Fitzsimons GC, which will close for good in mid-December, will always hold special meaning for writer
by Gary Baines
As of the end of this year, close to 10 golf courses will have closed for good in Colorado since the dominos began to tumble almost a decade ago, leading to the financial crisis. The most high-profile of those shuttered was Green Gables Country Club (2011), which hosted LPGA Tour events six times and a PGA Tour Champions tournament once.
Different course closings hit close to home for different people. For me, the one that’s particularly meaningful personally is the impending closure of Fitzsimons Golf Course in Aurora.
After years of talk that the course would soon close, the confirmation came the middle of last month when the landowner, Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority, gave the City of Aurora Golf Division formal notice of its intent to terminate the existing Fitzsimons Golf Course management agreement, effective Dec. 31. Both parties agreed that the final day of play on the course with the often-misspelled name will be Dec. 15. That will end a run of more than 75 years as an 18-hole course and nearly 100 years as a facility that started with three holes featuring sand greens.
The 184-acre parcel that includes the course, which is adjacent to the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, will be developed, with bioscience facilities and residential units among the plans.
“The city of Aurora has always had an understanding that the course would close for development one day,” said Tom Barrett, Aurora’s director of Parks, Recreation & Open Space. “It has been a pleasure to operate this golf course and offer so many golfers memories at this special place.”
That comment about memories certainly is true for me. I’ve probably only played Fitzsimons once since it became public in 1998, when the City of Aurora started managing the course. But in the previous 15-plus years, I played many a round of golf there when it was restricted to military-related personnel and guests. I fell into that guest category as my dad, Clyde, retired from the Air Force in 1967 after an on-and-off 22-year military career.
Certainly from my recollection from all those rounds in the 1980s and ’90s, Fitzsimons wasn’t anything particularly impressive as golf courses go. It was flat, the conditions were iffy, and there were a lot of hardpan lies when a player went a bit astray, as I am wont to do.
But from my perspective, that was totally beside the point. You see, I played all those many rounds with my dad, which gave me countless hours of pleasure during the last 25 years of his life. (We’re pictured above together at Fitzsimons. Please excuse the shorts. What can I say? It was the ’80s.)
I also have some fond memories of the times my dad and I played at the Blue and Silver courses at Eisenhower Golf Club at the Air Force Academy, but that was just a round or two per year. At “Fitz”, as everyone at the course called it, my dad and I would probably play an average of twice a month from spring to fall, often with my dad’s regular partners, Joe and Tony. As a sports writer back then at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, I normally worked shifts that started in the mid-afternoon and ran past midnight, with Fridays and Saturdays being the busiest days, so my dad’s preferred 9 a.m.-ish weekday tee times worked out well.
Besides the pleasure of spending all that time with my dad and a lot of interesting characters at Fitz, that period was special because of what my dad had been through.
He was a huge golf aficionado in general, and weekend visitors coming to my parents’ house in Littleton would almost always find the TV tuned to Tour events. He was a big-time fan of Colorado favorite Hale Irwin, but ironically never favored Jack Nicklaus, a personal favorite of mine who I would have the good fortune of caddying for at a Pinehurst Country Club exhibition in 1981.
My dad loved to play the game too, but I only knew that from existence of the clubs gathering dust in the garage when I was a young kid. He grew up caddying at Omaha Field Club and played a fair amount during his first decades of adulthood. But years spent in the military, in World War II and later as a bombardier/navigator in a B-52, along with being a competitive trap shooter for a long time, apparently took their toll. Two or three major back surgeries, plus a multiple-bypass on his heart, kept him from playing for many years. In fact, I don’t remember him taking a full swing with a club until I was in my college years. Even when I played a round or two during a trip to Hawaii during my high school years, all he did was ride along as a spectator.
It was a father-son tournament when I was an Evans Scholar at the University of Colorado that got my dad back on the golf course for real. In his early 60s at that point, he eased into it at first, but when he knew he could tolerate the pain from his many physical ailments, the golf bug bit him big-time.
During his 60s and 70s, my dad played so much golf that it would make my siblings and me chuckle when he would report with a certain pride of exceeding 100 rounds for the year at Fitz. And yes, he did keep track diligently. I don’t know how many consecutive years he hit the 100-rounds-plus mark at Fitzsimons, but it was no small number.
He did his best to make up for lost time, and he savored every minute. It was fun to watch. He enjoyed the ability to get out, the challenge of the game, kibitzing with his pals — the whole thing. And almost all the time, despite his age, he’d walk rather than taking a cart.
Besides me getting a kick out of opportunity to observe all this first-hand, I received some useful fathering even though I was in my 20s and early 30s during the time. If I’d ever use colorful language as my ball went awry — particularly if others were in our group — he wouldn’t hesitate in rightfully admonishing me. (I knew he was serious when he called me Gary instead of his nickname for me, “Sport” — and this was one of those occasions.)
By the time Fitz closed as a military course in the late ’90s, age was taking a toll and my dad was playing less. He and I would get out for occasional rounds at Littleton Golf Club around the turn of the century, but it wasn’t quite the same as the days at Fitz.
I miss those times — hearing about when 1969 U.S. Open champion and Army vet Orville “Sarge” Moody played at the course way back when (he shot a 63 there in 1958 during the All-Army golf tournament), or when President Dwight Eisenhower made the rounds during his six-week recuperation at Fitzsimons Hospital following a 1955 heart attack, or listening as old military vets chatted about their active-service days.
So in my case, it’s not so much Fitzsimons Golf Course per se on which I’ll look back fondly. It’s those indelible memories that were created there.