HOLYOKE, CO. – As cool as the drive for walking-only golf courses in the U.S. is, there’s also a downside. For private courses such as Ballyneal Golf Club, opened 10 years ago in the sand hills of northeastern Colorado, the question is what happens when your membership ages?
A youthful membership with purist leanings immediately were drawn to Ballyneal when it opened in 2006. Tom Doak, of Bandon Dunes fame, designed the minimalist masterpiece, and the membership — comprised of walkers — came from all over the United States.
And they walked — 36 holes a day — and retired to the Turtle Bar and Restaurant for laid-back evening camaraderie.
For older golfers at walking-only courses such as Chambers Bay, the Straits Course at Whistling Straits, Black Course at Bethpage Black, Bandon Dunes Resort and Erin Hills, host to the 2017 U.S. Open, there’s little recourse unless they offer carts for people who have a medical exemption from a physician.
“Yep, the downside is that many 80-year-old golfers will never get to play here,” said Rich Tock, Erin Hills’ ambassador to PGA Professionals.
That’s why the leadership team at Ballyneal, the Tom Doak private gem ranked no. 4 in Golfweek’s 2016 Best 200 Modern Courses, put their heads together in October 2015 and came up with a savvy solution: build an outstanding, challenging short course.
Ballyneal’s Mulligan Course
“We had a fundraiser last October where Tom Doak and Ballyneal owner John Curlander discussed taking a look at the front-nine loop for a possible short course,” said General Manager Dave Hensley. The project got the okay from Curlander.
I toured the 12-hole Mulligan Course with Curlander, Hensley, Doak Design associate Eric Iverson, who lives in Denver, and member Luke Boland.
Boland’s reaction was “wow!” The Mulligan Course isn’t going to be a pitch-and-putt kiddies’ course, although they hope families will play the course together.
This is going to be a challenging, fun trek, with lots of scrub between you and the “Doak-a-abolical” putting surfaces.
Some landing areas will be enormous with friendly bounces built in, but this will definitely test better golfers.
“I think this is a course that will be played at the end of the day,” Hensley said. “Maybe you had a disappointing 18 on the big course and decide you want to redeem yourself by hitting some better shots to finish the day before dinner.”
That’s where the name comes from. “Actually, The Mulligan Course was named for two reasons,” Hensley added. “First, our original caddie, Charlie Mulligan, passed away this summer, and second, for the chance to hit some mulligans.”
Ballyneal already has a short adventure, which is comprised of holes 10-12 (ending on a tee shot back to no. 9’s green). It is named “the whiskey loop,” a tradition where members could take a drink and a few clubs out near the end of the day and have some fun. But today’s membership has almost reached its ceiling of 250 members, making it likely you might play into another group.
The Mulligan Course could be open sometime next summer.
Also new: Ballyneal’s The Commons
Ballyneal’s The Commons, a rolling putting course of more than an acre, was built where the bocce court and practice putting green were located. This is the centerpiece of Ballyneal Village, filling an area between the Ringneck Lodge, the Terrapin Lodge (home to the Turtle Bar and Restaurant) and the pro shop.
This outstanding 18-hole addition gives members a chance to be challenged with swales and big contours, while also relaxing with a drink to work on your stroke or have friendly competitions with other members.
Ballyneal now includes lodging that accommodates up to 56 people, with a massage or a steam session at the on-site spa. The Meadowlark Lodge and the more secluded Sagebrush Lodge are also available for overnight members.
A five-stand, 10-station sporting clay course also opened and guided, upland bird hunts preserve Ballyneal’s legacy as a gun club. Pheasant season runs from November through the end of January. Ballyneal is an ideal hunting ground because it is surrounded by thousands of acres of native grasses; as well as fields of corn, millet, and sorghum – a perfect nesting environment.
Curlander sums it up: “We will always be a haven for golf purists who love the game.” But Ballyneal has continued to upgrade the experience.
And, sure, Ballyneal is a private golf course, but even purists who are prospective members can call and arrange a one-time visit to play and walk with a caddie on one of the best golf courses in the U.S.