A normal day at CommonGround Golf Course can resemble a three-ring circus. Located in a densely populated urban area, the Colorado public course that straddles Denver and Aurora regularly hosts many diverse participants engaging in myriad activities, often at the same time.
At the practice area, there are numerous programs for adults and juniors, from summer camps to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf to advanced programs for better players. CommonGround, the stroke-play co-host for the upcoming 39th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, also hosts golf programs for dozens of organizations such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, Special Olympics and many local schools.
The thousands of youngsters introduced to golf each year through these activities continue to hone their skills on the par-3 Kid’s Course, which is free for those under 18.
The main course, which can stretch to more than 7,400 yards, is home to leagues and is enjoyed by local golfers looking for affordable, fun, challenging golf in a convenient setting.
The course also attracts visiting golfers, pilgrims drawn by the allure of playing a course designed by Tom Doak, whose portfolio includes renowned layouts such as New Zealand’s Cape Kidnappers, Oregon’s Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald (venues for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship), and New York’s Sebonack Golf Club, host of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open, won by Inbee Park.
Some of these golfers can employ the service provided by CommonGround’s Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, which gives financially disadvantaged teenagers an opportunity to learn about golf and sets them on a path to potentially earn a Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship. The program is unique not only in providing caddies at a public course, but also in its cost to golfers. Thanks in part to a grant from the USGA, the Academy pays for the caddie’s base fee; all the golfer needs to provide is the tip.
Finally, CommonGround is also a proven tournament site, having hosted many local and state championships. This year will be the second time CommonGround has served as a stroke-play co-host, having served in the same capacity for the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship. Cherry Hills Country Club was the match-play site for the U.S. Amateur, and Colorado Golf Club, in Parker, is the host site for this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, where the champion receives an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club and a likely invitation to next year’s Masters.
The ringmaster for all these acts is the Colorado Golf Association (CGA), which owns and operates CommonGround, one of just a handful of courses owned by Allied Golf Associations (AGA). Other venues who serve in similar roles are Poppy Hills and Poppy Ridge (Northern California Golf Association) the OGA Golf Course (Oregon Golf Association) and The Home Course (Washington State Golf Association and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association), the host site for the final U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2014 and the stroke-play co-host for the 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
“A typical day at CommonGround is unlike a typical day anywhere else,” said Ed Mate, the executive director of the CGA. “The mission was to bring people into the game. It’s been a tremendous success. If you build something that is fun and accessible in the right location, people will play there.”
Opened in 2009, CommonGround sits on the site formerly occupied by Mira Vista Golf Course, part of Lowry Air Force Base, which closed in 1994. The CGA obtained the course after the base closure and began transforming the site in 2005.
“I thought it was the best idea possible,” said Dave Troyer, CommonGround’s director of golf. “If anybody should operate a golf course, it should be a state golf association. And it should be located in the heart of the metropolis.”
Chosen from 10 candidates, Doak and his firm, Renaissance Golf, reconfigured the course to such an extent that Mate barely remembers the holes from Mira Vista. On a site that had been wooded, Doak and his team opened up corridors, established playing angles and provided wide views that prominently feature the downtown Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains.
“It was the kind of project we were looking to do after completing a bunch of high-end private clubs,” said Doak, who has also performed restoration work at Cherry Hills. “We were on the same wavelength [as the CGA]. We’d love to do more projects like this.”
The use of materials from the old course – the construction team recycled asphalt for cart paths and converted trees into mulch and wood chips – lowered construction costs for CommonGround, which continues to be a model of sustainability, thanks in part to its use of recycled water for irrigation.
And Doak’s engaging design, which constantly changes direction and offers varying playing environments, shatters the notion that urban golf can’t be urbane.
“It’s incredible for a public golf course just minutes from downtown,” said Matt Schovee, of Cherry Hills Village, Colo., a Cherry Hills member who tied for 13th at the 2011 CGA Stroke Play Championship at CommonGround and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Amateur on his home course.
When Schovee played a round at CommonGround with John Ogden, the head professional at Cherry Hills, the pro suggested using the public course as the stroke-play co-host for the U.S. Amateur.
“I thought CommonGround was everything that was right about golf: good location, good message,” said Ogden.
Featuring wide fairways and generous greens, CommonGround was designed primarily for the enjoyment of mid- and high-handicap golfers. Although it has few obvious challenges, the layout also can test the best amateurs in the world, who will have to employ smart strategy and well-considered course management to post a good score and qualify for match play.
“You just have to be willing to give people a place to miss, knowing that you’re giving the really good player a chance to bail out and make a lot of pars,” said Doak, whose two courses at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa., were used for the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur. “You’re trying to give them a chance to make a mistake by being too aggressive.”
Achieving both goals was important for Doak, who is known for natural designs that enhance the strategic principles of great courses built during the game’s early years.
CommonGround also evokes golf’s past in another way. Fulfilling the promise indicated by its name, CommonGround is a community center where golfers of all ages and abilities can enjoy the game in a friendly, encouraging environment. In this regard, the course reflects the game’s roots, where courses are located in the town – the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland is a prime example – and are meant to be gathering places, accessible to all.
“CommonGround makes us relevant to the local community,” said Mate. “It’s expanded the mission of the Colorado Golf Association. Not only are we moving the needle when it comes to introducing kids to the game, we are using golf as a vehicle to build a connection to organizations outside of golf.
“The alignment of the planets we had here was unique. I don’t think this works if this is a suburban location. We don’t have to bus kids in to make this work.”
While Doak’s name may have little recognition for the youngsters being introduced to golf at CommonGround, he may be a good barometer for gauging the success of this unique endeavor. As the kids participating in these programs develop, they may become core golfers who aspire to play some of Doak’s other courses that are among the top golf destinations in the world.
“It’s the bridge to bringing people into the game,” said Mate. “We’re just figuring out how that can be used to grow the game of golf. We have so much potential here.”
Hunki Yun is the USGA's director, partnerships, education and outreach -- research, science and Innovation. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.