Just north of Denver, Thorncreek Golf Club keeps getting better and better

THORNTON, Colo. -- If you have ever played a Finger Dye Spann golf course like Thorncreek Golf Club, you know the challenge is in the multi-tiered greens, treacherous perched approaches, and cavernous bunkers greenside and in the fairways.

You also know that on some holes going over the green is a one-stroke penalty, because the recovery is from a steep bank and all downhill to the pin.

Management of the Thorncreek Golf Club layout was taken over by the city of Thornton in spring 2012.

"We have done a lot of improvements in front of the clubhouse, inside the clubhouse and out on the course," said Chris Steinke, program and facility supervisor for the city. "One of our biggest challenges is working with an outdated irrigation system, but we have been receiving good feedback regarding course conditions, especially with the heat we've been having."

Some of the many improvements include an enhanced fertilization program, aeration wall to wall, nine fairways over-seeded, 40,000 square feet of new sod in worn areas, 48 irrigation heads replaced, more than 50 dead trees removed, restoration of lightning shelters and restroom enclosures, and a new fleet of Club Car golf carts were purchased.

Thorncreek Golf Club: The routing

Water comes into play on three of the first four holes at Thorncreek Golf Club, a par-72 design that measures 7,268 yards.

The fourth hole, a 228-yard par 3, will challenge anyone. Water and two bunkers define the left side with two more traps behind the green. A large grass bunker catches bail-out shots to the right. The ninth hole is a brut at 468 yards with a lake on the right.

Accuracy off the tee is key as you begin the back nine. The 10th features a creek left and behind the green, and the 11th requires a lay-up shot for many as the creek crosses the fairway 150 yards from the green.

The par-4 finishing hole plays 474 yards from the tips. It requires a lengthy tee shot followed by a tricky approach to an elevated green with a lake running down the left side. Any wayward second shot that drifts left could kick on a leaning slope toward the water or a deep greenside bunker.

"I really like the layout and the scenery with the Rocky Mountains to the west and lots of water, wetlands, deep bunkers and tricky greens," said Don Farnsworth, who has worked for the club since it opened in 1992. "We have lots of regulars who are good people and the course will challenge any level of player."

Thorncreek Golf Club: The verdict

Thorncreek, rated four stars by Golf Digest, has hosted Nike Tour and U.S. Open qualifying events.

The conditioning is excellent and the design team of Joe Finger, Baxter Spann and Ken Dye is one of my favorites. Dye's Paa-Ko Ridge in Sandia Park above Albuquerque is ranked higher in the U.S. than any Colorado daily-fee course, and Spann's Black Mesa Golf Club near Santa Fe is one of the best layouts in the nation.

Thorncreek Golf Club doesn't make that list, but it has all the characteristics of those courses. You will know the first time you find yourself in one of the gigantic bunkers or down in a low area with your ball nestled in thick grass looking upward at a green with a tiny target to hit. Then once you are on the green you might be faced with a putt that trundles through a low spot or even two to get a lag close to the hole.

The price is certainly right. There's expert instruction available and an excellent practice area.

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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Just north of Denver, Thorncreek Golf Club keeps getting better and better