#16, Par 4, 402 Yards
Many who play Cherry Hills for the first time walk away declaring the 16th hole as their favorite hole on the golf course. The majority of players will hit fairway woods or hybrids off the tee to stay out of Little Dry Creek, which works its way through the right side of the fairway and then cuts across the middle of the fairway. The second shot is usually played with the ball below the players’ feet to a green that slopes the opposite way. The green is severe and guarded with bunkers on the front left and the right half. Ray Ainsley’ 19 at this hole during the 1938 U.S. Open is the highest score on one hole in U.S. Open history.
This 16th hole was built on a terrific piece of gently sloping land. From the standpoint of land movement, it's definitely the most interesting hole on the course. Add in the overhanging limbs that partially block a shot that comes in from the left, and a really cool green site, and you've got a great golf hole. I think I liked #14 slightly better, but that is not a knock on this hole as it's really splitting hairs between two fantastic holes.
#7, Par 4, 399 Yards
The majority of players will hit a fairway wood off the tee to avoid going through the fairway on this dogleg left. Those who try to cut the dogleg will have to negotiate the large bunker complex that helps guard the left side of the hole. The green has a soft slope from back to front and is guarded by a bunker on the left and a severe fall off to the right.
Take my advice and don't go left. I botched my drive and ended up in jail. The thick and dense rough is really hard to recover from, especially if you're trying to hit a low punch shot. Additionally, a drive missed in the rough will get essentially no roll, and will leave a much longer shot into the hole. I wish I had gotten a drink at the snack bar by this tee box to ease the pain of the triple bogey I would take here!
The creek. No bridge required to traverse this mighty waterway--but there is one there anyway!
#1, Par 4, 343 Yards
This is one of the most famous starting holes in all of golf. It is here where Arnold Palmer drove the green in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open to come from seven shots behind to win his only U.S. Open. Today, the hole plays 397 yards with a slight dogleg left requiring an accurate tee shot. The green is guarded by bunkers on the left side and is small in size with movement in all directions.
The 397 tee that is reference above is behind and to the left of the tee from which Palmer drove the green. We wouldn't be playing from there. There are two tee boxes that straddle the monument to Palmer's famous drive. The famous drive came from the tee box on the right, but the tee markers were set up on the left. Our host put his tee in the ground between the tee markers and prepared to hit is opening shot. However, before he could address the ball, the club's longtime head professional, John Ogden, came over to introduce himself. He saw the ball teed up on the left tee box and said "No, no no, let them hit it from the Palmer tee." So, we'd put our pegs in the ground on the famous tee pad that The King hit from, even though it wasn't set up that way! It's a beautiful downhill tee shot with the mountains off in the distance. By the way, Mr. Ogden couldn't have been more friendly and welcoming throughout our visit.
So, did I drive the green? Heck no. I don't have that kind of distance. But I did hit one right down the middle (with Mr. Ogden watching!) and left myself about a 60 yard pitch into the green. From there, it was an easy, but nervy pitch into the green with a stress-free opening par.
When you're about to play a famous course, I think it's perfectly normal to poke around online to read up on some of that course's history. It's equally normal to look around for suggestions on where to stay, where to eat, and what else there is to do in the area. However, it is normal to dust off your physics knowledge and to search online to get a crash course on aerodynamics? Obviously not, but that's just what I did--it's a good example of what a golf geek I am, and I acknowledge that I have problems! If you're playing golf in Colorado, of any location "at elevation" for that matter, there is a lot written about the fact that the ball will travel farther. However, does is the altitude's impact on the golf ball the same for everyone and would I get the same benefit as someone like Rory McIlroy or Jason Day? This is what I was trying to ascertain.
The short answer is it depends. The rule of thumb you'll often see when hitting in the mile high air, is to expect the ball to travel 10% further. However, there are many details that impact the ball's flight. Among them are air temperature, spin rate, and how high you hit the ball. I'm a low-ball hitter, so since my shots would typically be in the air for less time, they would get less benefit from their time in the thin air. The higher you hit the ball, and the warmer the temperature the longer the ball will fly. However, the spin rate is also a factor, perhaps more so in the lateral movement of the ball than distance traveled. Thinner air means less resistance to spin, and thus balls will slice and hook less.
OK, enough on the physics. Let's get on to golf. I was extremely excited when I was invited to join a friend at Cherry Hills. The club's history is long and distinguished, but it's most known for the 1960 US Open. It was that tournament that Arnold Palmer drove the first green, en route to a 65, which overcame a seven-shot deficit and resulted in a two-shot victory over then amateur Jack Nicklaus. Palmer's victory made for back-to-back major championships after winning The Masters earlier that year. His jubilant toss of his visor into the air is still one of the most iconic and frequently replayed scenes in golf history. That toss of the visor is memorialized in the clubhouse with a statue (shown above). While the finish of that 1960 US Open is arguably the club's most memorably moment, the club's history began almost 40 years earlier (from it's website):
"Cherry Hills Country Club was founded in 1922 by a group of prominent members from Denver Country Club who wanted a golf club and nothing else. Initially, the original name of the Club was The Cherry Hills Club in recognition of a cherry orchard located on the Club's grounds. The founders of the Club had the wisdom and foresight to enlist William S. Flynn to design the course. Originally from Philadelphia, Flynn was considered to be one of the premier golf course architects of his time. He was paid the handsome sum of $4,500 to design Cherry Hills, which he described as a top-notch layout with few equals and no superior."
Having played some of Flynn's most highly acclaimed work in The Country Club and Shinnecock Hills, I was very anxious to see what he built when given this suburban Denver property to work with. We would be sweeping the dew off of the beautiful Cherry Hills fairways when we teed off at 7:00 AM on a gorgeous Wednesday morning. One of the assistant pros would be joining us for the morning. Upon arriving at the club, my first mistake was driving into the wrong entrance, but after making an embarrassing u-turn, I would end up in the right place. My first impression of Cherry Hills was forged by the incredible Hall of Champions that greets all visitors. This vibrant collection of memorabilia honors all of the club's past tournaments:
#6, Par 3, 156 Yards
The relatively short par 3 gives the players a chance at making a birdie. However, the short iron needs to be well placed to avoid the bunkers that surround the green and a small creek to the left. The green is severely sloped from front to back and requires players to keep the ball below the hole. A shot over the green will leave players with a near-impossible second shot and have them hoping to make a bogey.
This one should be just a little pitch in the thin mountain air. However, make a mistake on that easy shot and you're bound to get punished. I thought it was kind of clever to have the little creek cross again and right in front of the greenside bunker.
#13, Par 4, 381 Yards
This straight-away par 4 requires an accurate tee shot to avoid the deep grass mounds on the left and the large fairway bunker to the right. Players who successfully negotiate the drive will be left with a short iron to a very small and tricky green. Anything over this green is a mistake. This hole was the demise of Jack Nicklaus in both the 1960 and 1978 U.S. Opens.
I can vouch for the advice above. Long is very very bad!
To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect at Cherry Hills. It's got a great championship history, but there's a lot of criticism about how the game's past this course by. The knock is that the mountain air makes it too short for the big hitters, though the recent BMW Championship seemed to prove that Cherry Hills can still be a good test. I thought Cherry Hills was an extremely pleasant surprise. It certainly wasn't too short for me and was not only a really good challenge, but a very fair one. Keep the ball out of the thick and punishing rough and you have the chance to have a fun and rewarding round. How ever, if you're a little off, you'll be justly penalized--as you should for a true championship test. I really enjoyed Cherry Hills and would be thrilled to be a member there. The clubhouse is gorgeous. The club culture seemed very pleasant and welcoming. It truly seemed like a great club at which to spend time. From Cherry Hills, I'd make my way over to Colorado Golf Club before heading over to the airport to head home. What a fun trip this turned out to be!
#9, Par 4, 429 Yards
This uphill par 4 is one of the most difficult holes at Cherry Hills. The tee shot needs to be both long and accurate. The fairway is crowned, which brings the deep rough on the left into play along with a large bunker on the right. The players will only see the top of the flag on their second shots to a severely sloped green guarded by a large bunker in the front. In the final round of the 1985 PGA Championship, Hubert Green matched Lee Trevino’s second shot to within three feet and made birdie, allowing Green to retain his one-stroke advantage and eventually win the championship.
The mile high air will leave an outsider gasping for air after climbing this hill. All the bunkering is on the right side, with just rough on the left.
#3, Par 4, 315 Yards
This par 4 could be one of the most exciting holes. The majority of the players are capable of driving the green, but the tabletop green falls off in all directions with closely mown grass and is very difficult to keep a wedge to hold, let alone a driver. Be aware of Little Dry Creek, which comes into play over the green. Players will feel this is a certain birdie hole, but many will walk off the green scratching their heads after making a bogey.
Among US Open caliber golf courses, I can't think of one that allows you to get off to a better start than Cherry Hills. You definitely need to attack on the first three holes, because after that, the course stiffens up considerably.
After hitting a few balls and rolling a few putts it was time to get out onto the golf course. The pro, who would be showing us the way this morning, obviously plays the back tees most of the time, which measure 7,316 yards and play to a rating and slope of 74.7 and 139. Just like at Shinnecock Hills, the back tees are Red. While we were playing at altitude, we didn't really want to take on the tips, so we decided to move forward to the Member Tees, which are colored blue, measuring 6,694 yards and playing to a rating and slope of 71.7 and 137 with a par of 72. I'll quote those tees below. Additionally, I'll paste the commentary for each hole from the club's hole-by-hole tour in italics, along with my own thoughts, if needed:
#5, Par 5, 526 Yards
This short par 5 requires a very accurate tee shot for players to go for the green in two. The tee shot is guarded by a creek to the right and deep bunkers to the left and the fairway is only 26 yards wide between the two hazards. The green has the most slope of any at Cherry Hills and requires a precise shot. Any shots left and short will end up in one of the deepest bunkers on the course and shots long will leave the players with a virtually impossible chip or pitch.
The fifth was probably my favorite hole on the front side. The creek mentioned above also crosses the fairway and needs to be carried on the second shot. With that said, the creek is only like one foot wide, so if you hit into it, it's almost more bad luck that deserved--but it's still enough to be in your head. The bunker in front of the green is one of the largest greenside bunkers I've ever seen. On the green, being above the hole is a really bad thing, and presents a more-likely-than-not three putt.
#8, Par 3, 188 Yards
Historically, this is where Cherry Hills starts to show its teeth. Players walking off this green with a par will feel as if they made a birdie. The hole requires an accurate fairway wood or hybrid to avoid large bunkers both left and right of the green. Errant shots to the right bring Little Dry Creek into play. This is where Arnold Palmer made his only bogey in his final-round 65 during the 1960 U.S. Open.
The left bunker is quite a bit short of the green and will only catch shots that are already fairly poor. Carrying that bunker and leaving your ball on the short grass to the left of the hole is the safe place to miss.
#11, Par 5, 539 Yards
Only the longest hitters should try and reach this par 5 in two. The uphill tee shot is guarded by a bunker on the left and out of bounds just off the right side of the fairway. A large cross bunker 110 yards short of the green is what players will have to navigate if they choose to go for the green in two. The green is somewhat large, but severely sloped from back to front. Any putts from above the hole will make even the best putters nervous.
While the front nine has some good holes, the back nine is really where Cherry Hills' reputation is built. It's a really strong collection of both interesting and challenging holes. While long, the 11th is actually one of the better chances to score on this tough back nine.
#17, Par 5, 511 Yards
Ben Hogan lost the 1960 U.S. Open at the par-5 17th by hitting his third shot into the water short of the green, opening the door for Arnold Palmer’s victory. Today, the hole has two sets of cross bunkers that need to be navigated. An accurate tee shot is a must to allow players a chance to either go for the island green in two or to lay up short of the water. The green looks quite docile, but is quite perplexing.
The 17th is the first of two consecutive par fives for the members. For major tournaments, the 18th plays as a par four. Big hitters can get to the cross bunkers from the tee, so driver might not be necessary. With that said, really big hitter can probably carry them and get an advantage in the form of an iron into the green. The green, being an island, is good-sized to accept a long club, but missing short, long, left, or right will result in your ball going for a swim. This is one of the earliest, if not THE earliest island green in golf.
#2, Par 4, 399 Yards
The second hole is one of the tighter holes at Cherry Hills. The entire right side of the fairway is lined with trees, while bunkers guard the left side. The green is relatively flat, but there is a hidden lake that guards the left side of the green. This is where Vic Ghezzi defeated Byron Nelson to win the 1941 PGA Championship, and it played as the hardest hole in the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open.
I thought the "hidden lake" mentioned above was the coolest part about this hole. Before getting to the green, I thought the ridge on the left side of the hole was a really cool land feature that the hole bent in front of. However, once I got to the green, I realized that it was actually the bank of the large lake best known as the body of water that needs to be carried on the 18th hole. The fairway and green are actually below the water level, which I couldn't remember ever seeing anywhere else. Definitely a tricky driving hole. Go too far left and you'll be in bunkers. Go too far right and you'll risk being blocked by trees into the green. Gotta hit it down the middle!
#12, Par 3, 172 Yards
This beautiful but challenging par 3 over water requires a precise iron shot. Any shot that lands just short of the green will find its way back into the hazard and anything long leaves the player with a virtually impossible pitch. The green is divided in the middle with a severe mound, which makes being in the right quadrant a must.
No question that this one is all carry, and getting it to the middle of the green is the safe way to avoid the water. Being just a bit short runs the risk of rolling back down the bank and into the drink.
#14, Par 4, 448 Yards
The 14th at Cherry Hills is arguably the toughest hole on the course. The hole plays to a slight dogleg left and has the widest fairway on the course. The second shot is downhill with the green guarded by Little Dry Creek to the left and a large bunker to the right. The green is severe and putting is a challenge for all levels of play. This is where Phil Mickelson closed out Manny Zerman to win the 1990 U.S. Amateur.
For my money, this was the best hole on the course, though 16 made a case as well. It actually reminded me a bit of the famous 12th at Southern Hills, and it's a bear. From the tips, it stretches all the way to 515 yards!.
#4, Par 4, 418 Yards
This dogleg-left par 4 requires a well-placed tee shot to the right side of the fairway to avoid the overhanging trees that guard the left half of the fairway. The short-iron second shot will allow players to make some birdies here, but be aware of the difficult two-tiered green and the trouble that lurks long.
One thing I found quite quickly is that Cherry Hills has grass that was tough for me to get used to. It's very sticky. I was expecting the lush green fairways to roll like the bent grasses of the Northeast and Midwest. However, it seemed like the grass played more like a southern Bermuda or Paspalum when it came to bump and run shots around the greens. There was a lot more "grab" around the fringes and greens than I expected. I was told that nearly all the grass at Cherry Hills is original, apart from spots that were changed by renovations over the years of course.
#10, Par 4, 407 Yards
This is one of the most beautiful but demanding holes at Cherry Hills. Players will need an accurate tee shot to a fairway which is severely sloped from right to left and guarded by a large bunker and trees on the right side. The second shot must be precise to a right-to-left-sloping green with bunkers on both sides. A right-side hole location will require true confidence from players who decide to challenge the hole.
This hole has it all. A beautiful view of snow-capped mountains from the tee. A hard sloped fairway and green add strategy. Then there's the fact that President George W. Bush used to stay in the house to the right of the green when in town. A great way to start the second nine.
Playing the ninth hole gives the player an A+ view of the clubhouse!
#18, Par 5, 473 Yards
The 18th hole at Cherry Hills is one of the most difficult finishing holes in all of championship golf - just ask Lorena Ochoa, who made a quadruple-bogey eight in the final round of the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open. Water runs down the left side of the fairway and high rough guards the right side. The second shot plays uphill with the clubhouse in the background. The green is very challenging and protected by large bunkers on both sides.
One of the most difficult finishing holes in all of championship golf? Well, maybe as a par four, but for day-to-day play, this is a par five, and actually quite easy. If you can keep your ball on land off of the tee, you can definitely have a go at this green in two. I'm not a big hitter, and I was in the greenside bunker in two. Even from the back tees, it's only 484 yards. A tough four, but a pretty easy five as long as you hit a decent drive.
My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#15, Par 3, 188 Yards
This long par 3 plays slightly downhill to a very small green guarded by bunkers on both sides. Shots moving too far left could find their way into Little Dry Creek, which is closer than it looks from the tee. The green has subtle movement from back to front.
Definitely a tricky hole with a relatively small target. I was pleased to hit one relatively close on this one. After a two-putt, I was able to say I parred both of the par threes on the back nine.
The Golf Bucket List
After walking through the Hall of Champions, it was a quick visit to the locker room to change shoes and put on some sun block. The club opened at 6:30, and we only had a short time to loosen up before our tee time, so I wasn't dilly-dallying.