Into the great wide open in Erie: Colorado National Golf Club offers true 'prairie' golf near Denver

ERIE, Colo. -- Colorado National Golf Club, just 10 miles north of Denver, may be situated in a wide-open, front-range prairie, but the view of Long's Peak, Mount Meeker and the Flatirons of Boulder to the west is a genuine Rocky Mountain panorama.

It's a view the University of Colorado golf teams see every day when they leave their home course and make the 15-mile drive back to campus in Boulder.

Colorado National was born as Vista Ridge Golf Club in 2003, designed by Jay Morrish, a Colorado State University graduate, along with Redstone Golf's Ric Buckton. Morrish, now retired, probably never dreamed it would someday be the home of the Buffs.

When first opened, Morrish said it was a wide-open prairie with native grasses -- he was also scratching his head over the golf course boom premise that every new golf course had to be almost 8,000 yards long, so Colorado National was a mere 7,404 yards when it opened. It was later stretched out to a brutal 7,676 yards at par 72. No. 15, a par 5, is 696 yards.

Colorado National Golf Club: The layout

Spacious and designed in two loops, the layout of Colorado National is big and wide, even with houses along the way.

"No. 6, a 496-yard, uphill par 4 from the tips, is a hole that can eat you up," Colorado National General Manager Matt Schalk said. "You need to bring only good shots to make par here. A good tee shot is key as both sides of the hole are surrounded by native grass. A strategically placed bunker about 20 yards short of the green is a magnet for those long iron or fairway metal second shots."

Another favorite of Schalk is No. 17, a 364-yard par 4. "I think this is the most enjoyable hole on the course," he said. "It's not that long, and if you aim for the green, you can drive it on; that is, if you carry the lake. The tee shot requires a carry of anywhere from 230-260 yards to get on the green.

"This hole has seen a hole-in-one as well as many eagles. It also sees more tee shots than any hole on the course. ... This is a true risk-reward hole and really allows you to enjoy and appreciate the game of golf. Our scuba divers feel like the hit gold when they come to retrieve balls from its lake."

Show your Pac 12 pride at Colorado National

Today, if you are a Pac 12 fan, you can pick out a golf cart with your school's logo and colors.

"When CU switched to the Pac 12 conference in 2011, we changed out our golf cars to match the conference," Schalk said. "The carts bring great fun and camaraderie to the club as you see many former alumni vying for their university's golf car."

Colorado National has even kept its rivalry with former Big 12 foe Nebraska by adorning the range picker vehicle with a big red Nebraska "N" and a Cornhuskers helmet on top. This vehicle gets peppered daily, and if you knock off the helmet, you get a free one-year membership.

Colorado National Golf Club: The verdict

Colorado National G.C., named best daily-fee course in the state by one publication, hosted the 2009 Colorado PGA Section Championship, 2011 Men's NCAA Regional Championship, 2012 Women's NCAA Regional Championship as well as both the CU Men's and Women's home collegiate tournaments every year.

This is a championship winner with length, huge attractive bunkers and prairie grasses. Because it is 30 percent larger than typical courses, there's plenty of room to land your tee shot amongst the 232 acres that wind through this golf-course community called Vista Ridge.

The 10,600-square-foot Colorado National clubhouse is home to the Masters Restaurant, with nice views of the Rocky Mountains, a bar and lounge, and banquet facilities.

There's also a brand-new, 5,700-square-foot, indoor practice facility open to members and the CU Buffaloes. It has five hitting bays with indoor and outdoor hitting capability, a large putting green, video and a short-game practice facility surrounding the exterior. There's a separate practice area with putting green and range for all golfers.

Members at Colorado National have playing privileges at Fox Hill Country Club in Longmont, about 15 miles north.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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Into the great wide open in Erie: Colorado National Golf Club offers true 'prairie' golf near Denver