Municipal golf is at the soul of the game. Without it, there would be no game, no industry, no golf superstars on television. While country club golf represents the cream of the crop, municipal golf is where everyman gets his start.
"Thank goodness for muni golf," said Ed Mate, executive director of the Colorado Golf Association. "It keeps people in the game who would not have an opportunity."
As we set out to identify some of the best municipal golf operations in the state, we quickly realized there were two types of "munis," as they are commonly called. The first are the superstars, courses that can compete in almost every way with the best private courses, except perhaps the trimmings of the wealthy, such as fancy locker rooms with attendants, food and beverage monthly minimums and valets. These star munis have terrific course conditioning with slick greens, clean, huge clubhouses and friendly staffs at good prices.
The second type of muni is no less special. This is the old campaigner, probably one of the first courses in its community. The clubhouse has seen better days, and perhaps was never much to begin with. The bathrooms are to be avoided; sometimes there's no water on the course. But the trees are ancient, the greens mature and beautiful and the 19th hole has character to burn. Think Patty Jewett in Colorado Springs, Rifle Creek in Rifle, Elmwood in Pueblo, Hillcrest in Durango or Wellshire in Denver.
These are the places of history in the community, where golfing legends and characters have come and gone through the decades. It's blue jeans golf at its finest. And while these old munis can't be considered the best of the category, they deserve honorable mention for their places in the game.
Before describing our criteria for great munis, we apologize first for not providing a comprehensive list, as well as favoring the Denver metro area, where most of the golfers are. Here are the criteria we used, in order of importance:
* Course condition. A well-maintained course will survive just about anything. Golfers love lots of grass, smooth fairways and tee boxes and fast, consistent greens. Bunkers should have a decent amount of sand in them and not compacted with clay.
* Affordability, including regular discounts for golf, food and beverage and the pro shop. Muni players are trying to save a buck and can't play regularly if it costs too much. Discounts for kids and seniors is a must also.
* Speed of play. No one wants to play more...