Breckenridge Golf Club in Breckenridge, CO
Tee Time: July 27, 2013, 12:20, 69 F, overcast
Designer: Jack Nicklaus (1987)
Playing Partners: Brendan Noonan, CJ Phelan, Greg Ryan
Tees: Beaver/Bear tournament, Par 72 (71.6 rating/139 slope/6,605 yards)
Course Handicap: 12 (9.5 index)
Stats: 85 (43-42); 33 putts; 5/14 fairways; 7/18 greens; 4 penalty strokes
High up in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by thousands of evergreens and snow-covered peaks, sits Breckenridge Golf Club. And I do mean high. At the 8th tee of the Beaver 9, you are 9,426 feet above sea level. Which means if you really pop up a driver up in the air, you can almost launch a ball to an altitude where it would be safe to turn on portable electronics and cell phones, as long as they remain in “Airplane Mode”. The tricky thing is, though, that never on the golf course does it really seem like you’re at nearly 10,000 feet. There are some slight elevation changes, but none of the hundred-foot drops that you might expect playing atop a mountain range. It makes it even more fun, because the layout is similar to many others around the country, meaning you get to experience what it’s like to play golf like a tour pro and their drives topping 300 or 320 yards. The setting is amazing. Despite being only fifteen minutes from Main Street, it feels isolated. There is one road that has a bit of traffic on the Bear 9 and some holes are bordered by million-dollar cabins, but for the most part it is the golf course that takes center stage. There are 27 holes at the club, the Bear, Beaver and Elk. We played the Beaver/Bear circuit, and hopefully I’ll come back for the Elk. Looks are deceiving here. The golf may look simple and easy at times, but this is one tough course. Don’t even think about playing the Nicklaus tees and their 147 slope from nearly 7,600 yards. Altitude or not, that’s a lot of turf.
The opening hole on the Beaver side is a perfect example of the course being sneaky tough. From the tee you can see the sand to the right, but it doesn’t appear as large as it really is. At least this is one of the rare times when a wayward tee shot can still be found. The 533-yard 2nd is not as forgiving. The entire hole plays along the ridge, if you stay in the fairway it’s flat and easy. But to the left is a severe upslope and trees while to the right everything kicks down into OB and condos. Still, a good drive may leave an iron which is much easier to control, especially up here. While the 163-yard 3rd is the shortest par-3 at the club, it is still a tough one. A quick, two-tiered back-to-front green is surrounded by a large, U-shaped bunker that hangs down from the green like a necklace. It is no easy sand-save from there. The 4th is unlike the rest of the course, in that it looks harder than it is. Hitting to a shallow fairway, a good chunk of the distance can be cut off without too much risk aside from two fairway bunkers. But at least it’s pretty safe on the approach. The 355-yard 5th is a perfect spot to hit a long-iron into the fairway. That’s pretty necessary because the second shot is over water to a large green fronted by sand and with thick rough behind it. The contours mean anything over 30 feet will be a tough two-putt. The creek finally comes into play from the tee at the 312-yard 6th, which means it’s gonna sit there in the back of your mind (well, also on the left side of the fairway) as you take a try at the green. Maybe favor the right side, but there are those pine trees sitting there, so up the middle is a good idea. The 7th is another one of those tight par 4s Jack Nicklaus seems to like, and at 398 yards is even more treacherous than the previous hole. That said, the par-3 9th is probably the toughest par 3 on the course. Long, at 177 yards, and guarded by 3 sand traps and water, with a tough to read green, par is definitely a good score. Especially considering our foursome took 25 strokes to hole out with no one beating a double bogey.
Back down the hill a bit and past the range is the Bear 9, definitely worthy of the moniker. It opens with a dogleg right par 4 with a bumpy fairway to a green fronted by deep bunkers. At the 520-yard 2nd is your best chance for cranking out a monster drive. From an elevated tee box, catch one just right and it can roll down the slope for miles. It’s tough to see exactly what to aim at, but the landing area is wider than it appears. Enjoy that big swing because the course tightens up again at the 386-yard 3rd. There is a narrow fairway that bottlenecks at the corner to a saddle green, all with a lake in play. If you can survive that, the easiest par 3 is next. No sand, no water, no crazy hills. Just you and 167 yards to a relatively simple green. The view at the tee on 5 is pretty cool. Row after row of pine tree off in the distance while in the foreground is some wild grass that perfectly frame this simple, straightaway par 4. An uphill par 5 snakes over 517 yards with lateral hazard to the left (also a road if you really miss) and on the approach, but if the wind is helping getting home in 2 is doable to a quick green. The downhill, 192-yard 7th is a tough hole to gauge. The distance needs to be perfect because going long will be lost over the mound into the bushes and being short is a water hazard. At that distance and with a breeze, it is a little intimidating. The lengthy 8th is tricky, with the creek again cutting close to the front of the green. Two sand traps dot the back and right side, making an accurate approach very important unless you’re okay with double bogeys. And then there’s that beastly 9th hole, by far the longest par 4 at Breckenridge Golf Club by nearly 50 yards. It plays level, too, meaning it really will take a great drive and a long iron to cover its 462 yards. Then there’s a tall sand trap in the front for low shots and a big trap behind for hard runners, meaning there’s a better than 50/50 chance you’ll finish from the beach. Hope you’re not getting winded from the altitude before playing here.
Breckenridge Golf Club’s Beaver and Bear nines are a great collection of holes that really calls for a variety of shots. If you don’t know how to manage a course there’s little hope for a good score here as where you leave yourself is as important as how far you hit it or how well you putt. Though it may look open, those trees and lateral hazards really come up quick. Oh and speaking of hazards, who knew that even the other players don’t mind pooping in the woods like the local black bear population. Okay, maybe not pooping, but definitely #1. I luckily did not witness it, but Brendan happened to be walking by the driving range, not exactly wilderness territory, when a female golfer decided she just had to answer the call of nature right there. So just feet from the practice area in some grass, not more than a par 3 from the clubhouse, some lady pops a squat (or cops a squat, which one is it?) right in front of his eyes. Noonan caught the full moon and I don’t think his mind was right after that. Even a six-pack Michelob Ultra didn’t wash away that image. But when you gotta go, you gotta go, right?
#8 (Beaver), Par 5, 507 yards, 1-handicap, My Score: 4
Layout: A; I really liked the variety of holes here. And nothing felt too hokey either. No crazy up or downhill holes, no ridiculous greens, just a solid golf course. There are tees for even the best of players, and it’s a whole different game from back there, if you can survive the hike back to those tees.
Amenities: B; all the standard facilities. A nice pro shop and beautiful lodge-type restaurant are a good place to hide out in case any summer storms roll through.
Staff: A; there is a lot of staff here, which means you don’t have to wait long to be served. They are also friendly, the starter’s rule is “Have fun, or get off the course.” That’s a lot of pressure but I managed. The cart girls actually have personalities, too. Imagine that.
Difficulty: B+; it’s no walk in the park, but the course doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve. Greens break as you’d expect, the entire course is out in front of you so nothing will jump out and eat your golf ball (unless the bears are that hungry). But even still, this course is not easy to get a good score on. The different looks mean you’re always out of your comfort zone and it’s tough to get on a roll.
Scenery: A-; fortunately I did not catch the butt cheeks of the locals, so I really did enjoy the views. There’s all the fun of being in the forest. The crisp, fresh air. The sound of the wind whisking through the branches. The looks of fancy cabins framed neatly in the trees. And the ski resort off in the distance, towering over the town must look amazing in the early to late spring when there’s some snow on the ground.
Value: B-; it’s $114 for the round, but $18 extra for a cart. And unless you’re acclimated to the lower oxygen levels, you’ll want a cart. Which really, does the margin on charging golf carts really come out to needing to charge $36 to turn a profit? The course is a must play at the $114, though maybe consider a free pull cart.
Overall GPA: 3.45 (B+); nothing better than golfing in a mountain town during the summer. Breckenridge is a must-visit during this season just as it is in the winter, and a stop at its golf club is also required, hopefully all 27 holes.