After long PGA Tour drought for Colorado, plans for 2024 BMW Championship at Castle Pines are taking shape nicely; there will be a strong focus on entertainment as well as golf next August
By Gary Baines – 10/17/2023
Longtime golf fans in Colorado might feel like it’s been forever since a PGA or LPGA Tour event was held in the state. And there’s good reason for such a feeling — figuratively speaking, at least.
It’s been more than nine years since either of those tours brought a tournament to the Centennial State, and that length of time will reach almost exactly an even decade.
To put that into perspective, since 1938, when the U.S. Open first came to Cherry Hills Country Club, never — until now — has there been such a long period without either a PGA or LPGA Tour event being contested in Colorado.
Having come and gone are U.S. Opens, PGA Championships, the Women’s Western Open, Mile High Opens (LPGA), Denver Opens (PGA), National Jewish Hospital Opens (LPGA), Columbia Savings LPGA Classics, The Internationals (PGA), LPGA National Pro-Ams, U.S. Women’s Opens, a Solheim Cup (LPGA) and a BMW Championship (PGA).
That BMW Championship, held Sept. 4-7 in 2014 at Cherry Hills, was the last PGA (or LPGA) Tour event to come Colorado’s way. So when that same tournament returns to the Centennial State — this time Aug. 22-25, 2024 at Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Rock — there figures to be plenty of pent-up interest.
“I think this place is really excited to have PGA Tour golf back,” said George Solich, who played major roles in bringing both the 2014 and 2024 BMW Championships to Colorado.
Castle Pines Golf Club is no stranger to hosting PGA Tour events, but it’s been tweaked considerably since the days of The International.
Late last month, as Castle Pines hosted a Drive, Chip & Putt Regional qualifying event, Solich chatted with Colorado Golf Journal about where things stand with less than a year to go before the BMW Championship brings most of the top golfers in the world to Castle Pines. Solich, a member at Castle Pines for 21 years, serves as chairman of the board and president at Castle Pines GC, which hosted the PGA Tour’s International every year from 1986-2006.
But the Castle Pines course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, has undergone quite a bit of tweaking since 2006. And whereas the format for The International was a modified Stableford, where a birdie and a bogey were worth more than two pars, the BMW Championship is a traditional stroke-play event — albeit with a field of just 50 competitors.
“I think Castle Pines is going to really shine,” Solich said. “We’ve done a whole lot to work to get us to this point. It isn’t just (lately); it’s been over the course of the last five years. We’re really excited to see the 50 best players in the world come to play. And since no professionals have ever played here in a tournament under stroke play we have no idea how it will (play out).”
The BMW Championship will be the second of three FedExCup Playoff events once again in 2024, with the 50 golfers who qualify battling it out for 30 berths into the following week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Castle Pines Golf Club’s hummingbirds will be back in the PGA Tour spotlight.
The BMW Championship has a unique aspect to it in that all net proceeds from the tournament benefit the Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides full-tuition and housing scholarships — worth more than $125,000 in some individual cases — to high-achieving caddies with significant financial need. Since the 1960s, one of the E.S. houses has been based at the University of Colorado. In 2022, the BMW Championship raised more than $4.5 million for the Evans Scholarship. Both the Evans Scholars Foundation and the BMW Championship are administered by the Illinois-based Western Golf Association.
Solich and his older brother Duffy attended CU on Evans Scholarships in the late 1970s and early ‘80s after caddying at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. They both have lent their name and support to the Colorado-based Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy since its inception in 2012. So caddying, and what it can do for teenagers, is close to their hearts.
Duffy, like George a longtime member at Castle Pines, is serving as tournament chairman of the 2024 BMW Championship at Castle Pines.
“He’s done a fabulous job with about 50 other member volunteers that he’s got working on the tournament,” George Solich said of Duffy. “I’m so thankful he took that piece off my plate because I didn’t think I could actually be the chairman of the club and the chairman of the tournament at the same time. He’s just done a fabulous job.”
George Solich played major roles in bringing both the 2014 and ’24 BMW Championships to Colorado.
George Solich served as general chairman of the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills in 2014, when the event was named the PGA Tour’s Tournament of the Year and raised a then-record $3.5 million for the Evans Scholarship.
It was with the hope of bringing a BMW Championship to Castle Pines that Nicklaus significantly tweaked the course he originally designed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In fact, he made changes to nearly every hole.
Now, according to George Solich, Castle Pines will be set up at close to 8,100 yards for the BMW Championship. According to an emailed response from the PGA Tour sent this week, the longest course played on the PGA Tour since 1983 has been Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, which checked in at 7,876 yards for the 2021 PGA Championship. As a practical matter, that would make an 8,000-plus-yard course a first in PGA Tour history. (Meanwhile, however, the Korn Ferry Tour’s Ascendant at TPC Colorado was set up at just over 8,000 yards this year.) But with Castle Pines sitting at an average altitude of about 6,300 feet, even at 8,100 yards the course will play the equivalent of roughly 7,100-7,200 yards at sea level — which is actually relatively short by PGA Tour standards.
“The golf course is in really great shape. We have no other meaningful changes (planned),” Solich said. “It’ll play at almost 8,100 yards. Our goal is to have the fairways firm and fast, and the rough thick and lush. Our hopes is the greens will be fast and firm. But these guys are so good. We don’t care if we see lots of birdies or eagles; we want a great day. When you have 50 players, the great thing is we think we can start at 9 o’clock and finish at 5. So for the TV in the Mountain, Eastern and Central time zones, it will be really good (to draw large audiences).
“We had Jack Nicklaus out for the Nicklaus Trophy and Jack and I spent a lot of time on the golf course in August. Jack said it was the best he’s ever seen it. That’s pretty high praise from a guy that doesn’t usually give out those accolades. Jack’s been just fabulous for our club. He cares a lot about Castle Pines. He’s really dedicated himself to making sure (about) all the details. Every change that we’ve made, he’s signed off on, which is pretty terrific. We’ve never let anybody else kind of tinker on this golf course. I think he’s proud of that and we’re proud of that.
“I think it’s really a darned good golf course. … That’s what it starts with — you have to have a championship golf course. We do all the other things too. We make it fabulous from a service standpoint, the cottages and the great culinary experience. That’s why we put this big moniker out there that we’re the best day of golf in America because we deliver on all the fronts. It’s a high standard, but we’re up to it. We have a great, great staff — a completely fabulous dedicated staff.”
Duffy Solich has been busy as the tournament chairman for the 2024 BMW Championship.
Nicklaus has designed hundreds of golf courses around the world, but Castle Pines holds a special place in his heart, as he noted when it was formally announced that the 2024 BMW Championship would be played there.
“You always want to have big-time events played on your golf course,” he said. “Castle Pines has always been right at the top of my list of golf courses that I’m very proud of. To see a significant tournament like the BMW come there … it’ll be a really, really good, interesting week. And I think the people in the Denver area are gong to really enjoy it.
“But the players will too, and I think that’s what it’s all about. When you’re playing tournament golf, you need to enjoy it. You need to be competitive, but you need to enjoy your competition.”
Nicklaus will be among the interested observers to see what kind of stroke-play scoring the top PGA Tour players put up at Castle Pines.
“I always thought it was a really good golf course,” he said. “I’ll be very anxious to see how it plays with medal play … because I hear we’ve got some places out there that you can get lost and can’t get back. That’s not quite right but it’s a little bit that way.
“But I think it’s a really good golf course. I think the adjustments we’ve made have benefited the course greatly. I think it’s a fun golf course to play, and it certainly doesn’t lack for beauty. That’s for sure.”
The beauty at Castle Pines GC is certainly part of the attraction.
With more than 10 months left before the tournament, it sounds like the event is well on its way to being another big success.
“We have lots to do but we’re completely sold out of hospitality, which is a great problem to have,” George Solich said. “So we’re actually adding some hospitality venues because we have more demand than we have supply. So I think people are pretty excited about coming out. We just opened up the volunteer website and I think we almost have a thousand names there already. I know we’ll get it from all over the country as well as Colorado, so that will be great.”
Organizational efforts are ongoing, with the leadership from Castle Pines meeting this fall with the PGA Tour, NBC (the TV outlet for the event along with Golf Channel), BMW and the WGA.
“So I think plans are in great shape,” Solich said. “Golf is turning a little more to … in addition to the golf tournament experience, there’s entertainment as well. We have this incredible venue called The International Park that we’ll have some concerts there and gatherings there. It’ll be a neat area there during the tournament. Kind of a big beer-garden sort of thing.
“There’s as much entertainment as there is golf here that we are working on.”
And, of course, with such a big event on tap, there are plenty of other entities that are involved in the planning.
“The Village at Castle Pines and the City of Castle Pines and Douglas County have just been open arms with every facet of what we’re doing,” Solich said. “That’s really wonderful to have your community be so involved and so interested. We’re actually having a community-engagement day where we invited everybody from police to fire to city council to HOA — everybody that has any sort of a governance piece in the county. They couldn’t be more helpful; we’re thrilled. And they’re great working with CDOT and parking and everything else.”
The long wait for another PGA Tour event is almost over for Colorado golf fans, and it seems like everyone involved is eager — to use a football analogy — to push the ball over the goal line.
The ninth hole at Castle Pines Golf Club.
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 ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com