Colorado Golf News
100 Years of Golf in Estes Park
By Dawn Y. Wilson
DIVOT Contributing Writer
Most historians point to Scotland as the likely birthplace of the modern game of golf, and since its inception in the Middle Ages, the game has been played in a variety of forms.
The game started gaining international popularity in the late 19th century, and it was around this same time that Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, the Fourth Earl of Dunraven, visited Estes Park for the first time. He arrived in Estes Valley in late 1872 on a hunting expedition after hearing of the sportsman's paradise in this mountain valley. Falling in love with the area, he returned in 1873 and 1874, and started purchasing—and some reports say swindling—his way into the ownership of Estes Park.
The next year, in 1875, Lord Dunraven built a rudimentary golf course of some sort, but little is known of its style or size.
Lord Dunraven eventually started to lose interest in Estes Park, possibly because of the increasing number of tourists—sometimes as many as 200 in one summer. (A vast difference to the more than 4.5 million people that traveled into Rocky Mountain National Park in 2016.) His last visit to the area was in the mid-1880s, and in 1906 he sold his 6,000 acres of Estes Park property to The Estes Park Investment Company.
That group of investors is responsible for opening what is today the Estes Park 18-Hole Golf Course. They started by building a clubhouse, which was completed in 1909 and is today where Smokin' Dave's BBQ at the Hangar Restaurant is located. The building was modeled after Lord Dunraven's Estes Park cottage.
In 1917, Howard James, Homer James and Ed Andrews started construction of the golf course for the Estes Park Golf and Country Club. The course was completed later that year and the first game was played in 1918.
Due to the U.S. economic crisis in the 1930s, the 18-hole course was converted to a 9-hole course and an airstrip was built on the western edge of the course with hopes to improve sagging tourism in the area. The airport did very little to promote travel to Estes Park and was a dangerous location that resulted in several bad crashes. It closed in the late 1940s.
As finances at the golf course continued to stumble along, the decision was made to sell the leasing rights of the Estes Park Country Club to the Town of Estes Park. Since the value of this stock was so low, the country club stockholders turned over their stock to the Town of Estes Park. By the mid-1950s, the Town of Estes Park was in full ownership of Lord Dunraven's golf legacy. The management of the course is now overseen by Estes Valley Recreation and Park District, but the property continues to be owned by the Town of Estes Park.
In 2018, the Estes Park 18-Hole Golf Course will celebrate 100 years of operation in Estes Valley. Several upgrades have been made over the years, including the addition of an irrigation system in the 1970s, a remodel of the clubhouse deck, and a new fleet of gas-powered golf carts for the 2017 golf season.
But the beautiful mountain views and the abundance of wildlife in Estes Valley that attracted Lord Dunraven more than 100 years ago remain the same. These features are still some of the best available to golfers wanting to play on one of Colorado’s oldest and most accessible mountain courses.
To learn more about the Estes Park 18-Hole Golf Course, including events and specials for the 100-year anniversary celebration, visit www.golfestes.com.