Think you know NOCO golf? 

Here are 18 holes that define it.

Last year, for the first time in recent memory, a NOCO golf course cracked Golf Digest’s “Best of Colorado” list. The honoree was TPC Colorado in Berthoud, which opened to considerable fanfare last summer. The Golf Channel, Golf Advisor, Golfweek and other national outlets joined Golf Digest in spotlighting the new course, which will host its first Web.com tour event in July. The Denver-Colorado Springs corridor continues to hog the state’s golf spotlight, but TPC’s arrival provided a timely reminder that Colorado golf doesn’t end at the Longmont exit on I-25.

Building on that theme, we decided to construct a virtual course made up of NOCO’s 18 most emblematic golf holes. We asked club pros, weekend hackers, journalists and others of the flagstick faith to submit their nominations. Our criteria were as broad and fuzzy as the fairways at St. Andrews – and so were the answers. Some respondents focused on great scenery, others on difficulty, and still others on architectural brilliance.

By whatever standard, the following constitute our virtual layout – the 18 iconic golf holes of NOCO.

TPC COLORADO – 16th Hole

Par 3 / 140 yards

Step onto the tee and Longs Peak stares you right in the eye, with half the peaks on the Front Range lined up behind it. It doesn’t get more iconic than this. Although it’s rated the easiest hole at TPC Colorado, you better not get careless. Leave it short and you’re six feet deep in a pothole bunker. Overswing and you’re in even deeper, at the bottom of Lonetree Reservoir. The tee sits in full view of the clubhouse veranda, where hundreds of fellow players can scrutinize your swing and judge your results. So try not to choke.

HIGHLAND MEADOWS – 6th Hole

Par 4 / 456 yards

No lush mountain vistas greet you on the 6th tee at Highland Meadows, just one lonely cottonwood and a couple of dry ravines that shred the hole to pieces. Fairway and green float like verdant islands in a river of buffalo grass and sand. It makes for an exquisite scene and a good technical challenge that ruthlessly punishes every imprecise shot. It’s also an early display of the imagination that brought national fame to course architect (and CU grad) Art Schaupeter, who would become the architect at TPC Colorado.

GREELEY COUNTRY CLUB – 6th Hole

Par 4 / 446 yards

At just 6,800 yards from the back tees, Greeley Country Club is among NOCO’s shorter 18-hole courses, but it may be the longest in terms of tradition. One year shy of its centennial, Greeley C.C. has hosted more state championships, sectional qualifiers, invitationals, junior tournaments and four-ball scrambles than anybody can remember. The 6th, rated the toughest hole on the course, encapsulates Greeley C.C.’s challenges: hill-n-dale terrain, acute angles and just enough water to keep you on your toes.

PTARMIGAN – 14th Hole

Par 5 / 498 yards

Opinions diverge over this sinewy par 5, which a couple of our sources named as the single most burdensome hole in NOCO. Drift a tad right and you’re out of bounds; stray left and you’re in the water. Best-case scenario is a sidehill lie on a narrow fairway, with the ball above your feet and 200+ yards into a green that’s defended by water on three sides. So where’s the difference of opinion? The 14th’s relentless difficulty inspires grudging admiration in some golfers, fear and loathing in others.

Clockwise from top left: Highland Meadows, 6th hole; Estes Park Golf Course, 17th hole; Southridge Golf Course, 14th hole; Mariana Butte Golf Course, 14th hole.Photo credits:Top left, courtesy Highland Meadows; top right, courtesy Estes Park Golf Course; bottom left, courtesy Mariana Butte Golf Course; bottom right, courtesy Southridge.

HARMONY CLUB – 7th Hole

Par 3 / 179 yards

The 7th green fills up a horseshoe-shaped hollow and spills out the open end, cascading a full 100 yards from front to back. It branches and braids like an alpine creek during snowmelt season, creating one of the more unforgettable targets in the state. Colorado Avid Golfer named this one of the top par 3s in Colorado in 2018. Bonus feature: An elevated tee yields terrific views of Longs Peak and the Mummy Range.

MARIANA BUTTE – 14th Hole

Par 3 / 126 yards

It’s hard to single out one hole on what many consider the most iconic NOCO course. We picked the 14th because it offers a 360-degree panorama that no tee box in Colorado (or anywhere else) can match. From this crow’s-nest perspective atop the ridge, the peaks of the Continental Divide seem no more than a solid 3-wood away. You’ll need considerably less club on this triflingly short hole, which features a 100-foot drop from tee to green. A mere flick of the wrist, and you’re on top of the flagstick. But don’t be in any hurry. Take your time. Line up your shot. Drink in those vistas.

PELICAN LAKES – 18th Hole

Par 4 / 490 yards

The approach here is ridiculously difficult – 200+ yards across the Cache la Poudre to an elevated green that’s surrounded by five sand traps. One of our sources calls it the most difficult closing hole in Colorado by a substantial margin. Pelican Lakes has 17 water holes and more linear feet of shoreline than any course in the country, or so it claims.

OLDE COURSE AT LOVELAND – 14th Hole

Par 4 / 423 yards

This hole features one of the few island greens in Colorado, and one of the few anywhere on a par 4. To make things more challenging, the green is more convex than concave. You’re basically trying to land your approach on a mushroom cap rather than a lily pad. The course website refers to this as “the fun hole,” so if you happen to drown a $6 Titleist (or five) in the moat, lighten up. It’s only golf.

ESTES PARK GOLF COURSE – 17th Hole

Par 5 / 541 yards

Not long ago, skinny little Fish Creek posed less of a golfing obstacle than the elk that like to graze alongside the 17th fairway. But that was before the 2013 floods fattened the channel into a chasm and shifted it closer to the green. “It completely changed the nature of the hole,” says Estes Park pro Mark Miller. “Long hitters can still reach it in two, but most players are laying up. That third shot’s a lot more hazardous than before.” At least the new creekbed is picturesque – as if the Rocky Mountain National Park backdrop weren’t scenic enough. The elk are still around, by the way, so watch your backswing.

COLLINDALE – 10th Hole

Par 4 / 409 yards

This will mark the 16th consecutive year that Collindale hosts a U.S. Open qualifying event, one of the longest runs in the country. There’s not much water or sand on the course, so trees and slick greens constitute the main lines of defense. That’s especially true on the 10th, a slight dogleg right with thickets strategically placed around the landing zone and surrounding the putting surface.

MAD RUSSIAN – 7th Hole

Par 4 / 325 yards

Ah, the spunky underdog of NOCO golf. Set amid the wheat fields and fracking pads of southern Weld County, Mad Russian measures less than 6,000 yards from the back tees. Its finances have been similarly short from time to time since the course opened in the late 1970s, but things have been running smoothly since the owners (Bob Ehrlich and family) reclaimed the operation from a leaseholder about a decade ago. The 7th hole encapsulates Mad Russian’s without-a-net vibe – two shots over the water, with no easy way out and no backing down.

HIGHLAND HILLS – 6th Hole

Par 4 / 362 yards

Now here’s a friendly, easygoing hole. Take an iron off the tee, roll your drive down to the waterfront, loft a short club to the back of the green and off you go. Long a favorite among locals, the picturesque 6th demands little exertion while delivering lots of satisfaction. “These days, with all the technology in golf, there are players who can hit a driver over the pond,” says Highland Hills golf pro Wayne Leighton. But why make the effort? On a hole as forgiving as this, kick back and enjoy yourself.

Clockwise from top left: Eaton Country Club, 16th hole; Ptarmigan Country Club, 14th hole; Golf Club at Fox Acres, 18th hole. Top left, courtesy Eaton Country Club; top right, courtesy Ptarmigan Country Club; bottom, courtesy Golf Club at Fox Acres.

BOOMERANG LINKS – 11th Hole

Par 5 / 547 yards

Every Boomerang hole gets an Australian-themed name. There’s Badgingarra (5th hole), Tasmanian Devil (13th), Uluru (17th) and Great Barrier Reef, which is what they call the 11th. We think Great White Shark would be more apt, because once this hole bites it can be hard to stop the bleeding. The fairway closes in like a pair of jaws – 71st Avenue on the left, a series of ponds on the right and water wrapped around 180 degrees of the green. Should you happen to survive those hazards, six bunkers are waiting to finish you off.

EATON COUNTRY CLUB – 16th Hole

Par 5 / 581 yards

Everything’s big on the 16th – risks, rewards, yardage, green, and possibly your score if you get too greedy. It’s a true dogleg, hard to port at 90 degrees, and you can cut the corner with a long drive. Soooo tempting … but so very unfortunate if your drive ends up in the lake. Oh well, thanks for playing. The 16th has proved decisive more than once in the annual Eaton Invitational.

SOUTHRIDGE – 15TH Hole

Par 4 / 431 yards

We heard numerous words of appreciation for Southridge’s mixed terrain, many varieties of which are present on the 15th. Fossil Creek yawns right below the tee box, mountain silhouettes loom at the horizon, and the fairway heaves and rolls and tilts. There’s almost as much terrain on the putting surface. Tip from a pro: Step up a club on your approach shot, as the elevated green makes the hole play longer than the yardage suggests.

FORT COLLINS COUNTRY CLUB – 13th  Hole

Par 4 / 440 yards

There’s more than meets the eye on this deceptively difficult hole. Trees cut off the approach angles at both the left and right margins of the fairway, which isn’t wide to begin with. Another line of trees defends the right half of the green, and there’s a bunker left and a marsh beyond. The traps look manageable until you’re caught in one. Credit the genius of Henry Hughes, the late-blooming golf architect who spent as many years clipping greens at Cherry Hills G.C. as he did building his own courses. The 13th is rated the hardest par 4 on the course.

FOX ACRES – 18th Hole

Par 3 / 214 yards

The trouble on the 18th hole begins at the 1st tee. That’s when you catch your first glimpse of the closing hole’s harrowing tee shot, a 200-yard carry over Reservoir #2 into a green defended by four bunkers. “People are intimidated by it,” says Bri Hoffman, who manages the pro shop at Fox Acres. “You’ve got that image in your mind, and you’re stewing over it all the way around the course.” So here’s a tip for when you finally do arrive at the 18th: Look up, not down. The mountain views are spectacular.

CITY PARK 9 – 8th Hole

Par 4 / 398 yards

It’s short. It’s flat. There’s no sand and hardly any water. But people really, really love to play this golf course. “There’s no pressure,” went one typical comment, from a club pro at a much fancier NOCO layout. “It’s laid back. People don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s just fun to play – like golf should be.” We picked the 8th hole because City 9 will turn 80 years old next year. That’s iconic enough for us.