Like the rest of America, Louisville’s Coal Creek Golf Course got Trumped in 2016. Not that it’s complaining.
In a competition that included golf course projects worldwide, the Colorado course finished runner-up to Trump Turnberry in Scotland as Golf Inc. magazine’s Best Redevelopment of 2016. The judging considered not just course improvements, but existing golf course developments that have been transformed by reconfiguring an existing course, rebranding or adding new elements such as housing.
Situated between Boulder and Denver, 18-hole Coal Creek is owned and operated by the City of Louisville. Its name derives from the body of water flowing through the numerous small claims coal mines prospected by area settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The golf course emerged as part of a residential housing development in 1990.
After nearly 25 years, the course had begun to show its age with drainage issues, contaminated bunkers, poor turf conditions and a failing irrigation system. In 2011, after conducting a national search, the City of Louisville selected Minnesota-based golf architect Kevin Norby to complete a long-range master plan study for the golf course.
The City reviewed nearly every aspect of the course from conditioning and infrastructure to rate structure, management, and marketing. In the end, the master plan study identified the condition of the irrigation system and the negative impact that invasive trees were having on playability and conditioning as primary issues.
However, in September 2013, Mother Nature changed the City’s plans when torrential rains flooded Boulder County and the City of Louisville. The resulting devastation left sixteen of Coal Creek’s eighteen holes submerged with damage to cart paths, bridges, greens, tee, bunkers and the irrigation system.
With the golf course unplayable, the City made the decision to rebuild and, at the same time, implement many of the long-range master plan recommendations. The City hired Norby and Nebraska-based certified golf course contractor Landscapes Unlimited to reconstruct Coal Creek from top to bottom. Improvements included rebuilding all the greens, tees and bunkers as well as re-grassing the fairways and installing a new irrigation system. The design/build team also capitalized on this opportunity to add forward tees, increase the overall course yardage and address safety issues on the driving range and hole number four.
Norby stated that his goal was to “make the course more playable and more enjoyable for the masses while providing the strategy and challenge that the more skilled golfer would appreciate.”
Those familiar with Colorado and the Denver market understand how integral biking is to the outdoor lifestyle of Colorado residents. As a result, Coal Creek introduced the pedal caddie to golfers in Louisville. The Peddle Caddie is a bicycle retrofitted to allow golfers to carry their clubs while they ride a bike. The bikes have large tires to minimize damage to the turf. The Peddle Caddies is one more way Coal Creek has differentiated itself in the local golf market.”
One of the most significant improvements to the course involved the clearing and selective removal of scrub willow and “volunteer” cottonwood trees that had taken root along the stream corridors and pond edges. This removal not only improved pace of play and the playability of the course, but it also revealed portions of the creek that had probably not been seen for decades.
The greens were rebuilt and enlarged to incorporate dramatic contours and improve playability. At the par-3 fifth green, Norby incorporated a large swale running diagonally from front left to back right—a feature Norby termed a “mini-Biarritz.” He renovated and re-positioned bunkers to better challenge the longer hitter while opening the landing areas for the average golfer. Norby preserved the original cape-and-bay style but reduced flashing and made the bunkers smaller to minimize erosion and ongoing maintenance.
The 2013 catastrophe also offered the City of Louisville an opportunity to implement many of the master plan recommendations pertaining to marketing and management.
The City hired a new superintendent, general manager and golf professional and embarked on a complete rebranding of the course to leverage their coal mining heritage. They created a new logo, scorecard layout, tee signage, tee markers and course signage.
Since reopening its doors, Coal Creek has seen remarkable success. The course previously averaged less than 100 rounds per day. However, in the first five months of post-flood operation the course has averaged over 130 rounds daily with peak use over 200 rounds per day.