On the Right Course

Michael Ray Lee Foundation, honoring the late CGA Match Play champion, partners with City of Greeley to build a short course on Boomerang Links property

By Gary Baines – 3/11/2024

There are several notable golf course openings planned in Colorado in the next couple of years, including those at Rodeo Dunes in Roggen, Bella Ridge in Johnstown and one in southern Aurora at E-470 and Parker Road.

But there’s another in the works — significantly different than the others — that shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.

It’s different not only because it’s very short even by short-course standards, but due to its “making something wonderful and meaningful out a tragic situation” background.

Assuming all goes according to plan, in a little more than a year, a nine-hole short course — aimed largely at helping new players develop their golf skills — will open on the Boomerang Links Golf Course property in Greeley.

And, though the name hasn’t been finalized, it will somehow include Michael Lee, the 2011 CGA Match Play champion who passed away at age 28 in December 2020 after battling Covid-19. (The winner of the CGA Match Play from the period from 2021 through ’30 receives a medal in honor of Lee, and a plaque with the names of those champions hangs in the CGA offices.)

John and Amy Lee, Michael’s Greeley-based parents, created the Michael Ray Lee Foundation in his honor, and have donated a significant amount of funds to various causes — mostly golf-related — in recent years. And one of the beneficiaries is this new short course in Greeley, the city where Michael grew up. It figures to be a longstanding tribute to Michael Lee, who was a well-liked, respected, upbeat young man who played in high school at Greeley Central and in college at the Colorado School of Mines, where he twice was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Player of the Year. He earned NCAA Division II honorable-mention All-American status in 2013 and was inducted into the Colorado School of Mines’ athletics Oredigger Hall of Fame in 2022. That same year, the Mines’ indoor golf center was dedicated to the memory of Lee and renamed in his honor.

Lee, who earned his degree at Mines in petroleum engineering, subsequently had been working as a Colorado-based senior drilling engineer for Occidental Petroleum. He was living in the Denver metro area.

“Our mission is to support junior golf,” John Lee said in a recent interview regarding the new short course. “For the community, we thought, ‘What a great way to honor Mike and keep his legacy going.’ It will bear his name in some way. It will be a great attraction for Greeley and northern Colorado.”

Several entities are helping making the project a reality, along with numerous donors. The Michael Ray Lee Foundation obtained a $350,000 grant from the American Rescue Plan, and partnered with the City of Greeley. Staff rom the city-owned Boomerang Links will provide ongoing maintenance and upkeep for the short course, while the foundation will continue donating equipment and financial support for area school programs and youth that will utilize the facility.

Michael Lee won the CGA Match Play title in 2011 while he played golf for the Colorado School of Mines.

Chris Colling — now the head professional at Highland Hills Golf Course and soon to be the manager of golf for the City of Greeley — said the plan calls for construction of the short course to begin this fall, and for it to be ready for play in the late spring or early summer of 2025.

“This will be a wonderful addition to the courses here in Greeley and we are looking forward to getting the short course open,” Colling said in an email last week.

Holes at the short course will range from 35-70 yards, according to Colling. John Lee said the nine-hole layout will be situated over less than two acres of land east of the 10th hole on the regulation Boomerang Links course.

Lee noted the short course will be a hybrid facility of sorts — with players being able to use conventional golf equipment or what are known as SNAG (Starting New at Golf) kits. SNAG clubheads are larger than conventional ones and are typically made of plastic or fiberglass, while the balls — similar in size to tennis balls — are also bigger than normal for golf.

The Michael Ray Lee Foundation has raised more than $500,000 over the last three-plus years through its annual sold-out Mike Lee Golf Tournament and other contributions. In turn, the foundation has donated cash or items to such organizations as the CGA (for the Colorado boys Junior America’s Cup team, on which Michael competed in 2009), the Colorado School of Mines golf team, Integrity Scholarships for college-bound senior high school athletes, and tournament entry fees for a promising young man with limited financial means. 

In addition, considerable funds have gone to uniforms, golf bags, practice mats, launch monitors and other golf equipment for various high schools in northern Colorado — particularly Weld County — as well as SNAG kits for some schools and Greeley-Evans School District 6. Also, the Colorado PGA has kicked in support by funding transportation for students to the course. And with the short course opening next year, the conduit between the schools and the facility will be further strengthened.

“It’s been amazing,” John Lee said. “It’s really fun getting these kids introduced to golf. We got word back from one of the teacher’s parents that when the kid went home one day, they built a little short golf course in the living room and was really excited about golf just from the introduction at school.

“We’ve really got a perfect blend — or marriage — with the SNAG kids and the (short) course coming online.”

With such an emphasis on expanding junior golf opportunities, a couple of years ago John and Amy Lee met with Marc Silva, the head golf professional at Boomerang, and asked him what he’d like to see at the course. John Lee said Silva indicated he’d like more kids there, perhaps via a SNAG course.

The Lees then did some research and found that the City of Loveland had built a beginner-friendly SNAG short course roughly 12 years ago at Cattail Creek. They took a look and liked what they saw. 

But when the Lees approached the City of Greeley regarding a joint venture about building a similar course, the proposal was rejected initially because the city didn’t have the funds necessary for such a project, and neither did the foundation. 

But that wasn’t the end of it.

“We know John Gates, who is the mayor of Greeley,” John Lee said. “He was talking about the funds from the American Rescue Plan. He said we should apply for a grant. Amy filled that out and we had the backing of the mayor. He really liked having this project. We ended up receiving the funds ($350,000) through the American Rescue Plan. And we signed the money over to the city as our partner to complete this project.”

This June, for the fourth straight year, the Michael Ray Lee Foundation will hold a tournament in Mike’s honor at Greeley Country Club.

So now the short course is in the design stages. “It will … be built with the same idea in mind that Loveland had when they built the short course at Cattail Creek,” Colling noted.

“This will be an amazing opportunity for kids and adults alike, who want to play golf in a less intimidating setting and have a lot of fun!” the Michael Ray Lee Foundation said on its Facebook page.

In the meantime, the foundation will continue to raise money for its various causes. Its fourth annual Mike Lee Golf Tournament is set for June 3 at Greeley Country Club. If this year is like the last couple, the double-shotgun event will be full with 244 golfers by the end of this month.

Next year, the tournament will be moved to Boomerang to show off the new Mike Lee short course — or whatever name variation is settled upon. 

Suffice it to say it’s a near sure bet it will be a joyous occasion for the Lee family and the community in Greeley.

For more information about the Michael Ray Lee Foundation, CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates