Evolution of golf courses and clubs in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Evolution of golf courses and clubs in Eagle County

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

if your impression of a golf club seems similar to something straight out of "Caddyshack," then replete with an overabundance of argyle and attitude, think again. Today's golf clubs are about more than golf, thanks to a clientele that wants more than 18 holes and a waterhole hole at the 19th. Today's golf clubs are trying to appeal to a more diverse population, one that wants its membership dollars to allow for a more diverse experience.

In the Vail Valley, which is home to no fewer than 10 golf courses, club memberships are evolving, offering tempting offers such as vertical memberships at the Sonnenalp Club to a "we're not really a golf club" club experience at Frost Creek. If you think a club membership is something better left to your parents — think again. It might be worthwhile to dust off your irons … and your fly-fishing rod … and your hiking boots.

What's a golf club to do?

The popularity of golf, as a sport, has been declining in recent years. According to the National Golf Foundation, participation has dropped from a high of 30.6 million golfers in 2003 to 24.7 million in 2014. Long-term trends also show a decline, with the number of golfers ages 18 to 34 showing a 30 percent decline during the past 20 years. Almost every other metric, such as rounds played and golf courses constructed, also shows a decrease.

At one time, the popularity of Tiger Woods contributed to a rise in younger golfers, but the economic downturn didn't help matters.

"Coming out of the recession, there have been years recently where more golf courses have been closing than opening," said Garrett Simon, partner at Meriwether Companies, the real estate development and investment firm that manages Frost Creek in Eagle.

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During the peak of the market, Simon said, there was a type of formula: Build a golf course, and that would be the main amenity, making your real estate more valuable. However, that formula quit adding up. After the drop in the market, when memberships in golf clubs started to drop, the clubs had to decide a course of action. Some developments decided to let their golf courses go — the cost of maintaining and running them was too high.

Other clubs have developed programs and incentives to address the declining number of golfers. Troon, the largest third-party manager of golf and club operations in the world, which also manages the Club at Cordillera, recently launched an incentive called Get Into Golf, which is designed to get newer blood into the game.

"In the golf industry today, we need to change our habits and norms to attract new participants," said Ryan Walls, senior vice president of operations for Troon, in a news release.

While growing the number of golfers is still important, many clubs are expanding their list of alternate activities, drawing members for whom golf is not the main attraction.

Golf clubs are evolving

"It's not just about golf anymore," Simon said.

A club membership is a discretionary purchase, and potential members are looking for value in a club," Simon said. The clubs that can offer activities for the entire family — outside of golf — are seeing growth because that's what the potential members are looking for.

Frost Creek, which has grown from 30 members to 170 in the past year, doesn't even call itself a golf club.

"We're not a golf club, not a country club — we're a mountain club," Simon said. "As a base camp for local or national members and owners, this (Frost Creek) gives you access to everything we love about Colorado."

This includes a wide range of activities and programming that take advantage of Frost Creek's location, such as stand-up paddleboarding, fly-fishing, hiking, mountain biking, yoga and even glamping.

All of the activities take place on the Frost Creek property — there's no need to drive to access the outdoors. For members, Frost Creek is their trailhead, which is the goal for this mountain club. But golf hasn't disappeared here.

"We're still playing," Simon said. "We're just playing differently."

Allowing music on the carts, offering alternate means of navigating the course, such as on a skateboard or scooter and a relaxed dress code are some of the ways that Simon said golf at Frost Creek is different.

"It's all about making the game approachable," Simon said.

While Frost Creek is a newer club option in the valley, it's not the only one making changes in the golf-club arena.

The Sonnenalp Club (which dropped the "golf" from its name last year) in Edwards will unveil a brand new health and fitness facility in June. A $5 million investment, this focus on fitness is a widespread trend in country clubs and golf clubs across the country, said Shaun Evans, director of health and fitness for the Sonnenalp Club.

Golf takes a large time commitment to play, can be expensive and is difficult to learn, Evans said. In order to bring in new members, many large clubs are building their own fitness centers to weave wellness into the country-club scene.

"We're incorporating fitness … to attract that new business, to attract the millennial and those people who don't have a whole lot of time for golf," Evans said.

When the new facility opens, the Sonnenalp Club will offer new ways to incorporate functional training into classic sports. Take, for example, cardio tennis, which takes players through drills set to music, or TRX tennis, which incorporates TRX straps as part of the drill session.

This focus on fitness will benefit golfers, too.

"All of our trainers will be Titliest Performance Institute certified," Evans said. "Personal trainers understand what golf is about, the mechanics of it, and can help players train to be more flexible, stronger and better at their game."

Sonnenalp Club introduced the concept of vertical membership (club membership for the whole family) last year, and it's staying true to that tenet with the new facility, as well. Children will also be able take part in the new programming, with kid-friendly yoga classes and functional training and fitness classes for the next generation.

The ability to enjoy multiple activities at a single club is a formula that the Club at Cordillera has been utilizing for years. Along with its four golf courses, the Club also offers fly-fishing on private waters, tracks for Jeep touring, use of the equestrian center and miles of hiking trails.

For Club at Cordillera member and homeowner Dan Wegmiller and his family, joining the Club and, later, buying a home, made sense. The Wegmillers, who live in Austin, Texas, joined the Club in 2014 because of the variety of activities that club membership offered for the whole family, including their teenage sons.

"It's the hours in the day that we don't waste, trying to decide what we want to do," Wegmiller said. "Whether we want to go fly-fishing or golf or Jeep — we can fit all of that into a single day. It's awesome."

More to love

Getting more bang for the buck is a goal most people strive for, regardless of their financial situation. Choosing to belong to a club is no different.

"These are discretionary purchases … they're looking for value," Simon said, referring to potential members and homebuyers. "They're rationalizing discretionary purchases by the depth of their (club's) offering."

Clubs are responding. So the next time you pass one of the pristine emerald fairways of a golf club in the valley, take a closer look. There's more going on there than simply golf.

Tee off

Here you’ll find a list of all of the Vail Valley’s courses, both public and private; all courses are open for the season. Whether you’re interested in playing 18 holes or are looking for other activities, the Vail Valley is your playground.

Vail Golf Club

Public or private: Public.

Pricing: Early-season single-round rates, through Thursday, June 30, are $64 for 18 holes or $42 for 9 holes with cart or $45 for 18 and $30 for 9 walking, or Eagle County residents can purchase a 10- or 20-round punch pass for $500 or $600, respectively, before Wednesday, June 1.

Contact: Visit http://www.vailrec.com/vail-recreation/vail-golf-club, or call 888-709-3939 or 970-479-2260.

Eagle-Vail Golf Club

Public or private: Public.

Pricing: Value season rates start at $55 per round for Eagle County residents; peak-season after 5 p.m. rates start at $30 per round for Eagle County residents. Prices are lower for Eagle-Vail residents and slightly higher for non-Eagle County residents. Rates include cart rental with GPS. In addition to the 18-hole course, the Willow Creek par 3 is also an option.

Contact: Visit http://www.eaglevailgolfclub.com, or call 970-949-5267.

Beaver Creek Golf Club

Public or private: Private.

Pricing: In low season, you can play 18 holes for $100. However, tee times are restricted; at some points, tee times are reserved for Beaver Creek Golf Club members and Park Hyatt guests. From Wednesday, June 15, to Wednesday, Sept. 14, play at the Beaver Creek Golf Club is limited to guests and homeowners of Beaver Creek, Bachelor Gulch and Arrowhead.

Contact: Visit beavercreek.com/golf.

Country Club of the Rockies

Public or private: Private.

Pricing: Tee times are reserved for members only.

Contact: Visit http://www.countrycluboftherockies.com, or call 970-926-3080.

Red Sky Ranch & Golf

Public or private: Private.

Pricing: Tee times are reserved for Vail and Beaver Creek resort guests. Rates start at $210 during the early season.

Contact: Visit http://www.redskygolfclub.com, call 970-754-8425 or inquire with your concierge.

The Club at Cordillera

Public or private: Private.

Pricing: The Club at Cordillera is a private golf club; tee times at the Short Course, Mountain Course and Summit Course are reserved for members.

Contact: Visit http://www.cordillera-vail.com/golf, or call 970-926-3500.

Sonnenalp Club

Public or private: Semi-private.

Pricing: Play is reserved for Sonnenalp Hotel guests, Sonnenalp Club members and Singletree residents. Some public tee times are available. Rates start at $100 for low season and include cart rentals.

Contact: Visit http://www.sonnenalpclub.com, or call 970-477-5372.

Frost Creek

Public or private: Private.

Pricing: Tee times are reserved for Frost Creek members.

Contact: Visit http://www.frostcreek.com/golf, or call 970-328-2326.

Eagle Ranch Golf Club

Public or private: Public.

Pricing: Rates for Eagle County residents start at $60 for 18 holes in the value season. Non-county residents are $69, and town of Eagle residents are $53; rates include optional cart fee.

Contact: Visit http://www.eagleranchgolf.com, or call 970-328-2882.

Gypsum Creek Golf Course

Public or private: Public.

Pricing: Rates start at $46 for a local resident and $51 for visitors, Mondays through Thursdays for 18 holes, including carts. Twilight rates are reduced, and weekend rates are more expensive. Nine-hole rates are also available.

Contact: Visit http://www.gypsumcreekgolf.com, or call 970-524-6200.

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