Renaissance Golf Design has completed a restoration of the golf course, originally designed by William Flynn, at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado. The club is celebrating its centennial this year and will host the 2023 US Amateur.
Tom Doak and his Renaissance team have worked at Cherry Hills since 2008, restoring many original Flynn design features and updating the course for modern play. Flynn’s routing is unique in that the front nine play in a figure of eight loop on the inside of the property, with the back nine circling it on the outside.
“When we were asked to restore Cherry Hills, we recognised that some trees had grown in areas that impacted play and took away from the original strategic design,” said Eric Iverson, who has the led the project for Renaissance. “We have now opened up sightlines and the ability to see the course as it was originally intended.
“When we first started work at Cherry Hills, the course was covered with planted trees, bunkers had been moved or removed, mowing lines had shrunk dramatically, basically a textbook case of what happened to so many Golden Age courses. Fortunately, only a couple of greens had been altered. As you would imagine, we were encouraged that the club wanted to restore Flynn’s work and preserve their beautiful old greens. That project went well, but like many clubs, there was some hesitation towards doing all the required clearing work in one radical stroke. They opted to work on the project over time, and the membership has come to appreciate the benefits to the course.”
Implementing a tree management programme has been key to the overall project at Cherry Hills – Renaissance has removed hundreds of trees and the programme continues.
“The eighteenth hole is a perfect example of Flynn’s planting of trees in strategic areas,” said Iverson. “This famous closing hole tempts the player to take a bold line over the lake to achieve a shorter shot to the elevated green. Approach shots that are missed to the right are stymied by the strategically placed group of trees to the right of the fairway.”
Other early phases included the reintroduction of cross bunkers on the seventeenth, as well as strategic bunker work on holes one to five, seven, nine, 14 and 16. Two green complexes – the third and thirteenth – have been completely restored – while other greens have been brought back closer to their original forms. Several holes have also been lengthened to accommodate the advances in modern equipment.
“The recent phase that we have just completed focused on restoring Little Dry Creek, which winds through the inward nine, undoing the engineered ‘channelling’ of the creek favoured by flood control districts of that era,” said Iverson. “Today, a more natural presentation is preferred, providing greater capacity, less erosion and greatly improved wildlife habitat. It just so happens that the golf is vastly improved as well.”
The creek is now in its original orientation following its move closer to the greens on holes seven, 14 and 15 as well as the sixteenth’s fairway. By doing this, many of Flynn’s strategic shot values have been reinstated.
The recent phase also included work on the 248-yard par-three fifteenth. “Flynn drew this hole up at 115 yards, which is where the current forward tee is,” said Iverson. Material from 1922 showed that there was a tee near the creek behind the fourteenth green. “It was likely crowded out by a massive Cottonwood as time went on, with resulting tees being built well to the right. That tree was lost, but that allowed for the lower tee to be restored.
“During the creek project, the green was expanded back to its original footprint in the front-left making for some dicey hole locations. It looks great from both angles and provides great flexibility for course setup.”
Iverson also worked on the sixteenth, a favourite among members at Cherry Hills. “The creek project will make those sentiments even stronger,” he said. “Of course, the left-to-right tee shot followed by the right-to-left approach, all provided by the landforms along the creek, are a staple of strategic design. My favourite part is the hanging lie you’ll have if you give the creek too wide a berth off the tee. The angle is one thing to deal with, but the slope of this fairway is just perfect for great golf, steep enough to help you to the sweet spot if you execute the tee shot, but not so steep that the ball won’t stay on the high side.
“Simply put, a lot has happened at Cherry Hills over the last decade, and the course is better than it has been since Arnie won the US Open. For those that haven’t seen it in a while, it’s worth having another look.”