The CoBank Colorado Open Championship has long been recognized as one of the best (if not THE best) state opens in the country. There are many ingredients that contribute to an events' success. But three of the most important are great players, a great purse and great venues. Over its 50-year history the Colorado Open has enjoyed an abundance of all three.
For its first 27 years the Colorado Open was held at Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen. Hiwan's undulating terrain, lightning quick greens and majestic pine trees gave the event a very strong resemblance to Augusta National. It's no wonder the tournament developed a reputation as "The Masters" of state opens. Add to that mix a great field of professionals and some of the country's finest amateurs and you have all the ingredients for some magical golf.
During the Hiwan years the list of champions included the likes of Dave Hill, Al Geiberger, Willie Wood, Mark Weibe and Steve Jones. At that time the Colorado Open took full advantage of a scheduling coup which placed the tournament the week prior to the Broadmoor Invitational. This allowed some of the country's best amateurs to come to Colorado for two consecutive weeks to play the Colorado Open at Hiwan and follow that with the Broadmoor Invitational a week later. Peter Jacobsen, Bob Tway, Steve Jones, Corey Pavin, Steve Elkington, Phil Mickelson—all of these players won the low amateur crown at the Colorado Open during the Hiwan years.
In 1992, after a wonderful 27-year affiliation with Craig Hospital, the University of Colorado Foundation took over operations of the tournament and brought the event to Inverness Hotel and Golf Club in Englewood. In 1992, with the addition of First Data Corporation as title sponsor, the purse was increased by $25,000 to $125,000, making it the largest purse of any state open in the country. Colorado's own Brandt Jobe won the event that first year at Inverness—his first win as a professional and a win which catapulted his career as a touring pro in Asia, Japan and later on the PGA tour. Another Colorado player—Jonathan Kaye, put the finishing touches on his first professional win at the Colorado Open in 1996 with a chip-in birdie on the 18th hole.
In 1998 the Colorado Open moved to Saddlerock Golf Course in Aurora where it enjoyed three very successful championships. All three winners at Saddlerock were products of Colorado junior golf: Shane Bertsch (who now plays on the PGA Tour), Bill Riddle and Scott Petersen (who also plays on the Nationwide Tour).
In 2001 the Colorado Open traveled to Sonnenalp Golf Club in Edwards—a venue which brought back a Hiwan-esque feel. A mountain setting, lightning-quick greens and a golf course that put a premium on accuracy over length once again brought some of the short-game wizards to the top of the leaderboard. Players like James Blair of Utah, the second all-time leading money winner in the Colorado Open, once again found himself in contention. Blair hung around the lead in that first event at Sonnenalp but in the end it was an up-and-coming player--also from Utah--Brett Wayment, who finished on top. In 2002 Kevin Stadler, son of PGA Tour veteran Craig Stadler, joined the long list of players to make the Colorado Open his first professional win. Stadler's victory came on the first hole of sudden death over PGA Tour veteran Gary Hallberg and Nationwide player Brian Kortan. Stadler set up his win with a towering 250-yard 4-metal approach to the par-five 18th on the first hole of sudden death to set up an easy two-putt birdie.
In addition to the Men's Open, Colorado has also produced two other marquee state golf championships. In 1995, the Colorado Women's Open was started and in 1999 the Colorado Seniors' Open was added to the Colorado Open Championship docket. The Colorado Women's Open was first held at Fox Hollow Golf Course in Lakewood and then at Meridian Golf Club in Englewood. From 1997 through 2003 the tournament enjoyed a seven-year run at Valley Country Club. For the past 20 years the Colorado Women's Open has played an important role in developing future stars in women's golf. Many past Colorado Women's Open participants have gone on to careers on the Future's Tour, Symetra Tour and LPGA Tour, and, like the Men's Open, the tournament has showcased outstanding play from the region's best women amateur players as well.
The Colorado Seniors' Open was first held in 1999 at Plum Creek Golf & Country Club in Castle Rock. Colorado Golf Hall of Famer John Olive out-dueled a field of 120 senior professional and amateurs to become the event's first champion. The event was held at Plum Creek again in 2000 before moving to Westminster's Heritage at Westmoor in 2001 and 2003. Greg Harmon of Mesa, Arizona won the event in 2001 and nearly repeated in 2003 but was edged out in a playoff by Roy Christiansen of Utah. Harmon's win was certainly fitting—31 years earlier he was the low amateur in the Colorado Open at Hiwan.
Since 2004, all three championships have been home at the award winning Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Denver. This exceptional public golf course provides a wonderful challenge for all of the current championship participants. While each of these championships have served different segments of the competitive golf spectrum they share many common denominators. All have been run at the highest level of professionalism and quality. All have provided an opportunity for the state's best golfers (amateurs and professionals alike) to compete for the top prize in Colorado golf. All have reached out to the region's best players and encouraged participation from players in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states. All have showcased some of the best venues in our state and the unique charm of high altitude golf. And all have played an important role in the community by raising dollars and awareness for worthwhile charitable organizations.
But most importantly, the Colorado Open, the Colorado Women's Open and the Colorado Senior Open all represent the wonderful history of competitive golf in the state of Colorado. It's a history we're all proud of. But more importantly it's a history that lays a great foundation to build on as we begin this new and exciting chapter for the Colorado Open Championships.
- Ed Mate