back pond. Rocks left and right, bunkers with the same reddish hue, green grass beneath your feet, sapphire wind-whipped water and a challenging look at a distant downhill flag? This kinda golf is elemental and element-ful. The kind you won’t forget.
Check out a short clip of 13 and 14 below.