I was in Denver in 2009 and then again in 2012. Both times Fossil Trace was high on my list of courses to play, but I never could get in a round there. I have always been intrigued by the pictures on the website and the comments that I read about the type of courses that Jim Engh, the designer, likes to create. The course looked like it had some great scenery, some uniqueness, and it looked playable for the average golfer. All of these things are high on my personal list of requests for the perfect course.
Year after year Fossil Trace seems to get ranked as one of the top courses in Colorado and it has received some other awards by the major golf magazines. Jim Engh is a seemingly well loved designer so my hopes about the course were high. We had an early morning tee time (6:50am) so we one of the first foursomes out on the course. We were greeted right away on the first hole with an elevated tee box, a fairway that sat down in a valley, and part of an old building in the middle of the fairway. In fact, many of the fairways and greens sit down in the bottom a “bowl” with the sides of the bowl being the mounding and rough. This way many average shots get, or at least have a chance to get, a kick towards the intended spot. Greens of all shapes and sizes add to the fun. There are some large and small greens, some narrow ones, and plenty have separate sections that might only be the size of the average living room. Some steep ridges are thrown in which allow for plenty of pin placements. There are plenty of bunkers and few looked tricky to play from as they zigzagged along the fairways or up near the greens. I was fortunate enough not to have to play from any, but they seemed to frame the rest of the course pretty well.
Just in case everything else wasn’t enough, the course’s claim to fame is that it is built in an old mining site. During the mining apparently old fossils were discovered so the course goes with the prehistoric theme. The clubhouse has fossil displays throughout and there is some old mining equipment which adds to the theme. The signature hole is the 12th and it has some rock pillars and a steep rock wall that come into play. What’s incredible to me is that while one side of the course actually runs through the old mine, other parts are smack dab in the middle of town. I wasn’t expecting that the course would be so close to major roads, a sports complex, and what looked like an industrial area. From the website I would have guessed that the course was up in a more remote area, but I don’t think that should keep anyone away. In some ways the course reminds me of Oak Quarry in Riverside, CA as that type of layout isn’t seen on a regular basis.
I played the Black tees which play 6831/72.3/138 and the back nine is the more memorable nine. Also, I’d say that the latter half of the front nine is pretty vanilla when it comes to scenery. I was expecting a pretty easy course, but that isn’t the case at all even with many birdie chances. The slopes around the greens made it extremely tough to get a chip to stop near the flag. It might be best to try to use a slope behind the hole rather than risk trying to land a chip on a downslope just on, or short of, the green. Because of the slopes in the greens I had some putts moving sideways at the hole. There are multiple ways of trying to get a shot close which requires a correct decision followed by proper execution. The fairways were narrower than I thought they would be and the mounding and elevation change created quite a few blind shots. Even on an average day though someone should be able a few birdies or pars which makes the game fun.
The course was in very nice shape. Some small sections of the greens were patched from the winter, but it looked only cosmetic. The greens rolled well but weren’t overly fast. They weren’t slow, but I wouldn’t want fast greens here because of all the slopes. The tees are large so that allows the maintenance crew to move the markers around which helps spread around the divots. I didn’t notice many where the markers were at when we played.
It is rare that a course lives up to the hype, but I think that Fossil Trace did just that. I found the course memorable and it was a good value for the $55 early bird rate that we got. My only gripe is that I wish one of the five par 5’s was reachable. The course seems to have the bulk of the yardage on the par 5’s and I wouldn’t have minded a few more longer par 4’s. I’d suggest that someone be prepared for a longer round as the course design doesn’t seem conducive to fast play. Even with that, the course goes as my favorite Denver area course out of the seven that I have played so far.
#1 (575 yard par 5):
This is a downhill, dogleg left par 5. The fairway might run out for the bigger hitters, but I wasn’t paying too much attention since I hit a 3 wood in the right rough. If someone is out of position off the tee, like I was, then it is going to be tough to get it to the second part of the fairway from the deep rough and an uneven lie. If the hole is played traditionally then it should be a short iron into the green and a good birdie chance.
#2 (320 yard par 4):
This is a short par 4 that offers a couple options. Someone can hit a driver up near the green and it might even run down onto the green which sits in a valley. The other option is an iron off the tee and a semi-blind approach.
#3 (151 yard par 3):
I enjoyed playing this par 3. Most of the green cannot be seen from the tee, but if the ball hits anywhere around the flag it could end up close. There is plenty of mounding on the right to kick it left and a shot in the bunker on the left isn’t bad because the mounding is going to help stop anything long. The key is going to be getting the ball on the front or back section of the green.
#4 (480 yard par 4):
This is a long par 4 that had me nervous. I couldn’t quite tell the distance where the fairway would run out down the left side so I tried to favor the right and ended up in some trees. It was a pitch out and I would have had a chance to save par with a good short iron, but it gets really narrow at the green. I’d be fine with a bogey here every round and try to get that shot back later on.
#5 (96 yard par 3):
I saw a par 3 under 100 yards on the scorecard and thought that there would be plenty of tricks. However, it is an easy wedge shot to a large and generally flat green. I like a short par 3 to really put an emphasis on precision with a short club and this one doesn’t really do that. You will notice too that the terrain and surroundings on this part of the course aren’t very interesting.
#6 (409 yard par 4):
There is a lone fairway bunker that divides the fairway. I missed it right of the fairway and there was plenty of room to find it. The green has some humps and bumps to it so an approach could get a funny bounce.
#7 (377 yard par 4):
I liked playing this hole. The tee shot probably should be something less than driver to play to the fat of the fairway. From there it will be a short iron to an almost blind green. I normally don’t like blind shots but there isn’t hidden trouble and it is just a short iron so I can better control my distance. The green slopes from back to front so make sure not to miss long and a high spin player is going to have to control the spin.
#8 (412 yard par 4):
This hole was into the sun when we played so I had trouble picking a line. The important thing is to avoid the fairway bunkers. From there it is a mid iron into a green that has the same type slopes as the 6th. The green doesn’t have any bunkers around it which isn’t seen too often in the game.
#9 (659 yard par 5):
The main challenge here is the length of the hole and a layup which is played to a semi-blind landing area. There isn’t much trouble up near the long and narrow green and there aren’t any greenside bunkers here either.
#10 (333 yard par 4):
This is where I think the course really starts to get fun! This is a potentially drivable par 4 but it was too much to take on for me so I laid it up down the left. There is some pressure even when laying it up to hit the fairway as it plays to a pretty narrow section of fairway from an elevated tee (with the club that I hit). To do over, I’d still lay it up but I’d hit more club to play to the wider part of the fairway. The green has a bowl on the front left which could leave some roller coaster putts.
#11 (186 yard par 3):
This is my favorite of the five par 3’s. It plays a little downhill to a crazy green. The green has to be 50 yards long and snakes its way around the knob of the hill on the right. It would seem that the flag in the back would be impossible to get to, but there is enough slope left of the green to allow for a big kick to the right. What’s fun about the course is that an impossible looking pin location really isn’t.
#12 (585 yard par 5):
This is the signature hole and probably one of the most memorable that I will play all year. It is a long par 5, but I don’t see too many people going for it in two as the opening to the green is pretty narrow. The rock wall plays all down the left side of the hole and there are some rock pillars which can affect layup. A ball could bounce off them or someone could have to modify their swing if next to one. I could see it being a controversial hole, but I loved it.
#13 (394 yard par 4):
This is a more “normal” hole. It is a downhill par 4 and the fairway narrows right where I could hit my driver. So I laid it up and still just had a short iron into the green. I had a downhill lie in the fairway so that was an added challenge to a green some different sections. Not being on the correct section here could be an easy three putt.
#14 (231 yard par 3):
I like a long par 3 and thought that this was pretty fair, at least with the flag located on the lower level. This is another long green but what could make it tough is a flag on the back tier. It would probably play 250 yards to a section of green that is four or five feet above the front section. Like many of the others holes here there is some slope that could be used to get a putt or chip close to certain flags.
#15 (565 yard par 5):
This is another long par 5. I couldn’t carry that fairway bunker which would have doubled the width of the fairway so I had to play to the narrow part of it. That was the toughest part of the hole as it is then an easy layup. Looking back at it, even a tee shot in the fairway bunker wouldn’t have been horrible since it would just leave a longer third. The green is down in a bowl so even a long iron for the third could get close. If someone is trying to get there in two there is a rock outcropping short and right of the green to contend with.
#16 (160 yard par 3):
This could be a tricky par 3. The green tries to do a half horseshoe around the bunker. There is some slope on the left side of the green to try to feed it right so someone doesn’t have to get too aggressive. However, if missing left there is a chipping area which sits below green level and that could leave a very tough short game shot.
#17 (356 yard par 4):
I’d say this is a birdie hole based on the yardage, but I played 15 feet left of the back right pin with a wedge so it is sneaky difficult. The hole moves right around the water so hitting something in play is important. The green is in an upside down “L” shape and I only had a few yards in each direction to miss my approach and still end up on the green.
#18 (542 yard par 5):
This could be reachable if someone wants to challenge the water on the right off the tee shot. That would leave the shortest distance into the green. The layup should favor the left side of the fairway as it should kick towards the center. All kinds of shots are possible around another odd shaped green. I hit a poor shot onto the front left section when the flag was in the back left and actually chipped it over the fringe.