(By Marc Whitney)

At the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA), members played a round at Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden, Colo.

When a Triceratops dinosaur roamed the earth some 64 million years ago, he (or she) probably did not envision a 585-yard par 5 golf hole with natural sandstone formations surrounding a green fronted by a lengthy bunker; unless perhaps that dinosaur was pacing the land now occupied by the 12th at Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden, Colo.

In the 1800s, when the land was used for mining, traces of dinosaur fossils were found on the property owned by the Parfet family. Years later, the family donated 52 acres to the City of Golden for what was to become holes 11-15 at Fossil Trace. And the challenges began for architect Jim Engh, ASGCA.

“When land is privately owned, the owner can pretty much do as he wishes,” said Head Golf Professional Jim Hajek. “Once that parcel of land was given to the city, environmentalists and conservationists stepped forward. Jim Engh and his team did great work to meet the best interests of property, the city, the fossils, the course and the golfers to make everyone happy.”

All of this was addressed following an initial environmental clean-up of fly ash – essentially, burnt coal – at a cost of one million dollars.

And if any golfer lands a shot atop the 20-foot-tall piece of sandstone in the middle of the 12th fairway, Hajek says it can be played, though he does not recommend it.

Fossil Trace opened July 31, 2003, though the drainage system was tested two days earlier when, as Hajek said, “We had the first of two ’50-year storms’ we have seen in eight years. Water runoff from 9 came across and filled three bunkers on 8. We worked around the clock and opened on time with near perfect conditions.”

Since opening, Fossil Trace has hosted golfers from all 50 states and 38 countries. The word Hajek hears most often from visitors is “fun,” a nod to the social Value of the Golf Course benefits afforded by the course.

“Making courses longer and more difficult takes away from the roller coaster ride of emotions and fun that comes from playing a good, competitive course,” he said. “Green speeds where players naturally struggle instead of being challenged takes away from the fun. We want people to have fun.”

Fossil Trace faces economic challenges like every other course, but Superintendent Noy Sparks says a strong partnership between the course and the city has made fiscal sense.

“We have been blessed with a great product that has the city’s backing,” he said. “They give us the tools we need and we can staff accordingly. They have not cut our budget and in some cases even exceeded our budget expectations. We look for ways to save money each year, but we are not losing 10-20% of golfers and we always work together with the city of Golden.”

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