Pelican Lakes Honors Flying Mascot With New Nickname for Final Three Holes

Pelican Lakes Honors Flying Mascot With New Nickname for Final Three Holes

What do you think of when you hear the word “Alcatraz?”

Do you immediately think of the prison island in San Francisco Bay? Or maybe your mind drifts to the many movies about said incarceration island like “Escape from Alcatraz,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” or the author’s personal favorite, “The Rock?”

If you didn’t daydream about any of those options and instead thought about a pelican, then you’re smarter than the author. (This same author did say he preferred the terrible acting by Nicolas Cage over the masterful Clint Eastwood, so…)

The word “Alcatraz” is Spanish for “pelican” or “strange bird.” If you live in Water Valley, or have played the Windsor, CO golf course Pelican Lakes Resort & Golf, then you know there are a lot of strange birds around here.

And pelicans.

The American White Pelican has been reported in Northern Colorado as early as the 1880s. The bird has likely been migrating through the area for centuries, but the first regional newspaper report of its residency came in the Oct. 20, 1881, edition of The Fort Collins Express and The Fort Collins Review. “A ranchman near Collins, brought in yesterday, a huge pelican, measuring eight feet from tip to tip of wings…It was shot on the wing, the ball passing through its head. Frank (Stover) will send it to Denver to be stuffed, and when completed it will be placed over the City drug store prescription desk.”

Each spring pelicans begin their migration from the Gulf Coast, Mexico, or California to Northern Colorado. A primary habitat for the local birds is on the five man-made lakes that surround Pelican Lakes inside the Water Valley master-planned community. Residents often believe that the annual arrival of pelicans signifies the beginning of summer, and the end of the season when they migrate south.

Locally, the majestic bird has been immortalized by the 27-hole Pelican Lakes. However, when Pelican Lakes owner Martin Lind was constructing the then 18-hole golf course in the late 1990s, the word “pelican” wasn’t intended to be in its title.

“We interviewed the architect of Pelican Hill Golf Course (in Newport Beach, California) and wanted to call the golf course Water Valley Dunes,” said Lind. “This guy said the word ‘pelican’ is a sexy golf word, so we thought we would call it Pelican Dunes.

“But then we found out there was already a Pelican Dunes, so we decided on Pelican Lakes.”

During the Aug. 13, 1997, groundbreaking of the Ted Robinson Sr. signature golf course, a single pelican solidified Lind’s naming selection.

The group that gathered for the groundbreaking event included Lind, former partner and Denver Broncos wide receiver Steve Watson, Windsor mayor Wayne Miller, Marc Thomas and Todd Thomas of Tarco Construction and former Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. (The gentlemen are pictured in this blog.)

Moments after everyone posed for pictures and tossed celebratory dirt in the air with their shovels, an amazing event occurred.

“The neat thing is when we were hosting our groundbreaking on the lake that would eventually be called Pelican Lake, a large pelican with a nine-foot wingspan, landed in the lake,” Lind remembers. “Mike Shanahan was a part of our groundbreaking and asked, ‘How did you get that pelican to land on cue?’”

Since the course’s opening on July 12, 1999, the club’s membership has affectionately described themselves as “Pelly People,” which is a play off the course’s mascot. Now that they realize Alcatraz means both “pelican” and “strange bird” in Spanish, maybe they’ll change their moniker to Strange Birds, which would more accurately match their personalities. (Kidding, of course.)

And for years the membership has been attempting to label the final three holes on the 18-hole course. Holes 16-18 can be round breakers, and tournament deciders.

“The final three holes on The Lakes have notoriously ruined rounds, simply because of their difficulty,” said Kurt Hinkle, The Water Valley Company Director of Golf. “We’ve attempted to come up with a descriptor of what we should name that stretch. Ideas like The Wall or The Gauntlet have been shared, but nothing really stuck.

“Once we dug down into the core of our golf course, which is the pelican, the name Alcatraz only made sense.”

The 16th hole is a reachable par 4 for long drivers, but the approach area narrows considerably forcing players to hit their tee shots to a wedge distance. The green severely undulates, meaning a par is a good score especially with a tricky pin placement.

The 17th hole is a par 3 with arguably the most difficult green on the course. From the blue tees it can measure anywhere from 185 yards, or 145 on the island tee box. A front pin location can lead to three putts.

Then you have the par 4 18th, the signature hole at Pelican Lakes. It’s the second handicap hole, but to most players it’s by far the hardest. It plays 409 yards but is split in the middle by the Cache la Poudre River, forcing players to leave their driver in the bag. The second shot is typically just as long as the tee shot, and the two-tiered green is surrounded by five bunkers. It’s likely no one’s favorite hole.

Using Augusta National’s Amen Corner (holes 11-13), PGA National Resort’s The Bear Trap (holes 15-17) and Quail Hollow’s The Green Mile (holes 16-18) as an influence, Pelican Lakes’ final three holes will forever be referred to as “Alcatraz.”

Longtime member and Water Valley resident Guy Gordon said, “that would be epic” when posed with the idea. “There’s so much jail on those holes. Get it? Jail? Since Alcatraz was a jail…”

Yes, Guy, we get it.

To memorialize the final stretch of holes, the maintenance crew at Pelican Lakes is working on “Alcatraz” monument signage.

So next time you play Pelican Lakes, feel free to take a selfie next to the sign before you attempt to escape from Alcatraz. (Get it?)