From Pasture to Par

The Podtburg family operated a dairy farm in Johnstown for 45 years, though they always talked about turning the property into a public golf course.

That’s not something you’d expect from dairy farmers, but golf is a family sport for the Podtburgs. The four brothers would hit golf balls from the backyard into the pasture, says Stephanie Podtburg, wife of the second oldest, Greg, and the whole family plays recreationally. The topography of the land—with its rolling hills, ponds and spectacular views—and its convenient location a mile east of I-25 (off County Road 44 and County Road 13) had their wheels turning.

In 2017, the Podtburgs brought the idea to Art Schaupeter, the golf course architect who designed TPC Colorado in Berthoud and Highland Meadows Golf Course in Windsor. They showed him the property, cows and all, and he knew their instincts were right.

“There are so many neat holes that are tied to the piece of ground,” he says. “I could leave the ground pretty much how it was and just shape in greens, tees and bunkers and let it be.”

Schaupeter drafted up the design, and the Podtburgs spent the next few years building a new dairy facility, relocating their cows and getting permits approved for the golf course. They began construction last May and will plant grass and install irrigation this summer. The golf course, Bella Ridge, is on track to open in late summer 2025.

Uninterrupted play

Unlike the many golf courses that weave through neighborhoods, Bella Ridge is going in before any homes are built. That means golfers can play the entire course without crossing roads or going in between houses to get to the next hole.

“The Podtburgs’ priority has always been to create a high-quality golf course for the community,” Schaupeter says. “From a design standpoint, that gives me more latitude to do more with the golf layout.”

The first nine holes are a great example, located at the low end of the property. Schaupeter designed holes one through six in a loop to the west of where the clubhouse will sit and placed holes seven, eight and nine in a smaller loop to the east of it. That allows players of all skill levels to fit a little golf into their schedule without having to do an 18-hole round.

“I hardly play golf because I never have time to play 18 holes,” Schaupeter says. “I’ve found that when I focus on playing nine holes, I actually play more golf, and I’ve heard quite a few people say the same thing. The Podtburgs are going to have a whole range of products they can sell to the public as far as how much golf they want to play.”

The next six holes will work their way up the valley. Hole 12 is going to be incredible, Schaupeter says, as the green will sit on an elevated peninsula with 50-mile views. Holes 13 and 14 will follow the water in the ravine to where the Podtburgs’ cows once grazed.

Leaving the golf to the golfer

By that point, golfers are warmed up, Schaupeter says, so he gives them some freedom. Hole 17 will offer multiple options off the tee: You can play across the pond initially or aim short of it and then make the long, difficult shot onto the green.

“That’s kind of a hallmark of my design; I want to put the golf in the golfer’s hands,” Schaupeter says. “The golf experience stays interesting and fresh because there’s always something new for them to discover on the course if you provide enough options for them.”

Schaupeter designed Bella Ridge with a handful of short holes relative to par so that everyone—high handicappers included—can have fun on the course. The layout will allow them to play more aggressively if they want to, he says, but overall, he tries to keep the pressure low.

“I want golfers to be in a positive mindset so they aren’t too defensive,” he says. “I don’t want them thinking, ‘don’t hit it here, don’t hit it there,’ because when they get in trouble, it beats them up. If you play 18 holes of that, you get off the course and you’re worn out.”

The Podtburg family on the dairy farm. Photo by Kathlene Woltemath Photography.

A family legacy

Once it’s up and running, Bella Ridge and all its amenities will be managed by Troon Golf, including the driving range and the future clubhouse, restaurant and golf shop. The Podtburgs will still own the property (along with their relocated dairy farm), keeping the community focus as it grows.

“In my mind, this is their family’s legacy,” says Bill Colgan, regional director of operations at Troon. “They want it to be a place where everyone is welcome and treated like a member for a day.”

Those guests will include the Podtburgs. Everyone is excited about the golf course—even the grandkids, some of whom work at the dairy—and they are all involved in the planning to some degree. As the grandkids and great-grandkids get older, Stephanie is sure some of them will work at Bella Ridge or at least grow a passion for the sport.

“We’re very much an avid golf family,” she says. “There’s excitement through all the generations.”

Bella Ridge Golf Course Final Routing Plan. Courtesy of Arthur Schaupeter Golf Course Architects.


A Standalone Driving Range

In addition to the 18 holes, Bella Ridge will feature a 400-yard-long standalone driving range with a 15,000-square-foot putting green, three chipping greens, an expansive short-game practice area and two sets of tees. The driving range will have its own parking lot and a separate building to pay the daily entrance fee.

“People can come up and just use the range; they don’t even have to play golf,” Schaupeter says. “This will be the most comprehensive practice facility for the public to utilize in Northern Colorado.”

The golf course will operate out of the driving range until the clubhouse is built, which could take several more years. A residential development will eventually take shape on the outskirts of the course, with homes situated above the holes and looking down into the valley. The Podtburgs will retain ownership of the land, though they plan on selling bits of it as developers come onboard.