LOUISVILLE, Colo. — No matter a golfer's skill, the first five holes at Coal Creek Golf Course in Louisville may be the hardest to play.
“From a mental standpoint, yes," head golf professional David Baril said. “The first time you see the devastation like this, yeah, it’s hard to accept.”
Baril stood beside the first tee just feet away from the remnants of the Coal Creek Ranch neighborhood. Dozens of homes in the neighborhood were destroyed in the Marshall Fire on Dec. 30.
“It’s hard to fathom because we’re just not used to seeing that," Baril said.
After the fire and snow, Coal Creek Golf Course temporarily closed to the public. Baril said crews removed 159 trees that were damaged by the flames.
“We’re used to playing 12 months out of the year, so having two months of actually no golf created some pent-up demand," Baril said.
The back nine reopened first, but the first five holes stayed closed until this past Saturday.
“There were a lot of excited golfers just to get 18 holes open," Baril said.
For the first time since the fire, golfers have been able to finish a full round. Most are playing the first five holes, but some are not.
“I’ve had a couple people, couple golfers, who asked if they could play the back nine because they’re just not ready to look at it," Baril said.
On Thursday morning, Zach Salinas tried to focus on his game as he walked down fairways that used to be lined with trees and homes.
“It’s easy to forget when you’re looking this way and life seems pretty normal," Salinas said, glancing back at the Coal Creek Ranch neighborhood. "Yeah, I don't like looking at it."
Salinas is a regular at the course. He was there on a windy day last December when he noticed the smell of smoke.
"By the time we were at the 10th green, it was raining ash," Salinas said. "You could barely breathe, so sort of high-tailed it out of here.”
Salinas escaped the course the day of the Marshall Fire and was one of the first to return when it reopened.
"It’s obviously different, but it’s also sort of the same," Salinas said. "Like, you’re still just out here playing golf.”
Salinas said it was jarring to see the destruction and tragic to know more than 1,000 homes were lost in the Marshall Fire. He was also grateful the golf course was spared.
“I think it’s good to have a golf course where people can keep going with normal stuff that they may enjoy," he said. "Hopefully, people can find joy in little things like that.”
The backdrop of the course is hard to look at, but the noise of debris removal in the neighborhood is a welcome sound, even to golfers trying to focus on the game.
“The distractions ought to be their own golf game," Baril said with a smile. "Nothing else.”
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