In time for its centennial—and the upcoming U.S. Amateur—this Denver nugget unveils an aesthetic and strategic renovation
Cherry Hills Country Club, on the outskirts of Denver, has firmly established itself over the past century as one of the true classic courses in American golf. The William Flynn design was the first course west of Minneapolis to host a U.S. Open—Ralph Guldahl defended his title there in 1938—but it was several decades later that Cherry Hills hosted what some have called the greatest championship in golf history. At the 1960 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer famously drove the green of the par-four 1st hole en route to a final-round 65, erasing a seven-stoke deficit and vaulting past a young amateur named Jack Nicklaus and living legend Ben Hogan. It was the only U.S. Open “The King” would win.
Founded in 1922 by a group of prominent members from nearby Denver Country Club who only wanted a world-class golf experience, Cherry Hills stands among a handful of courses that have hosted multiple U.S. Opens and PGA Championships, plus a slew of other USGA national championships and a PGA Tour playoff event. The club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, unveiling a $50 million clubhouse renovation and a revitalized course ahead of hosting the 2023 U.S. Amateur.
Back in 2008, architect Tom Doak was brought in to restore the original design from Flynn, who was the visionary behind such other classics as Shinnecock Hills (New York) and The Country Club (Massachusetts). Flynn, who also assisted on designs at places like Pine Valley and Merion, was paid $4,500 to design Cherry Hills, which derived its name from a cherry orchard on the club’s grounds.
Doak and Eric Iverson have spent the past decade overseeing methodical changes, including a significant tree-removal program to “remove clutter” and restore some fairways and greens to their original locations. Almost half of the course’s greens have been expanded.
But the more visually striking change was moving a creek that runs throughout the course.
It was a multiyear process that included getting permits and working with local engineers to help with the distribution and movement of water. The so-called “creek project” was about more than aesthetics, although that was a major part of it with the removal in late 2021 of thousands of large boulders that had been put in place during the mid-1980s under the pretense of erosion protection. At the time, a number of courses in the Denver metro area had been “channelized,” their streams straightened and lined with boulders.
“They were about four feet above the water level, so it almost had the appearance of a bobsled run,” explains Iverson, a lead associate at Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design. They didn’t perform as expected, slowly eroding on the backside as water levels rose and receded. The boulders have been removed from both banks of the stream, which averages about 12 feet wide, throughout the property.
“That was pretty substantial,” says Iverson. “We also tried to put in more of the meander that the creek had in Flynn’s hole drawings, just to get it a little closer to the greens and fairways on the holes it touches.”
The bends in the creeks are certainly more picturesque as they reassert their sizeable influence on strategy. They also help slow the velocity of the water, making the change a “no-brainer” from both a golf and engineering standpoint. The recently finished changes have truly modernized one of the game’s great layouts.