I don’t know when the last time was that I fell for a golf course the way I have for Haymaker Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
The setting is hard to beat, of course – Keith Foster’s layout sits on surprisingly level ground in what’s appropriately called The Emerald Valley surrounded by the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. In the springtime, the peaks are still snow-capped (actually, from the 4th tee, one can still see a bit of snow on the Flat Tops, a range of mountains about 40 miles or so to the south) and the views are spectacular.
Moreover, Haymaker Golf Course best epitomizes the characteristics inherent in a municipal course – deceptively wide fairways that promote strategic play, a few risk/reward holes, and green complexes that will confuse even the best players. And for town residents, there ways to reduce one’s cost per 18 to around $30 a pop – or less if one purchases a season’s pass.
Haymaker has a reasonably benign start – the first seven holes have a linksy quality to them; there’s even a Redan-styled par-3 thrown in for good measure. The par-4 dogleg-right 3rd hole is representative of these starting holes; there’s plenty of room to the left, but if one is willing to try to carry the right side fairway bunker (and risk out-of-bounds on the right), he will find himself with an easy wedge to the green as opposed to a 150-plus yard approach.
The 8th is where the real fun begins. It’s a short par 4 that again dares the golfer to bite off as much as he wants to digest, although this time, there is a carry required over a marsh. Aiming posts provide several lines of play, ranging from the safe to the ridiculous. Once the fairway is safely negotiated, we’re left with an approach to a smallish green featuring a nasty swale that will run one’s ball clear off the green.
But it’s the back 9 that is truly inspiring, starting with the Cape-styled 10th. Again, the architect challenges the golfer with a heroic tee shot over water (while offering a safe, but longer route), but the second requires a nervy shot, as water juts in on the right side of the green and a bunker protects the left front.
Each hole that follows steps up the challenge, highlighted by the par-4 15th, aptly named “Mackenzie” after the famous course architect; its well-protected 3-tiered green being a trademark of the good doctor.
The 16th, called “Emerald Valley,” may be an even better test, as one is better served to hug the right side of its wide, doglegged fairway (and face its inherent dangers on that side) to have a shorter approach to the shallow, creek-fronted green.
If there is a criticism to be made about the course, it would be the condition of the bunkers, an issue that has been acknowledged by the course management team and the town fathers. The bunkers are certainly playable but can definitely benefit from a maintenance effort to improve drainage. These improvements will likely be considered during 2020 budget discussions.
It’s a minor quibble, especially when one considers the club’s excellent practice facility and comfortable restaurant operation, which remains open throughout the year (the course serves as a cross-county skiing venue during the winter) and features an expansive patio that offers fabulous view of the course and the surrounding mountains. Best of all, Haymaker has made substantial investment in both women’s and youth golf, providing free clinics and leagues for both groups.
But for now, you’ll have to excuse me, as I’m hearing Haymaker’s siren call one more time.