Antler Creek a (Big) Hit with Golfers

Phelps Golf Design’s Antler Creek Golf Club, the longest course in Colorado and among the longest in the country, is off to its first full season of operation. The 8,165-yard layout, located 12 miles northeast of downtown Colorado Springs, held a soft opening in September and has been a major hit with golfers, who have been particularly impressed with the excellent conditioning for such a new course, according to General Manager/Director of Golf Joe Linnemeyer. Mild January temperatures and the ever-present winds that have blown any snow off the course allowed the daily-fee facility to host more than 400 rounds during the first month of 2005.

“I’m excited the response has been so positive,” says lead architect Rick Phelps. “With six sets of tees ranging from 5,200 to more than 8,100 yards, it provides options for all golfers. That’s the No. 1 priority. Now it is just a matter of getting it through the winter and early spring, filling in the rough spots around the edges and allowing the seed and sod to blend in together so it starts to look like the course has been there for awhile. Things should be looking really good by late May or early June.”

Despite Antler Creek’s length, Linnemeyer says: “It is actually a very friendly course from the forward tees, but still challenging because the heather-type native grasses along the edges and the sandy-bottomed ravines will grab errant shots. We had some concerns that women golfers would not like it because of the length. But it has been just the opposite. Women think it is very fair.”

The third holes on both the Elk and White Tail nines have been among the most popular with golfers, according to Linnemeyer and head superintendent Gregg Gomes. No. 3 on the Elk is a 437-yard, par-4 from the tips that doglegs left around a waste bunker that eventually transitions into a water hazard. It features an L-shaped, 9,500-square-foot green with a big shelf in back where the putting surface drops as much as 6 feet. “You are shooting right at the mountains with a view of Pike’s Peak off the tee,” Linnemeyer says. “The ideal landing spot is at the dogleg 150 yards out from the green. From there, with the pin in that rear-left shelf, it almost appears the flag is in the rough.”

The 3rd hole on White Tail will likely end up being the No. 1-handicap hole, Gomes believes. “It is a great golf hole. It is a long [510 yards from the back tee], dogleg-left par-4 with a forced carry off the tee. An arroyo [native wash] runs along the entire left side. It takes two very good shots to reach the green in regulation. A bail-out area right of the green slopes toward the putting surface. The wash is only 10 feet from the left side of the green, so it is a pretty tight approach.”

One of the most-talked-about holes, Gomes and Linnemeyer agree, will likely be the 700-yard (from the tips) White Tail 6th. The longest hole on the course, it plays slightly downhill, with winds that can blow from any direction. The aggressive play on both the drive and second shot require blind shots over ridges with bunkers indicating the appropriate line. As is typical on this golf course, there are options for safer play. However, the conservative player will undoubtedly feel the full length of this challenging hole. The approach shot, over the creek, is usually a mid-iron to a small green that falls off in three directions. “It is very challenging the first time, but a lot of fun if you have played here before,” Gomes says.

The major challenge for Gomes, from a maintenance standpoint, has been dealing with irrigation water drawn from wells rendered high in sodium (salt) because of recent droughts that plagued Colorado. Using a regimen of calcium throughout the course and gypsum on the greens, he has been able to neutralize the sodium’s effects and grow green grass. He has also installed an acid-injection system on the water pump to deal with high bicarbonate levels. The course will soon switch its water supply from wells that tap into the Arapahoe and Laramie-Fox aquifers to a water-treatment plant at the Meridian Ranch residential development that borders the course.

For Phelps, the major design and construction challenge was coordinating the construction efforts between course builder Niebur Golf and two neighboring residential subdivisions. Antler Creek is located within two residential projects under construction along the south side of the Palmer Divide, a coarse-sand ridge that runs east-west away from the north- to south-oriented Rocky Mountains. Local developer Rusty Green is building Woodmen Hills No. 11, which will add an additional 873 homes to the existing Woodmen Hills residential area. The Meridian Ranch project will create 3,266 new homes, according to San Diego-based GTL Development Inc.

“During design and early construction, the biggest challenge was just keeping all the parties communicating with one another on a regular basis,” Phelps remembers. “You had two different owners, two earthwork contractors, two survey companies. It was almost like coordinating two different projects at once. But we managed to get through without too many bumps and bruises. Overall, I am extremely pleased with the whole project and proud have been a part of the entire development.”

Adds GTL Project Manager Doug Woods: “Working with Phelps Golf Design has been a good experience. They were sensitive to our needs and concerns as residential subdivision developers and were able to incorporate their desires as golf course designers. We meshed well together. They were very cooperative and understanding. The course blends well with the existing land formations and the surrounding homes. We couldn’t be happier with it.

“We have a proposed third nine. We are looking at developing that as we begin developing our next phase of lots. Rick will be getting a call soon to dust off those plans. If all goes as planned, we could start construction of the third nine in 12 to 18 months.”

In the meantime, Phelps plans on dropping by Antler Creek from time to time to help keep the natural look he sought to maintain on the property. “We will always be fine-tuning, mainly the delineation between the higher- and lower-maintained turf areas,” the Evergreen, Colo.-based course designer says. “A few bunker edges may need some fine tuning, but nothing dramatic. We will experiment where the deeper grasses can be without affecting the speed of play. Part of the look we are after is driven by the wispy, native grasses in the peripheral areas. It is a balancing act figuring out where we can bring in the native grasses and maintain the visual interest without affecting speed of play.”

Phelps Golf Design is one of the leading course architecture firms in the country. The company’s designs have received numerous honors, including multiple Golf Digest “Best New” award winners, many courses that appear on “places to play” lists and at least one “top ten” course in each of the following states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska and Texas. For more information, contact Phelps Golf Design, P.O. Box 3295, Evergreen, CO 80437-3295; telephone 303-670-0478; facsimile 303-670-3518; Email