This is the 3rd and final in a set of reviews I’m doing on Jim Engh courses I experienced during my recent trip to Colorado with fellow golf blogger Jay Flemma and others.
What is Pradera?
The Club At Pradera is a private golf club located in Parker, Colorado. Parker is about 45 minutes south of Denver. The terrain is similar to the area I described near Castle Rock with small mountains and hills, but a little more extreme.
This 18 hole track is what many have called Jim Engh’s “masterpiece” design. The course travels up and down the hills and through the canyons of this area. There are several extreme elevation changes in this par 72, 7183 yard layout. The most extreme is the drop off the black tees on #16 (pic below). 16 is a 632 yard par 5 with a 275 foot drop from the back tee to the fairway. How do I know it’s exactly 275 feet? Because I asked Engh himself during our round there!
Engh employs his signature “muscle bunkers” in a big way on this course. As I’ve described in previous articles, muscle bunkers are different type of bunker than your typical round, bean or clover shape. The edges of the bunkers are like saw teeth with very steep slopes. They must be difficult to maintenance and I asked Jim about that. He said they do usually put “growth inhibitors” on the slopes so the grounds crew doesn’t have to mow them as often as the rest of the course.
If you find yourself in a muscle bunker as I did several times, sometimes you have no choice but picking a direction other than the one you want to go in order to get out. If you are in a green side muscle bunker, you may have to try to get your ball on the green anywhere you can and forget getting it close to the pin.
Muscle bunkers aren’t the only kind you find at Pradera. There are some very cool pot bunkers which can be found on a few holes, namely the landing area on the afore mentioned 16. In the landing area on 16 you’ll see some very cool bunkers which are round, very deep and inside of little hills.
The greens at Pradera are extremely fast and smooth. There are many humps, bumps, slants, bowls, slopes and tiers on these greens. Combined with the immaculate conditioning and very fast speed, the Pradera greens require every last bit of your putting and short game skills to navigate them. There are many putts that are almost impossible to hole without perfect line and speed if your ball is in the wrong place.
Pradera is a fairly tough course, but not because of the fairways. The fairways are fairly wide and not extremely difficult to hit. I was able to confidently smack my driver without much worry, except for the occasional muscle or pot bunker in the landing area.
On many fairways, Engh gives you two choices. One is the easy landing area, but a longer and/or tougher approach. The other choice is a tougher landing area, but if you hit it you may be able reach a par 5 in two or have a much shorter or easier approach on a par 4. Engh’s risk reward holes are just that. I ate a bit of risk for lunch on one par 5 where I carded a 7 after landing in one of the round pot bunkers. I was 3 feet from being able to go for it in two, yet it took 5 shots to get on the green after hitting the deep pot bunker. If you are going to take the risks at Pradera, be prepared for the resulting penalty if you do not succeed.
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One interesting thing about the course at Pradera are the hole pars. Engh didn’t set the course up with the standard four par 5’s, four par 3’s and ten par 4’s. Pradera has five par 5’s, five par 3’s and eight 8 par 4’s.
Along with the neat par setup above, Pradera has what are called “flex” tees. The score card shows 4 sets of tee boxes but there are 7 possible tee box possibilities. On the card there is an up or down arrow telling you which tee to play if you are playing the flex. For instance if you play the back flex, you switch around between the back and A tees. One hole you may be on the back, the next on the A. There are little rock markers with logos on them showing which tee the flex tee players are to use. It’s an interesting way to milk 7 tee locations out of 4 tee boxes and I can see many courses, even existing ones being able to adopt this concept.
The clubhouse at Pradera is huge. There are multiple dining areas. There’s a great bar with indoor and balcony seating where you can watch players finish on the 18th. The pro shop is very spacious with tons of great equipment and apparel. I bought two awesome Oakley/Pradera golf shirts there and got a great deal on them.
The men’s locker room is well appointed and spacious. I didn’t see the women’s locker room :-). One cool thing is the men’s locker room is attached to a private men’s bar (I assume the women have their own as well).
The practice facilities at Pradera are as good as any I’ve seen at any private club. The putting and chipping greens are immaculate. The driving range is excellent and the quality of the range balls (a big plus for me) is great. No rocks or limited flight balls. There’s even a practice muscle bunker.
The coolest part of the practice facilities and hanging out outside is the tunes. There are those little speakers everywhere that look like rocks. They’re by the putting green, the range, the snack bar etc. I listened to Jimmy Hendrix while practicing my putting. I listened to some Led Zeppelin while practice chipping. Very cool.
As great as the course and facilities are I have my critiques. My critiques are all on the playability side. Jim Engh is very vocal about making courses that are playable by amateurs and not necessarily what PGA Tour pros would play. In building such a course, Engh builds in some slopes which I wouldn’t necessarily agree with.
Several major punch bowl greens at Pradera seem to reward errant shots. If you miss one of these punch bowl greens by 10 yards in any direction (even long in some cases), the ball kicks down onto the green. Though I do believe luck is a factor in golf, I’m not big on rewarding errant shots.
Penalizing good shots
I’m not only big on not rewarding errant shots, I’m big on not penalizing good shots. The opposite of the punch bowls are greens or approaches that have slopes or slants in landing areas on or near the green. I hit several shots dead at the pins on these greens, only to see my ball hit one of these slopes and kick hard away from the hole. Many of these shots hit the green or just in front, yet ended up far off line and even off the green. I really don’t like hitting a shot dead at the pin, hitting the green, and having to chip for my next shot!
High ball hitters please
My last critique about Pradera is more related to my game, the low ball. I hit a very low trajectory shot, even with my wedges. I should play more links golf I suppose. Pradera seems to favor high ball hitters. Many of the approach shots require a high ball to carry over bunkers, slopes and slants short of the green. With the severe slopes and tiers in the greens, a high ball hitter can carry the problem spots and get a ball to stop in the right place on the green much easier than a low ball hitter.
Pradera is a spectacular golf course. The golf is extremely fun, picturesque and challenging. The course puts many cutting edge concepts into play from flex tees to muscle bunkers to an unorthodox hole par configuration.
When your play on the course is done, the 19th hole and amenities at Pradera maintain the quality level and enjoyment of your experience.
Pradera photo gallery
There are over 70 pictures in the Pradera photo gallery for you to enjoy.