Cottonwood Links’ small town charm

Calling it a small town is a borderline understatement when describing Fowler, Colorado. About 40 miles southeast of Pueblo, the town of no more than 2,000 is home to Cottonwood Links Golf Course (1 Cottonwood Ln., Fowler, 719/263-4500, see Facebook page), literally on the other side of the railroad tracks.

Cottonwood is the definition of good ol’ boys golf; rural charm with unabashed dedication to the locals. There are no frills on this 9-hole layout. If you’re looking for dress codes, caddie service and manicured surroundings, this is not the course for you. But if you’re looking for a laid-back challenge with a true mom-and-pop feel in a nondescript part of the state, you may not find any better. You’ll get the idea once you step into the clubhouse, one large room setup to seat dozens and a single bathroom accessed via the door to the cartbarn in the back of the building. If that doesn’t do it for you try the driving range, no more than 100- to 150-yards deep, where you can warm up your woods only if you’re shagging your own balls from the trees (and there’s no one on the hole behind the them). Still not convinced? How about BYOC, Bring Your Own Cart, as there’s no guarantee they’ll have a loaner for you.

(Editor’s note: The visits on which this writing is based occurred during a large scramble tournament. The course did have enough carts for all players, though, it’s unclear how many were loaned to the event by private owners.)

ScrambleCarts

Ready… Set… Scramble! Convey readying for the second day of the Gary Sharp Invitational in Fowler, CO.

Though billed as a links course, Cottonwood feels more parkland than anything else — there are plenty of trees in and around the areas of play, and the fairways are in close proximity to each other in the heart of the course with a fair share of natural hazards. (Side bar: Bring bug spray. Trust us, you don’t want to be without and end up the butt of the locals’ jokes when the mosquitos are swarming.)

A wide, inviting par 5 opens the round at no.1, running parallel the road leading to the clubhouse. Long hitters can easily reach in two as the green is set just slightly left of the tee box with no real hazards defending your approach. Shorter hitters should stay center to right-of-center from the tee to follow the fairway all the way to the green. More scoring chances follow at the no.2 par 3 — a sloped green trickier than its par 3 counterpart found at no.4 — as well as the the 520-yard no.5, another, mostly hazard-less, par 5. Make the most of them.

It’s not that the previously noted holes are your only chances at sub-par scores, but its tough to end your round with a long stretch of par 4s, capped by a notable finishing hole sporting a water hazard and blind, elevated green. No. 9 must be considered the toughest hole on the course, the tee boxes placed just so everything that you need to worry about is out of sight. View of the water is guarded by tall natural grasses that blend in with expanse of O.B. bordering the right side of the hole that also blocks the view of the flag. Most hitters will want to take a long iron to the center or left-of-center to layup as close to the water as possible, another long to mid iron should see you to the green in regulation.

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Looking back towards the no.7 tee box from the green (hidden by a dog leg). Play right from the tee and you’ll have to fly these large trees to reach the green.

With small town charm comes small town prices, consider them one and the same. 9-holes run $16 for non-members; 18-holes for $22; cart fees range from $12 to $16. Even though there are probably very few reason why you’d ever find yourself in Fowler, Colorado, the rural charm of Cottonwood Links is a good reason to stay a little longer if you do.

The Valley Hi life

There’s something inexplicably special about municipal golf courses. You get a sense that you’re a part of something — not just paying dues — and you know the ins and outs of every hole better than anyone. You’re on first-name basis with the staff, and with members of the foursome of 90-year-olds who always claim the best tee times, and you know exactly which hole is going to sink your round before you even make it to the first tee — that’s life on the muni course.

We love municipal courses, and Valley Hi (610 South Chelton, 719-385-6911, pattyjewettgolfshop.com), one of Colorado Springs’ two city-run courses, is no exception. But like most munis, there are two stories to tell.

ValleySunrise

Again, like many of its counterparts, poor course management seems to plague Valley Hi — the starter told our CGB threesome we’d have to wait five hours for a tee time one early spring Saturday. (In all fairness, the neighboring muni course was holding a tournament the same day and blocked out tee times, surely adding to the traffic — but still.) Luckily, we only waited about an hour before finagling a spot at the first tee. Leaving, though, we did noticed at least four groups waiting to be on deck.

The management umbrella also covers Valley’s pricing, one of the issues we have with Patty Jewitt as well. Both courses use the same “fee structure” — green fees start at $29.00 for 18, $15 for 9; carts, rentals, etc. add considerably to that cost — and offer very scant money-saving options.

But once you’re on the course, you won’t run into many unwelcome surprises. It’s a hitter’s paradise with wide fairway entries and unassuming hazards, and the greens are fairly easy to read. The 6,940-yard (from the tips) 18-hole layout gets a little crammed — errant shots easily end up on adjacent holes — but this course is built for big swings, slice, hook, or otherwise. On a recent outing, one player in our group played a 40- or 50-yard slice with his driver all day long and never found himself in too much trouble or searching for a lost ball.

The scoring opportunities at Valley start early in the round at the no.1 par 5, followed immediately by the par 3 no.2. Long hitters can reach the 580-yard par 5 in two, but the flat green is still friendly to those making it in three — especially in the front pin placement, about five-yards in from the end of the fairway. No. 2, a hazard-less 209-yards from the tips, sports an elevated tee box and a more undulated green set in the middle of a left-to-right downhill slope. Play the left side high to take advantage of a bounce off the hill towards the cup.

ValleyGreen

Although Valley’s layout may seem pretty straight forward, distances can be very deceiving. And it’s not a course where you’ll be thinking about needing to play safe. Complacent players will find themselves in trouble on holes with water and other strategic hazards. Trust your instincts — or just lay up.

Playing safe is exactly what you’ll want to do on the 520-yard no.17 par 5, the only hole on the course with two water hazards and a very reachable city street behind the green. Set those fears aside for your first shot, though, the fairway is wide and runs long.

The safest line for your approach is from the left side of the fairway, taking a pond at the far right end of the fairway out of play. Long hitters can reach this green in two, but a creek dividing the fairway from the green will leave most needing to consider a safer shot.

Lee Johnson

As for conditions at Valley Hi, they’re, well, conditional — on how much the city’s going to invest, or not, into this course during any given year. As of now,  Valley, though city-owned for a lesser amount of time, can’t claim the same beauty found at its sister course, Patty Jewitt. Terribly pocked cart paths, a depressingly dirty practice range, and no sign of works in progress on the course doesn’t bode well for those expecting a Patty-like experience any time soon. On the other-hand, Valley’s turf conditions are amongst the best in the area in the late summer and early fall.

Country clubs are country clubs — you’re part an elite class of people as long as you have the money to join, and that’s pretty much all that matters. But muni courses are are something more special, like the neighborhood you grew up in. A round at Valley Hi will pay tribute to that.

Cherokee Ridge Golf Course makes practice perfect

The perfect practice round is waiting for you on the Powers corridor in Colorado Springs. The fairways at Cherokee Ridge are wide, the greens are forgiving, and the few hazards that are present play little into a target golfer’s game.

I took to the regulation 9-hole course on a weekend in the fall ($15 for nine holes, walking) — the property is also home to one of the few executive par-3 courses in the city. The scant amount of tree cover leaves this course exposed to the mile high sun all day, and despite some recent rainstorms the conditions were really dry, the setting for a long-ball hitter’s dream.

Dreams come to fruition at the no. 1 tee — a 394-yard par-4 with a slightly elevated tee box facing America’s Mountain. Avoid playing too far left into only water hazard on the regulation course and you’ll find an easy approach to the unprotected right side of the green. But don’t pinch yourself yet,  no. 2 and no. 3, a par-5 and par-4, respectively, scream for the big stick with parallel fairways and little danger to take into account, too.

Cherokee Ridge No.2 Flag

A look back at the par-4 no. 2 fairway from the green.

The first real decision making for mid to long hitters comes to play on no. 3: The fairway is split with light rough near the 150-yard marker, before a slight dog leg to the right. Though most of the rough at Cherokee Ridge offers an easy out, some may want to play shorter from the tee and setup a cleaner approach to the slightly elevated green.

No. 4 can be tricky. A 154-yard par-3 with few looming pine trees coming into play when the pin is on the right side of the green. The green is big enough to play safe on the left, unprotected side of the green, though, you’ll just have to worried about your putting stroke on the super fast dance floor.

Cherokee Ridge No.5 Fairway

View from the no. 5 fairway: See what I mean by “wide open”?

The 425-yard par-4 at no. 5 should be a walk in the park. Trees line both sides of the box and the opening to wide open fairway, and green protected by large bunkers on both the left and right sides.

The only sketchy play comes near the trees and native grass down the left side of the fairway. (Safety note: No. 5 lies close the course driving range with only a short fence acting as a barrier, and those on the the range can’t see players on no. 5. Fore!)

I can never not play no. 5 from the left side, making it harder than it should be and allowing the right green side bunker to become a factor in my approach — not to mention any bombs coming over from the range. Today I hit the beach — it’s a lot deeper, menacing, and, well, more hazardous than I remember.

Cherokee Ridge No.5 Bunker

This is not the normal state of CR’s bunkers — yes, usually you have to rake — but it made for an exciting out, none-the-less.

Back to the open range on no. 6. Grip it and rip on the 360-yard, uphill par-4. Play the left side of the fairway off the tee — long hitters should beware of a large fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway — to get a clear approach the protected green. There’s a slight dog leg right starting at the fairway bunker, just after the 150-yard marker. Another green side bunker threatens approaches from the right side and is hidden by some trees.

Cherokee Ridge No.7

The no. 7 fairway is about as wide as it is long.

No. 7, a par-3,  is easy but long, coming in at 195 yards to the center of the green from the tips. Shorter tee shots need to thread two green side bunkers, but the fairway is wide enough to make them non-factors. Fly the green, or miss deep to the left, and you’ll have a blind shot at the pin from the bottom of a hill, Club selection is key.

The fast and hard conditions led me to a 5-iron from the tee, playing my second shot from a few yards out from the front fringe. Nothing wrong with up-and-down for par here.

Placement is key on no. 8. The 400-yard par-4 turns sharply to the left and the fairway can be very elusive from the tee. There’s a good chance mid to long hitters will fly the fairway with a driver — I was lying just shy of the no. 6 fairway from the tee. But long hitters can cut the corner and catch the bottom portion of the fairway — you’ll have to track your ball flight, trees line the left side of the fairway and block the view from the tee. The safe play is a layup near the bunker at the start of the dog leg.

Cherokee Ridge No.8 Fairway

Trees protect the inside corner of the sharp dog leg on the par-4 no. 8.

Playing from the far right isn’t the worst, though, sans a few bunches of trees, the approach to the green is pretty clear. The layout of this hole makes it arguably the toughest on the regulation course, rivaled only by it’s next door neighbor, the par-5 no. 9.

Cherokee Ridge No.9

Fairway bunkers dictate shorter shots from the no. 9 tee box.

Cherokee Ridge’s closer is 448 yards uphill, but seems to play a lot longer. The fairway runs parallel to the driving range with a killer view of Pikes Peak, and another slight dog leg left reveals an elevated, protected green. Right and left side fairway bunkers may dictate where you play from the tee — long hitters can carry the bunker on the right and should. Trees and native grass protect the inside corner of the slight dog leg and hide the flag from shooters playing too far left from the tee.

I lined a worm-burner from the tee right down the middle of the fairway and, mercifully, just left of the right side bunker. I could see the flag but figured I was still too far left for a shot at the green with a fairway wood. I did have a clear enough shot at the front right side of the green and was able to place my second shot on the fairway about 10 yards out. I didn’t see my ball land because of the gradient of the hole, not realizing there is a big bunker on the right side of the green, and even bigger hills and valleys ready to swallow it had I tried to land any closer to the pin.

Cherokee Ridge no.9 Fairway

Pikes Peak peeks down the no. 9 dog leg from behind the trees and driving range fence.

So, I’m on in three with a downhill putt for birdie to close the round. Either my putter, or, more likely, I forgot about the ridiculous green speeds and threw my birdie chances away with a rocket past the cup. Can’t be mad with a two-putt par, unless it lips out and a closing bogey is staring you in the face.

(Find me at the closest practice green, forever shamed.)

Cherokee Ridge may not impress your country club friends, but I don’t think it’s trying to. It will impress your wallet, and may very well put a dent in your handicap on the right day. Target golfer or long ball hitter, it doesn’t matter: These nine holes are easily played with any game. And for everyday golfers looking for a quick practice or twilight round, young grinders working on their game, and even hackers looking for somewhere they can’t lose a ball in Colorado Springs, you won’t find a better option than Cherokee Ridge.

The wonderful world of World Golf and Sand Creek G.C.

The entire list of World Golf’s amenities is much too long to address everything at once. In short, it’s a one-of-a-kind golf oasis on the southeast side of Colorado Springs. The World Golf complex touts a multi-level driving range, a practice green, a miniature golf course, a pro shop, a restaurant, a golf simulator, and an executive nine-hole course, which we’re highlighting in this space.

The course, the Sand Creek part of the complex, is one of two executive courses in the Springs — that we know of. It’s cheap, plays fast, and offers shooters A LOT of scoring opportunities. But it’s the nuances that allow Sand Creek to avoid being written off as a novelty.

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Chasing the sun on the no. 8 green.

This is not a serious round of golf. That ought to start setting in as you’re standing on the first tee box, making a crucial decision that’ll impact your entire round: red flags or yellow flags. Each green sports two cups; one is standard diameter, the other is big enough for a beach ball. All of this isn’t to say that you can’t take your round at S.C. seriously, it’s just not as fun. On the other hand, if you end up with an ace on your scorecard playing the oversized cups, the onus is on you and your group to decide the legitimacy — I won’t judge.

No. 1 is one of seven par-3s — two back-to-back par-4s complete the layout. These holes are stacked right on top of one another, it’s not that hard to get mixed up on the tee box so pay mind to the layout on the scorecard. Aside from the blind landing on the no. 1 green, S.C. is a target-shooter’s dream come true with few hazards and multiple approaches to most of the greens.

The greens are pretty straight-forward, no crazy undulations or awkward hole placements. And there aren’t any hard dog legs or blind approaches. Actually, you won’t find anything out of the ordinary at S.C., that is until you notice the pirate ship resting near the creek bed from the no. 3 tee box. It’s hard to say how it got there, or more importantly, why, but like I said, nuances…

No.4Tee

“I think I holed it.” Twilight dreaming on the drivable no. 4 par-4.

Long hitters get their kicks on the no. 4 and no. 5 par-4s, both offering great eagle opportunities — albatross if you bring the big stick. No. 4 starts at an elevated tee box, the fairway starting after about 50 yards of thick brush and a the namesake creek — at this point just a ditch, really. No. 5 runs the opposite direction, parallel to no. 4, with an elevated green set to the right of a water hazard, separated from the fairway by the creek.

Finishing with four consecutive par-3s, one can see how some players may find the round lacking and unsubstantial. But you’re also only paying for what you get. Non-member green fees run $11 for nine; World Golf also offers multiple memberships and “Unlimited” packages that offer additional savings around the complex (find more details via the course website).

World Golf and Sand Creek is a golf complex like no other in the Springs. A huge, stadium-lit practice range, an indoor golf simulator, a pro shop offering fittings, repairs, lessons, and new and used clubs, miniature golf, and more only add to its lure. There is truly something for everyone here. You have plenty of reasons to book a tee time.

Back at the Four Mile Ranch

There are two ways to look at Cañon City’s Four Mile Ranch. You could call the rolling greens gimmicky and say they reward bad shots — something akin to miniature golf course with ridiculous blind approaches and 30 degree dog legs — with little more to offer. Or you can enjoy this stunning southern Colorado course for what it actually is; an affordable offering of challenging yet forgiving holes tailor-made for average and intermediate golfers.

Four Mile Ranch, a short 40-miles south of Colorado Springs, boasts tremendous views of surrounding mountain ranges and wide open landscapes — and a handful of the area’s famous correctional facilities — coupled with a temperate, New Mexico-like climate that keeps the course open year round.

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Sunrise from the practice green at Four Mile Ranch.

It should be noted that this is a pretty bare bones operation right now. There’s no restaurant or bar, no pool, no patio or anything other than the course, a practice range, and putting deck. The clubhouse is currently in the form of a mobile trailer parked next to a model home — the cartbarn is easily four or five times its size. Inside you’ll find basic amenities but you’ll want to plan ahead with food and drinks depending on your liking (you’ll want to check Four Mile’s outside food and drink policy). That won’t be the case for very much longer, though.

Peak season rates run $48 and $25 w/cart for 18 and 9, respectively, during the week, $58 and $30 on weekends; winter rates are $23 and $10 walking on weekdays, $30 and $10 on weekends. Check the course rates page for season dates and more pricing details. Word to the wise: Buy a bucket of range balls. Four Mile offers one of the most random smattering of range balls I’ve ever seen — everything from what could be the very first range balls ever made to like-new Titleist, Callaway, Nike, and more. With a careful eye and quick fingers you can pick a profitable bundle to stuff in your bag before your round. You may need them.

Now, let’s talk about this, ehem, interesting course layout.

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From the left side fairway hill on no. 1.

You’ll get a good taste of what you’re in for from the first tee — a massive hill on the left side fairway looks down upon its depressed counterpart on the right, the green’s set upon another hill, its undulations visible from the tips.

And so the story is set for the remaining 17. If it’s not the steep hills or natural bunkers that tie you up — there are no sand bunkers at Four Mile — a number of tiered greens, blind approaches, and some of the sharpest dog legs around definitely will. Some may call that gimmicky, but I say these holes present unique challenges sure to keep you pleasantly surprised from start to finish. Every course is different, Four Mile just makes it a point to stand out.

FourMileTKTee

Rolling rolling rolling, keep them fairways rolling.

This is not a beginners course, definitely catering to average and intermediate players. A handful of greens do prove friendlier than the rest — stick the right landing on the no. 3 par-3 and set yourself up with a four-feet birdie putt, and I doubt you’ll find yourself outside of six-feet on the no. 6 green. In short, yes, Four Mile can and will reward bad shots, but chances are you’re not on the Tour — I for one love any extra help on the green that I can get.

The aforementioned no. 6 par-5 has to be considered one of Four Mile’s signature holes. Your distance from the tee will determine your second shot approach to the natural hazard burm that completely masks the green from view. Long hitters can make an attempt to fly the burm, shorter players can layup for a sure-to-be money third shot to the green, marked by a black and white stake planted in the top of the burm. The funneled green, as promised, will do you all the favors, drawing your approach back towards the hole from any side of the green.

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Four Mile’s par 4 TK, green to fairway.

The par-3 you find at the 14th also follows the hidden, funneled green model. A solid stroke and a good line over the black and white aiming stake will surly get your hole-in-one hopes up. Too bad you won’t see it drop, if it does.

Another stand out hole is at the turn. A tighter fairway on the no. 10 par-4 leads you through an opening in a natural rock formation followed by a daunting uphill approach. Play to the left side of the fairway before the opening in the rock for the clearest line to the green, club up for the uphill approach.

FourMileTKCart

Your lie may not be any good, but the view sure is.

The round ends on the expansive par-4 18th. The wide shot from the tee allows you to take a break from the status quo, that is until your final approach. The no. 18 cup is an elusive one, the flag protected heavily by natural hazards and another elevated, undulated green — just when you thought it was over.

On the surface, Four Mile Ranch is little more than a collection of unconventional greens set upon a layout that’s just as unconventional, with little more to offer. But play a round or two and you’ll recognize the unique, super fun challenge this course offers as an alternative to your regular weekend round.

The perils of Pine Creek Golf Club

This is why we play golf. Pine Creek Golf Club (9850 Divot Trail, pinecreekgc.com), on the north side of Colorado Springs, is a fantastic, two-for-one challenge fit for average to intermediate players. The front and back nine of this 7,241-yard (from the tips) tout two very different layouts; the front a self described “canyon” style course, the back being a more traditional links style layout.

Neither nine is easy, be prepared for a challenge on every hole. You’ll get a little taste of every kind of hazard, from ponds and bunkers to thick native grasses and meandering creek beds spread througout the course. If you end up in any of them, good luck. This is not a friendly course, you’ll want to use every trick in your bag to keep your ball playable.

Pine Creek Golf Club

Sunrise on the massive bunker welcoming players to the No. 1 green.

The trouble starts early at the 412-yard par-4 no. 1. The dog-legged fairway is protected by a narrow opening, lined on the left side by a thick natural hazard blocking your view to the green, and another hazard the right. Once you do lay eyes on the slightly elevated island green, you’ll have to decide how to deal with the mammoth bunker looming at the end of the fairway. Don’t expect a reprieve before the turn. The rest of the front plays similar to no. 1 — long, tight, and with difficult elevation changes.

The par four 419-yard no. 9, one of the hardest holes on the course, doesn’t do you any favors either. Another long, dog-legged fairway hides the green from the tee. And thoughts of an aggressive shot to the left side of the fairway — playing the inside curve of the dog leg — should be put to rest by more thick hazard, and a strategically placed tree protecting the inside line to the green.

The view from the no.16 green offers a little reprieve from the struggle on the course.

The view from the no. 7 green offers a little reprieve from the struggle on the course.

After the turn, you’ll find yourself on an entirely different course. That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier, mind, but new challenge is still refreshing… in a way.

The 412-yard par-4 no. 10 fairway is split in two by the creek bed — long hitters may consider playing less-than-driver off the tee to avoid any close calls. No. 11 and no. 12 run alongside the water hazard, playing long and fairly tight, followed by one of the easiest holes on the course, the no. 13 par-3.

The toughest stretch on the front comes via holes 14, 15, and 16, a dog leg par-4, a hazard happy par-5, and a signature par-3, respectively. No. 14 takes players back over the creek from the tee, following a constant curve to the green set near the no. 3 tee boxes, protected by several bunkers and undulations on the frontside.

No. 15 demands accuracy from tee to green, with little room for error between a natural hazard running the length of the hole on the right, and houses on the left. No. 16 is innocent looking enough, but a decorative pond, the creek, and surrounding houses are magnets for errant tee shots. Depending on the pin placement, aggressive shots will get you in trouble.

A look at the no.6 green, fairway, and pond from the green side rough on no.7.

A glimpse of the no. 15 green, and the decorative pond from the green side rough on no. 16.

Players face one final uphill challenge on no. 17 par-4 before closing the round on the beautiful 18th. An elevated tee shot does your confidence wonders on this par four. Take straight aim at the clubhouse set above the green — catch the hill at the bottom of the fairway for real ego boost. The approach to the green will play a little longer as you’re working your way back uphill. Depending on the lie you may not have a view of your landing on the green, don’t fly it and spoil this ending.

Green fees start around $29 for nine holes and as low as $30 for 18 — prices vary throughout the day (find updated pricing and tee times here) — making Pine Creek one of the more relatively expensive courses in the area. But the experience is certainly worth it.