At the beginning of 2020, we bring you the top 20 stories in Colorado golf for the last decade
By Gary Baines – 1/06/2020
Before the 2010s get too far in the rearview mirror, we wanted to compile one last retrospective — this one focusing on the decade that ran from 2010 to the end of 2019.
Having published story of the year rankings for Colorado golf each December since 2009, our top 20 stories of the 2010s have been selected from those lists of the last 10 years.
Here’s the rundown, in reverse order:
20. Leading the Way Nationally: The early part of the decade was certainly a heady time in terms of Coloradans playing major national leadership roles in golf. Up until early 2010, the 15-member USGA Executive Committee — a very influential group in golf — included two Colorado residents, Jim Bunch and Christie Austin.
After leaving his USGA post early in 2010, Bunch became chairman of the Western Golf Association, an organization which oversees the Evans Scholarship for caddies and conducts the BMW Championship on the PGA Tour, and of the Evans Scholars Foundation. While with the USGA, Bunch chaired the powerful USGA Rules of Golf Committee.
Austin was just the fifth female to serve on the USGA Executive Committee, and she was the first woman to chair the USGA Rules of Golf Committee (2012), one of five committees she oversaw at different times.
Other Coloradans to play similar roles nationally in other organizations in the early 2010s were then-CWGA executive director Robin Jervey (president of the International Association of Golf Administrators) and Rick Phelps (president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects).
19. PGA Tour Breakthrough for Kevin Stadler: It’s not often that Coloradans — even part-time Coloradans — win events on the PGA Tour. In fact, one hasn’t captured a PGA Tour title since 2014. That’s when Kevin Stadler — a part-time Denver resident who won a state high school title while at Kent Denver, notched victories in two CGA Match Plays and captured the Colorado Open championship in his pro debut in 2002 — earned a win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which is known for attracting the largest galleries in golf. Stadler, wearing a Bronco orange shirt for the final round, out-dueled Bubba Watson down the stretch to win near his home in Scottsdale. The victory earned Stadler a spot in the 2014 Masters, where he competed in the same field as his dad, Craig, the 1982 champion at Augusta National. The younger Stadler finished eighth in the first major championship of the year.
18. In Due Course, the End of the Line: The 2010s marked the closing — for good — of more than a handful of golf courses in Colorado, in the wake of the financial crisis. Among those that exited were the venerable Green Gables Country Club (2011) and Fitzsimons Golf Course (end of 2017). Meanwhile, the future of Park Hill Golf Club, which has been closed since the end of 2019, is very much in doubt.
Arguably the most notable of the lot was Green Gables, which had operated continuously for more than 80 years and hosted six events on the LPGA Tour and one on the Senior Tour.
17. Major Victory for Wiebe: In 2013, Mark Wiebe, then a resident of Aurora, pulled off a PGA Tour Champions victory that he won’t soon forget. After not winning a Champions event since 2011, Wiebe captured a major (the Senior British Open) by taking down a person who has since become one of the greatest senior players of all time.
Wiebe, a former Colorado Open champion, beat Bernhard Langer in a playoff that lasted five holes and two days, capturing the first major championship of his career. That turned out to be the first of two Champions victories Wiebe would notch in the course of eight weeks, giving him five for his career — to go along with two wins on the PGA Tour.
16. Hall Call for Stacy: Hollis Stacy didn’t live in Colorado during her heyday — when she won 18 times on the LPGA Tour, including three U.S. Women’s Opens, in addition to three U.S. Girls’ Juniors — but she was a part-time resident of Lakewood when she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.
Stacy, who for years helped run the U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifying tournament held in Colorado, is one of just a handful of people with strong Colorado ties to be inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame, joining Hale Irwin, Judy Bell, Paul Runyan and Babe Zaharias.
Stacy, a four-time major winner on the LPGA Tour, became a part-time resident of Lakewood in 1995.
15. Rams Strut Their Stuff Nationally: Golfers with major Colorado ties don’t often win USGA national titles, but in 2018 then-Colorado State University golfers Katrina Prendergast and Ellen Secor did just that by winning the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title in Tarzana, Calif. The two never trailed in the first four matches they played at El Caballero Country Club. In the title match, they were 2 down with four holes left, but a big-time rally down the stretch netted them a 1-up victory over teenagers Yachun Chang of Chinese Taipei and Lei Ye of China — and the national championship. The victory was believed to be the first USGA national amateur championship by a person or team with strong Colorado ties since Jill McGill won the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 1994 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
14. Laying the Foundation: In a move that will likely pay dividends for years to come, the Colorado Golf Foundation was launched early in 2013, thanks to a seven-figure lead gift from oilman and philanthropist George Solich.
The foundation — managed on a day-to-day basis by the CGA, and guided by a board of directors and additional advisors — provides funding for Colorado-based golf organizations and programs that use golf to build important life skills and character, with an emphasis on instilling hard work and self-reliance in young people.
Among the entities the foundation has supported over the years are the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy and other caddie programs, the Colorado PGA Golf in Schools Program, the Evans Scholarship at the University of Colorado, the Hale Irwin Player Program, and non-profit community-outreach programs.
13. Lucrative State Opens: After CoBank took over as title sponsor of the three Colorado Open Championships in 2016, significant changes took effect. Most notably, in 2016 the purse for the Colorado Open doubled, to $250,000, with the winner’s portion more than quadrupling, to $100,000, the most for a state open.
A year later, the largesse was extended to the Colorado Women’s Open as first prize more than quadrupled — to $50,000 from $11,000 — and the overall purse doubled — to $150,000. In both cases, those were records for a women’s state/regional open.
12. Historic Win for Wyndham: Colorado native Wyndham Clark now is a regular on the PGA Tour — he owns four top-10 finishes to date — but in 2010 folks in the Centennial State were just learning his potential. That year, in the same week that he qualified for the U.S. Amateur as a 16-year-old, Clark became the youngest winner of the CGA Stroke Play Championship (now known as the CGA Amateur) since Bob Byman in 1971.
That was remarkable enough, but what transpired on the final day of the championship at Boulder Country Club made it even more so. Then-Colorado School of Mines golfer — and now PGA Tour player — Jim Knous started the final round 10 strokes out of the lead, but a 10-under-par 60 — by two strokes the lowest round in the history of BCC — forced a playoff with Clark.
Fittingly, Clark ended a remarkable day by sinking a 30-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole for the victory.
Seven years later, Clark would win the Pac-12 Conference individual and team titles at Boulder CC, securing Pac-12 Player of the Year honors at Oregon three years after being named Big 12 Player of the Year at Oklahoma State. Also in 2017, Clark was one of three finalists the national male college player of the year — the same year fellow Coloradan Jennifer Kupcho was a finalist on the women’s side.
11. Seniors Center Stage in Colorado: Colorado hasn’t been home to an annual PGA Tour Champions event since the 1980s, but in the 10 years starting in 2008, it seemed like the next-best thing, with U.S. Senior Opens being held at The Broadmoor in 2008 and ’18, and the Senior PGA Championship being hosted by Colorado Golf Club in 2010.
In the 2010 Senior PGA, after a riveting last couple of hours on the final day, Tom Lehman emerged with his first individual victory on one of the major U.S.-based tours since 2000.
Fred Couples made back-to-back eagles coming down the stretch, and David Frost carded three straight late birdies to put the heat on, but they folded up like cheap card tables in the sudden-death playoff. While Lehman recorded a regulation par on the extra hole, Couples and Frost both made double bogeys to hand the title to the former British Open champion.
At the 2018 U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor, the announced attendance for the week was 134,500, the most for the Senior Open since the 157,126 in Omaha, Neb., in 2013. David Toms, who won the 1999 Sprint International at Castle Pines but hadn’t captured a title on the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions in seven years, landed the victory at the Senior Open by one stroke. Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Brandt Jobe placed fifth, marking his second straight top-5 performance in the U.S. Senior Open. Shortly after the conclusion of the championship, the USGA announced that the U.S. Senior Open will return to The Broadmoor in 2025.
10. Cup Runneth Over: Following the 2010 Senior PGA Championship, Colorado Golf Club hosted another major golf event in 2013 when the Solheim Cup matches between the best American and European women’s players came to Parker. It marked the first time the event had been conducted in the western U.S., the first time the Europeans won the Cup on U.S. soil, and the largest margin in the history of the event (18-10). Also, Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall became the first player to go 5-0 in a single Solheim Cup.
The six-day event — three practice days and three competition days — drew about 110,000 fans.
9. School Project: Colorado PGA Golf in Schools has been a major growth-of-the-game initiative — led and supported by the Allied Golf Associations of Colorado — since 2011, though there were similar programs in place earlier than that.
GIS, which puts golf professionals in K-12 physical education classes to provide instruction, now helps introduce more than 10,000 kids each school year to golf, with about 66,600 students reached through the program since its inception. One hope is that kids will learn the positive life skills golf espouses. And ideally, this effort not only will pay long-term benefits for the youngsters, but it will bolster the sport of golf in Colorado.
8. Gala Grabs Spotlight: Choosing the Colorado golf story of the year in 2015 was pretty much a no-brainer. After all, how many times do you have an event that attracts 1,250 people including a who’s who of Colorado golf, have Jack Nicklaus as a featured guest, honor six People of the Century, and raise $380,000 for the Colorado Golf Foundation — and its mission of youth development through golf — in the process? The Gala at The Broadmoor was the culmination of a year of initiatives and events built around the 100th anniversary of the CGA’s founding.
The six Colorado golf People of the Century honored were:
Man of the Century — Will Nicholson Jr.
Woman of the Century — Judy Bell
Golf Professional of the Century — Charles “Vic” Kline
Superintendent of the Century — Dennis Lyon
Male Player of the Century — Hale Irwin
Female Player of the Century — Barbara McIntire
A year after the CGA celebrated its centennial, the CWGA did likewise, in 2016. One hundred years after its 1916 founding, the CWGA recalled highlights from its past while looking to the future. Featured events were the CWGA annual meeting; Denver Country Club following up hosting CWGA major championships in the association’s 25th, 50th and 75th anniversary years by holding the 2016 CWGA Stroke Play; and a centennial tournament at Hiwan Golf Club. During the year, the CWGA gave out centennial honors for outstanding volunteers and players and exceptional friends of the association. Receiving the highest awards were Lynn Zmistowski (volunteer of the century), Carol Flenniken (golfer of the century), and Bell, Maggie Giesenhagen and Robin Jervey (centennial honorees).
7. Youth Movement: The Junior Golf Alliance of Colorado, which held its inaugural season in 2016, has grown by leaps and bounds since. Co-founded by the CGA and the Colorado PGA, the JGAC was launched with the idea to streamline, improve and expand the junior golf experience in the state. Last year, it had more than 1,400 members, a 40 percent increase over 2018. A partnership with Youth on Course, where juniors play golf at participating courses for $5 or less, has been in place for two years. Players of all abilities are served, with Introductory, Series and Tour memberships. And since 2016, there have been four junior major championships held each year, with boys and girls competing separately but at the same sites. There’s also been the building of a website that acts as a clearinghouse for most things junior golf-related in Colorado.
6. In the Loop for a Good Cause: In 2012, the CGA and CWGA launched a unique initiative to promote the use of caddies and foster candidates for the Evans Scholarship for caddies at the University of Colorado. Since then, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy has grown from its original location — at CGA-owned CommonGround Golf Course — to additional chapters at Meridian Golf Cub and Tiara Rado Golf Course in Grand Junction.
The Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy promotes the use of caddies by paying their base fees through an educational grant, with participating golfers having the option of adding a tip. But the caddying itself is just a part of the program. There’s also a hearty leadership aspect to the Academy. Each youngster who participates not only caddies but is required to attend weekly leadership classes and do community-service work each summer.
Since its launch, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy has produced more than 10,000 caddie loops. In excess of 225 kids have participated in the program.
5. And the Skies Opened Up: For some Colorado golf courses, it was a matter of days or weeks to get back to normal following the devastating floods of September 2013, when close to 15 inches of rain fell in six days in some areas of Colorado. But for many other facilities, recovery continued into 2014. A partial list of courses significantly affected included Coal Creek in Louisville, CommonGround in Aurora, Mariana Butte in Loveland, Pelican Lakes in Windsor, Estes Park Golf Course, the Lake Estes Executive 9-Hole Course, Evergreen Golf Course, Twin Peaks in Longmont and Flatirons in Boulder. Perhaps the two courses that withstood the most damage were Coal Creek and CommonGround, which is owned and operated by the CGA. CommonGround returned to 18-hole status for its championship course on May 29, 2014. Coal Creek, meanwhile, remained closed for more than 21 months, undergoing a complete renovation during that time.
4. Women’s Showcase: Though the tournament was plagued by turbulent weather much of the week, The Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs attracted 130,485 spectators for the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open. That means that at the time, the only two Women’s Opens to exceed 120,000 occurred in Colorado, with Cherry Hills Country Club drawing more than 131,000 in 2005.
The Broadmoor continued Colorado’s then-recent tradition of being very hospitable to foreign-born players in major USGA championships. In the first three-hole aggregate playoff in U.S. Women’s Open history, South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu defeated countrywoman Hee Kyung Seo to claim the title.
Previously, Argentina’s Eduardo Romero won the 2008 U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor, South Korea’s Birdie Kim claimed the 2005 Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, and Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam prevailed in the 1995 Women’s Open at The Broadmoor.
3. All for One and One for All: The CGA and CWGA each celebrated 100th anniversaries in the past decade, and most of that time they were separate — but complementary — organizations serving golf in Colorado. But on Jan. 1, 2018 they officially joined forces — while continuing to serve golf in the state — under the banner of the Colorado Golf Association, which serves roughly 60,000 members.
As part of efforts to streamline its relationship with state and regional golf associations, the USGA announced more than a year prior that, starting at the beginning of 2018, it would partner with just one full-service Allied Golf Association in each state or region. That directive led to the unification. The board of directors of the two associations formed into one leadership team. Joe McCleary, the CGA president for the previous two years, and Juliet Miner, who served as the CWGA president for a similar time, were co-presidents of the CGA for the transition year of 2018. The staff of the associations also merged, based out of the existing CGA offices in Greenwood Village. In fact, early last year, McCleary was hired as chief business officer for the CGA.
2. The Playoffs in September: The BMW Championship, hosted by Cherry Hills Country Club in early September 2014, earned one of the top spots on our list for two main reasons: first, it marked the first time Colorado had hosted a PGA Tour event since 2006 — and it was a FedExCup Playoff event at that; and second, all its net proceeds benefitted the Evans Scholarship for caddies, including those attending school at the University of Colorado. In both regards, the tournament was a major success. All of the top 10 players in the World Golf Ranking competed, and seven of the top 15 in those rankings finished in the top 10 at Cherry Hills. Billy Horschel won the tournament and went on to claim the FedExCup title the following week.
The penultimate playoff event drew close to 126,000 fans over six days. With former CU Evans Scholar George Solich serving as general chairman, the BMW Championship was not only named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year, but it raised a record $3.5 million for the Evans Scholars, which is a flagship program for the CGA.
1. Meteoric Rise: If it hasn’t become obvious by now, players the caliber of Jennifer Kupcho don’t come around very often for a state like Colorado, which not only is relatively mid-sized by population standards, but presents some weather challenges for year-around golfers.
Based on all she accomplished over the last decade, and where she stands now in golf’s hierarchy (51st, according to the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings), it’s little wonder why Kupcho would be the No. 1 Colorado golf-related story of the 2010s.
Just in the last year, Kupcho has done more than many elite-level players do in a lifetime. The now-22-year-old was the world’s No. 1-ranked women’s amateur throughout the first five months of 2019 — her final ones before turning pro. And there’s the accomplishment for which she’s most recognized — winning the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur by playing the final six holes in 5 under par after enduring a mid-round migraine. She subsequently made national TV appearances — along with runner-up Maria Fassi — on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and the Today Show (pictured at top).
The former Wake Forest golfer, who claimed nine individual college titles during her career (including becoming the first Colorado female to win an NCAA individual championship), led the Demon Deacon women to a runner-up national team finish in 2019, their best showing ever. Golfweek recently ranked Kupcho as the second-best female college golfer of the decade of the 2010s, behind only former Duke standout Leona Maguire.
After deferring taking LPGA membership until after graduating and completing her senior season, Kupcho recorded three top-five finishes in her abbreviated rookie season, including a second at the Evian Championship, an LPGA major. She easily kept her LPGA card, finishing 39th on the 2019 money list with $525,432.
Besides all the aforementioned, in the 2010s the native of Littleton:
— Finished second out of 102 players in the eight-round LPGA Q-Series in the fall of 2018, easily earning her LPGA Tour card.
— Became the first American woman to win prestigious Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top women’s player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings as of the conclusion of U.S. Women’s Amateur (2018).
— Represented U.S. on winning teams at the Curtis Cup, Arnold Palmer Cup and women’s World Amateur Team Championship in 2018, finishing second individually in the world event.
— Won the Canadian Women’s Amateur by five strokes (2017).
— Was named Colorado Amateur Athlete of Year — regardless of sport or gender — by Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (2019).
— Was a three-time Colorado Golf Association Women’s Player of the Year (2014, 2015, ’16) and winner of the Colorado Women’s Golf Association’s highest honor, the President’s Award (2017).
— Was a three-time CGA Women’s Stroke Play champion (2015, ’16 and ’17) — with winning margins of 21 shots in 2015, 19 shots in 2016 and 13 shots in 2017.
— Was a two-time CGA Women’s Match Play champion (2014 and 2016), winning in 2016 12 and 10 in a scheduled 36-hole final.
— Was named one of two winners (along with Dale Douglass) of inaugural Hale Irwin Medal, which recognizes outstanding Colorado golfers who exhibit competitiveness, resiliency and a proven record of winning (2019).
— Was named a three-time Colorado Female Junior Player of the Year (2012, 2013 and 2014).
— Won two Class 4A girls state high school individual titles at Jefferson Academy (2014 and 2015), prevailing by 14 strokes in 2014 and by 10 in ’15.