Recipe for (More) Success

Some 400-yard-plus drives, big money raised for Evans Scholarship for caddies, a stellar field and a grand setting: Expect to see it all for 2024 BMW Championship at Castle Pines, just the 2nd PGA Tour event in Colorado since 2006

By Gary Baines – 5/16/2024

When Rory McIlroy competed in the 2014 BMW Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club, he hit a 379-yard tee shot during the tournament. In practice/pro-am rounds, he uncorked a 370-yard 3-wood. For his part, Jason Day checked in with a 380-yard tee shot.

And, mind you, Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Rock, site of the 2024 BMW Championship, is almost 20 percent higher in altitude than Cherry Hills, which itself checks in at over a mile high. That means golf balls hit by some of the longest players on the PGA Tour — especially the high-ball hitters — will travel mind-boggling distances.

McIlroy, who has won his last two starts on the PGA Tour, almost certainly will be one of the 50 players competing in the BMW Championship — barring an injury or some unexpected happening — at Castle Pines Aug. 22-25. (The top 50 golfers in the season-long FedExCup standings will qualify.) And the Ulsterman most certainly is a long hitter with a very high ball flight.

When McIlroy played in the 2014 BMW at Cherry Hills, he noted, “The ball is going forever (due to the mile-high altitude). Because of my high ball flight, it’s going a good 15 percent further than it usually does.”

And McIlroy has added roughly six yards to his average driver distance this season compared to a decade ago. Throw in the roughly 1,000-foott elevation increase from Cherry Hills to Castle Pines, and it’s not hard at all hard to imagine a ball well struck by him traveling easily over 400 yards, depending on the hole. (For instance, the par-5 first hole at Castle Pines features a considerably elevated teebox, from where drives will be launched.

With his prodigiuous length off the tee, Rory McIlroy figures to hit some awe-inspiring drives at
Castle Pines Golf Club, given the altitude.

Suffice it to say there will be plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from the galleries at Castle Pines, which is expected to be set up at a PGA Tour-record distance, roughly in the 8,100-yard range. Of course, as a practical matter, with the ball flying 10-15 percent further than at sea level, even at that distance Castle Pines effectively will be a relatively normal length by Tour standards — perhaps even a little on the short side.

With Colorado set to host a PGA Tour event for the first time in a decade — and just the second time since 2006 — looking back at the 2014 BMW Championship at Cherry Hills might give fans an idea what to expect this summer for the same tournament at Castle Pines Golf Club.:

— The BMW Championship — and its predecessor, the Western Open — date back to 1899, making this tournament the third-oldest PGA Tour event, behind only the British Open (1860) and the U.S. Open (1895). The tournament was renamed the BMW Championship in 2007 when it became part of the FedExCup Playoffs.

The Western Golf Association, which conducts the BMW Championship in conjunction with the PGA Tour, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Golf Channel’s Steve Sands (right) after the 2014 BMW Championship at Cherry Hills, along with champion Horschel (red pants) and that year’s event general chairman George Solich (next to Sands).

— The 2014 BMW Championship at Cherry Hills was named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year, giving the event a three-peat after earning the same honor in 2012 and ’13. (Last year, the BMW landed the Tournament of the Year honor for a record fifth time.) The tournament at Cherry Hills attracted about 126,000 fans over six days — and that figure probably could have been higher, but tournament officials limited ticket sales for any given day so as to not dilute the spectators’ experience. The BMW also earned two other PGA Tour honors in 2014 — for best on-site staging and best advertising campaign/promotional idea.

In the wake of the BMW’s success, 2014 BMW Championship general chairman George Solich was named the Golf Person of the Year by the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame. (He’ll be inducted in the Hall of Fame on Dec. 2.)

As Golf Channel anchor and reporter Steve Sands said shortly after the 2014 tournament ended, “You have no idea the tireless work done by George and his staff.”

Added Billy Horschel, who won the tournament at Cherry Hills: “There were thousands and thousands of people out here this weekend. I hope the PGA Tour realizes what kind of fan base and what support they have in Colorado.”

Scoreboards at the 2014 BMW Championship paid tribute to some of the CU Evans Scholars. (Disclosure: Kelly Baines, pictured, is the daughter of the writer.) All the net proceeds from the BMW Championships go to the Evans Scholarship for caddies.

— All of the net proceeds from the BMW Championship benefit the Evans Scholarship for caddies. Since the 1960s, one of the E.S. houses has been based in Boulder at the University of Colorado.

The 2014 BMW raised a then-record $3.5 million for the Evans Scholars, a portion of the roughly $50 million brought in for the scholarship via tournament proceeds since 2007.

The Evans Scholarship, which fully pays for college tuition and housing for high-achieving caddies who qualify, has long been a flagship program for the CGA. An Evans Scholarship is worth an average of $125,000 if renewed for four years, according to the WGA.

Current CU Evans Scholars and a variety of Evans Scholar alums caddied during the 2014 BMW Championship pro-ams on Monday and Wednesday of tournament week, donating their fees and tips to the Evans Scholars Foundation.

According to the WGA, one contestant tipped his caddie $10,000, an amount that was subsequently presented to the Evans Scholars Foundation.

Nowadays, there are 548 CU Evans Scholar alums, a total which includes 2024 BMW Championship tournament chairman Duffy Solich and younger brother George, the chairman and president at Castle Pines Golf Club. Both caddied at The Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs and were Evans Scholars at CU in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. This past school year, there were 57 caddies living in the E.S. house in Boulder.

In 2014, Colorado caddie Melyzjah Smith was awarded an Evans Scholarship thanks largely to a hole-in-one Hunter Mahan made at the 2013 BMW Championship. Smith was one of a very select group of caddies whose Evans Scholarships were/are funded by the BMW Hole-in-One Scholarship.

On the weekend that year, NBC essayist Jimmy Roberts did an informative feature that ran nationally. The story gave viewers a local angle on the Evans Scholarship. Included were segments on George Solich, on Smith, and on the caddie program in which Smith worked, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy at CommonGround Golf Course. CommonGround is owned and operated the CGA. The Academy is named for George and Duffy Solich.

Looking back down the picturesque 18th hole at Cherry Hills.

— In the 2014 BMW Championship, all of the top 10 players in the World Golf Rankings competed, and seven of the top 15 in those rankings finished in the top 10 at Cherry Hills. Horschel, who won at Cherry Hills, followed that up with a victory the next week in the Tour Championship, giving him the overall FedExCup title. Among the big names who placed in the top 10 at Cherry Hills were Bubba Watson (second place), Rickie Fowler (fourth), Sergio Garcia (fourth), Jim Furyk (fourth), McIlroy (eighth), Jordan Spieth (eighth) and Adam Scott (eighth).

Placing 12th that week was two-time major championship winner Angel Cabrera, who went on to spend more than 30 months in prison in his native Argentina for domestic violence and other charges. He was released from jail last August.

— One competitor who surprisingly didn’t even make it to the end of the week — despite the 2014 BMW being a no-cut affair — was Phil Mickelson, who has quite a record of success in Colorado. His lone USGA championship title came at Cherry Hills — the 1990 U.S. Amateur. He won The International PGA Tour event twice at Castle Pines, and he captured a college title at the University of Colorado-Fox Acres Invitational in Red Feather Lakes not long after his U.S. Am win. And though he didn’t prevail at the Colorado Open, he placed third in 1989, earning low-amateur honors.

But in 2014 at Cherry Hills, Mickelson withdrew after a second-round 76, saying he needed to rest up and prepare for that monthl’s Ryder Cup matches. That ended two streaks for him: After 10 consecutive PGA Tour seasons with at least one victory — which was the longest active streak on Tour — Mickelson went winless in the 2013-14 wraparound season. And for the first time since the FedExCup Playoffs were launched in 2007, he failed to qualify for the Tour Championship.

— While some observers expected the best players in the world to eat Cherry Hills alive, score-wise, given the altitude, it didn’t happen. Horschel’s winning total for four rounds was 14 under par (68-66-63-69). Morgan Hoffmann, who had competed in the 2009 Arnold Palmer Cup at Cherry Hills as an amateur, set the official course record at Cherry Hills with an 8-under 62 in the third round. 

(About 18 years prior, PGA Tour player Mike Reid fired a 60 from the back tees in a casual round at Cherry Hills. And Gunner Wiebe posted a 61 a few years before the BMW. But Hoffmann’s score, having come in competition, went down as the official course record.)

“All you need to do for a difficult golf course is get the greens firm and get the rough up — which they have done here,” McIlroy said as the 2014 tournament was gearing up. “You won’t see guys going crazy under par. You’ll still see some pretty low scores out there … but they can make it as tough as they want. There’s still a bit of bite there. … I think you’re going to see maybe 63, 64s, (but) I don’t think you’re going to see much lower than that this week.”

Mcilroy’s cause that week certainly wasn’t helped by not one but two four-putts on the par-3 12th hole at Cherry Hills on the weekend — for a triple bogey and a double bogey. The Saturday four-putt came from a mere 4 feet.

“Two four-putts on the same green? It’s not my worst,” McIlroy noted. “I have five-putted before. But it’s one of those things that at least I can laugh about it and move on.”

McIlroy posted a top-10 finish at Cherry Hills in 2014.

— Not surprisingly, some of the biggest names names in the history of Colorado sports attended the 2014 BMW at one time or another during the week. Among those on hand: John Elway, Peyton Manning, Chauncey Billups and John Lynch, plus then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.

— Speaking of local flavor, after Kent Denver graduate Kevin Stadler competed in the 2014 BMW Championship, Denver native and Valor Christian grad Wyndham Clark is a near lock to qualify for the 2024 BMW. He’s won three times on the PGA Tour since May 1, 2023, including the U.S. Open, and he’s currently ranked No. 4 in the world.

Another local star this time around, of course, will be Castle Pines Golf Club, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that hosted the PGA Tour’s International from 1986 through 2006. Castle Pines has long been a picturesque and stellar setting for golf. And with Nicklaus having done considerable tweaking of the course in recent years, it’ll be interesting to see how contestants, fans, sponsors, media and others react to the venue in a few months. Based on how things went during The International years, it will likely be very well received.

Castle Pines Golf Club will be the picturesque setting for the 2024 BMW Championship in late August.

All told, if the 2024 BMW Championship is anything like the 2014 version in Colorado, it’s little wonder why it’s estimated that the tournament will bring a $30 million economic impact to the area. After all, after once being able to rely on the PGA Tour visiting the state on an annual basis, Colorado sports fans now seem starved for more after drawing just one such tournament since 2006.

So let the feast begin …

For ticket information regarding the 2024 BMW Championship at Castle Pines Golf Club, 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