Among The Best

4 Colorado facilities among top 120 of America’s Greatest Golf Courses; all 4 moved up from the last biennial ranking by Golf Digest

By Gary Baines – 5/8/2023

It’s probably no coincidence, but most of the Colorado courses that are included in Golf Digest’s new ranking of “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses” — and the Second 100 Greatest — will be hosting big-time national and international tournaments over the next 15 months or so.

There’s Cherry Hills Country Club and Colorado Golf Club, which will jointly host the U.S. Amateur in mid-Augusta, with all of the match play taking place at Cherry Hills. And Castle Pines Golf Club, home of the PGA Tour’s International for 21 years (1986-2006), will be the site of the BMW Championship FedExCup PGA Tour Playoff event in the summer of 2024.

There’s no lack of national and international publications that compile best-of lists regarding golf courses, divided into just about every sub category you can think of. But Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest” has a certain extra panache to it, being the oldest — and arguably the most respected — in the game. It debuted in 1966.

The latest of the biennial rankings was published last week, the product of 1,800 Golf Digest panelists submitting more than 85,000 evaluations. Courses are judged based on shot options, challenge, layout variety, aesthetics, conditioning and character.

Three Colorado courses made the top 70 in the country this year, with Ballyneal in Holyoke checking in at No. 36, Castle Pines at No. 46, and Cherry Hills at No. 68. And Colorado Golf Club was near the head of the pack for America’s Second 100 Greatest, being slotted in at No. 112.

For what it’s worth, all of the Colorado courses in Golf Digest’s “Greatest” lists moved up compared to the last such publications, in 2021. Ballyneal went from 44 to 36, Castle Pines from 48 to 46, Cherry Hills from 73 to 68, and Colorado Golf Club from 120 to 112.

And for the record, the top five on America’s 100 Greatest are Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey (1), Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia (2), Cypress Point Club in California (3), Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York (4) and Oakmont Country Club in New York (5). 

Here’s what Golf Digest had to say about the Colorado courses that made their lists:

36. Ballyneal — “If No. 8 Sand Hills Golf Club stands for the notion that there’s nothing more glorious than a round of golf beyond the range of cell phone reception, then Ballyneal (Tom Doak’s northeast Colorado answer to Nebraska’s Sand Hills) proves that isolated golf is even better when Spartan in nature. With no carts and with dry, tan fescue turf on fairways and greens, Ballyneal is even more austere than Sand Hills. It provides absolutely firm and fast conditions, and with many greens perched on hilltops, the effect of wind on putts must be considered. The rolling landforms, topsy-turvy greens and half-par holes make playing here feel like a joyride, and that sense of exuberance has catapulted Ballyneal from an original ranking of no. 95 in 2011 to its highest ranking to date at no. 36.”

The ninth hole at Castle Pines Golf Club.

46. Castle Pines GC — “When Golf Digest began its annual Best New Course awards in 1983, the review panel selected Castle Pines as the Private Course winner, but Bill Davis, co-founder of Golf Digest and founding father of all its course rankings, didn’t care for the course and vetoed its inclusion. So no private course was honored that year. Davis soon recognized his error, andin 1987—its first year of eligibility—Castle Pines joined America’s 100 Greatest and has remained there ever since. Club founder Jack Vickers, a Midwest oilman, had urged architect Jack Nicklaus to produce a mountain-venue design worthy of a major championship. Jack did, but when a championship never resulted, Vickers established his own, The International, which for many years was the only PGA Tour event played under a unique Stableford format. It’s a pity that The International is no longer on the Tour’s schedule. Like Muirfield Village, the only other solo Nicklaus design in the top 50, Castle Pines has undergone a steady procession of hole alterations to keep pace with changing technology, and changing tastes.”

68. Cherry Hills CC — “When Cherry Hills opened in the early 1920s, it was a ground-breaking design, with the nation’s first par-5 island green and closing back-to-back par 5s, although in championships the 18th is played as a par 4. In the 1960 U.S. Open, winner Arnold Palmer popularized the idea of a drivable par 4 by going for the first green in every round. Curiously, when Palmer and partner Ed Seay remodeled Cherry Hills in 1976, they lengthened the first hole so no player could duplicate Arnie’s feat. Nearly 40 years later, modern equipment has once again made the first hole reachable from the tee. A decade’s worth of renovation and individual feature restoration by Tom Doak and Eric Iverson of Renaissance Golf have primed Cherry Hills for the next phase of its illustrious tournament history, beginning with the 2023 U.S. Amateur.”

The 11th hole at Colorado Golf Club.

112. Colorado GC — “The par-4 10th at Colorado Golf Club, playing downhill off the tee to a green hanging on a slope, with the Colorado Rockies in the far distance, has not a single bunker. Yet it sets the tone for what may well be Coore and Crenshaw’s finest example of how to massage a great golf course from topography that many would have considered ordinary. These designers made this stretch of Front Range southeast of Denver extraordinary. They ran fairways across sagebrush hills that are dotted with pines. They positioned greens on buttes and the far sides of barrancas. Colorado G.C. is a second-shot course where seemingly generous landing areas can result in awkward hanging lies for approach shots to greens that run left or right or even away from the direction of play. In mid-September 2019, the course hosted the USGA Mid-Amateur.”

For all of the “100 Greatest”, CLICK HERE.

For all of the “Second 100 Greatest”, CLICK HERE.

About the Author: Gary Baines owns and operates