“I'll check my seat first before I sit down. I don't want any more surprises. ”
A casual flyover of Colorado's northeast corner would suggest dead flat land. But two brothers who grew up here, Jim and Rupert O'Neal, knew of some anomalous terrain just south of the small farming town of Holyoke. Called the Chop Hills, this three-square-mile bubbling up of the land features dunes evocative of coastal Ireland.
The terrain is arid, treeless and windswept. And now, thanks to the design genius of Tom Doak and his associates, it's also ideal for a unique version of golf-links style on the high Western plains. Ballyneal is stunning for its barrenness, the wide sweep of its fairways and the unrelenting contours of the playing surfaces, especially the greens. None of the course is more engaging-or maddening-than the 352-yard, par-four seventh hole, where Doak has clearly been inspired by Alister MacKenzie's template "boomerang green," the paradigm of which is the seventh at Crystal Downs in Frankfort, Mich.
At 3,700 feet above sea level, Ballyneal plays shorter than its scorecard numbers. The par-71 stretches to 7,131 yards, but the design here is really intended for the thoughtful player who can tolerate wild bounces and is able to control the ground game. When the wind howls at 20 miles per hour, as it often does, the game reverts to a struggle with the elements.
In other words, this is golf in its classic form. Listen to your caddie. And be prepared to walk the course twice a day, because there's not much else to do here, anyway.
Everything about the place suggests native, rough-hewn golf. The turf cover is perfectly adequate, but the bunkers have a native, scratchy look and the roughs will leave you with unpredictable lies.
The clubhouse and lodge-style accommodations are simple but very comfortable. Their design-in a frontier arts-and-crafts tradition-and their proximity to one another convey a small, intimate village. The on-site lodge offers what might best be called cuisine comfort food, the favorite being lobster macaroni and cheese.
The course sits 175 miles northeast of Denver International Airport and 60 miles southwest of Ogallala, Neb. Opened in 2006, it's already ranked No. 13 on Golfweek's list of the best modern courses and it has become part of a dream-like golf sojourn that includes stops at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., and Sand Hills in Mullen, Neb.
For more information on Ballyneal, call the course at (970) 854-5900 or visit www.ballyneal.com.
Longest runway: 5,000 ft
Elevation: 3,729 ft
10 mi drive (club provides shuttle)
FBO: Steggs Aerial Spraying (970-854-2728)