Louisville Golf Course and local community on the road to recovery from the Marshall Fire

As summer approaches and golf season is in full swing, it’s business as usual at Coal Creek Golf Course in Louisville.

Looking at the course itself, one would hardly suspect that less than six months ago parts of the course were damaged by the devastating Marshall Fire which claimed the lives of over 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County. The December 30 fire came less than a decade after the course was completely destroyed and rebuilt after the 2013 flood.

But the city-owned golf course made a quick recovery from the fire, according to David Baril, chief golf professional at Coal Creek.

Baril said the course suffered burns from the Marshall Fire, particularly the first five holes, which are located closer to the main burn area. These holes remained closed until the end of March.

“We have five holes on the south side of Dillon Road…those holes are crossed by Coal Creek, and the fire followed that creek line,” Baril said. “We also have native grasses between the third and second holes that also caught fire.”

According to Baril, most of the repair work consisted of removing burned trees from the course – said 131 trees were deemed damaged enough to cause flooding problems – but for the most part the damage to the course was not serious, and most of the repairs are completed in time for what is shaping up to be a busy summer season.

The fire caused far greater devastation in the neighborhood bordering the route, where 133 homes were lost, according to Baril. The golf course and nearby homes are on a strip of land just north of US 36 where the fire crossed the freeway.

“A lot of our season ticket holders lived in [that area]”, Baril said. “Some of them play here every day and have been lucky enough to find temporary accommodation nearby, but there are others we haven’t seen. It’s kind of something that golf teaches you – in golf there are things that happen beyond your control.

Baril was out of town the day the Marshall fire started, but he heard about it from employees and read reports online. He said the fire happened within 100 yards of his home.

Now, in the wake of the fire, Baril said one of the biggest challenges he faced was figuring out how best to help those most affected.

“We all empathize with their situation,” Baril said. “We cannot do much as a municipal entity or employees of a municipal entity. But we keep reaching out, asking, you know, just trying to let [people] know that we are here if we can help you.

According to Coal Creek golf instructor Brandon Shupick, playing the course has become a more emotionally sobering experience in the aftermath of the fire.

“When you start [on the first hole], it’s a bit strange – you should see the whole devastated neighborhood just to your left. It feels a bit apocalyptic in a way,” Shupick said. “The course itself is always magnificent. It’s already green now. All rear nine is fine. But the first five holes are really what got hurt, and that kind of puts things into perspective.

Baril said cleanup crews from the devastated area, which months ago looked like “a war zone”, have been working to remove the debris. He said he thought cleaning up the destruction would be a major step in helping the community heal and move forward.

“Just this destruction going away – just this visual reminder going away – and something being built, I think, will be a big psychological hurdle to get over and be better for everyone.”

According to the USDA Forest Service, it can take a long time for areas to recover from fires of this magnitude — and Louisville’s recovery process is far from over. Even so, Shupick said, the golf course had provided a much-needed source of comfort and reassurance for the locals.

“The community … is very strong, so it’s a pretty big support system for people to be able to talk and be outside safely,” Shupick said. “Golf can do more than just be a game – it can actually be a kind of healing for communities. It’s an outlet for a lot of people and it brings communities together. That’s part of the reason why I love it and why I teach it.