Denver tees off planning process for Kennedy Golf Course overhaul

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Two of Kennedy Golf Course’s three nine-hole courses in southeast Denver were constructed in 1963 and the other in 1994. (Photos courtesy of the city of Denver)

Denver is asking not what Kennedy Golf Course can do for the city, but what the city can do for the golf course.

A master plan is being developed to redesign the golf course so that all of its segments would be comparable to one another, and to consider a new clubhouse and other features.

Kennedy is the largest of Denver’s seven golf courses. It has 27 holes of regulation golf between three nine-hole sections. The first two nines, named Babe Lind and West, were constructed in 1963, and the Creek nine was completed in 1994.

There is also a par-three course on the golf campus that doubles with foot golf, and two putt-putt courses are adjacent to the clubhouse. The campus features a large driving range with a practice putting green, but the short-game practice area has been decommissioned for now.

Richard Mandell, a golf architect tapped to lead the city’s overhaul of the course, is looking to reshape it for the foreseeable future. Kennedy was constructed when drivers were still made of wood and technology didn’t help players hit 350-yard drives.

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Richard Mandell is the golf architect leading the city’s overhaul of the Kennedy Golf Course.

Despite having some of the most challenging holes of Denver courses, Kennedy is showing its age. For example, tee boxes are typically designed to vary in length depending on a golfer’s skill. But Kennedy’s are close to one another.

“We plan on renovating all three nines of the golf course, and one of the goals that we discussed was (to make) all equal nines, so that it’s not always going to be the Creek and Babe nine and the West is for overflow,” Mandell said.

Scott Rethlake, the city’s director of golf, said creating continuity throughout the three courses is a big focus.

“You can tell that things were developed and constructed at different times. This is an effort to make it more consistent,” Rethlake said, adding the course will be redesigned “so that anyone would want to play those three nines.”

The projects would be phased over five to 10 years. Denver is still taking input from people to determine what will go into the master plan before it is sent to the City Council for consideration. The cost of the renovations has not been determined.

The West nine is considered the easiest of the three (depending on who you ask), and the Babe Lind nine is its more difficult sibling. Creek is a bit shorter than the three, but it is narrow and demands accurate shots.

“Because of budget constraints, we can’t build everything at the same time. But we can design everything at the same time,” Mandell said.

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The clubhouse at Kennedy Golf Course could be renovated or replaced as part of an upcoming master plan.

Some of the other changes Mandell mentioned would be putting bunkers in the middle of the fairways instead of off to the sides, making players strategize more than “grip it and rip it.”

Some of the master plan’s goals include updating the course’s infrastructure, making the course more environmentally efficient and improving safety by separating holes farther apart.

Mandell said the renovations are necessary because golf courses have a lifespan of about 30 years before they need at least soil replacement and other upgrades because of drainage issues.

“We’re not completely, in any case, ripping the whole place up. That’s not part of our plan,” Mandell said. “But what we are thinking is how to best utilize the features. On the Creek nine, I’m thinking how we could best use Cherry Creek. We’re not disturbing Cherry Creek, but maybe shifting things for Cherry Creek.”

The course would never be completely shut down, Mandell said, adding at least 18 holes will be playable while one of the nines is reconfigured.

Councilwoman Kendra Black, who represents the southeast corner of Denver, said she may not be a golfer, but she is eager to see certain features of Kennedy overhauled.

“I really want a new club house, more like the one at City Park, and a refreshing of the putt-putt,” Black told BusinessDen. “For years, community members have been advocating for these improvements. The course itself has a lot of great features but is very old. Many features are from 1963.”

The next meeting for the golf course master plan will take place 5-7 p.m. Oct. 27 at Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 S. Ivanhoe St.

One of the largest renovations of Denver golf courses was completed in 2019 at City Park near the Denver Zoo. That $45 million project completely redesigned the golf course and constructed a new 11,000-square-foot clubhouse, about 15 years after the city had constructed a clubhouse at the corner of 26th Avenue and York Street.

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