A nod to the builders at Red Sky | VailDaily.com

A nod to the builders at Red Sky

Don Rogers

There was Gerald Ford himself, apologizing almost for sitting in a chair while the speakers spoke: Jim Thompson, the fellow responsible for building the resort community; Adam Aron, CEO of Vail Resorts, which carried the bulk of the investment; Tom Fazio, the pro who designed the golf course officially opening that day, though it has been tried out for the past two weeks.

You can bet the bulk of the crowd, with not a whole lot of pepper on those heads left to their natural hair coloring, those who had hair, looked on with envy at the former U.S. president wisely taking a seat. For the record, he mentioned his knees aren’t quite what they once were, and he is after all approaching his 89th birthday.

There was applause for a couple of lineups of introductions – for the visionaries, for the clubhouse staff.

There was George Jouflas, the fellow who sold the land that had been purchased for $10 an acre in 1926 and Saturday was made a member of Red Sky, free to play on one of the finer courses in America, where his family once ran sheep. I doubt any crystal ball he gazed into back when ever foretold this.

The course beyond the guest clubhouse – the member’s clubhouse over the next ridge is still under construction – was a vision even in the smokey pall of the wildfires in Colorado and beyond.

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The coolest guy there, though, was the one who presided over the blowing up of the rock outcropping where the clubhouse was built, and supervised the construction. He’s built Beano’s and Allie’s Cabin over at Beaver Creek, and he’s building the member’s clubhouse, too, the one that will be at least double the size of this grand log structure. And when I say build, I don’t mean having visions or making deals. I mean honest to god building, with hands and plenty of sweat.

This is John Fitzgerald, supervisor of construction. He works for Evans Chaffee Construction Group in Avon.

He mentioned that his crew used more explosives to level that outcropping than Timothy McVeigh used on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and it was the same basic stuff. The result this time was a near work of art, in a solid Colorado rock and log-hewn sense.

Of course, anecdotes about blowing things up will endear you to any journalist right away. So never mind the bigwigs like PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, who was so taken by Red Sky Ranch he bought a membership in, as he put it, “18 minutes.” Certain vagrant editors want to talk with the guys who blew up the rocks and dragged in the logs. Enough already with the speeches. …

I also know Fitzgerald as the fellow who keeps his horses on the pastures next to our home up the Brush Creek Valley, and has served on the Eagle County Fair Board.

With faded Levi-blue eyes that look you in the eye and a face Western worn to fit his boots in a life spent mostly outside, he’s my vision of oldtime Colorado. His hands are always busy, and he always has a kind word for my kids. Even the dogs have pretty much stopped barking at him and Pam during their almost daily visits. And believe me, that’s saying something.

Fitzgerald and I joked on our way into the clubhouse and a fabulous spread of food and drink that the fruits of my labor are tossed aside daily, or tucked under a puppy, after a quick read, while his work yields grand structures to be used and enjoyed for generations.

So yeah, the important people who took their turn at the microphone or queued up when their names were called have earned all the praise that can be heaped upon them. I hate golf and I still was awed with the place and them. And the crowd of Red Sky members attending the festivities was made up of people who view CEO Aron as having a delightful little job up in the mountains. That knowledge always delivers some perspective.

But the fellow who clearly lives to ride and take care of his horses, including those predawn hay feedings during winter, ought to take a bow along with his crew. They’ve got good reason to be proud of this one. This sanctuary among sanctuaries for these golfers is quite a monument itself, and required no lack of skill in the building.

As for Fitzpatrick, he’s busy with that next clubhouse on the other side of the ridge – the one that will dwarf this one. Maybe next year, at the unwrapping of that clubhouse and course designed by Greg Norman, maybe then a speaker will call up the fellows who transformed all that money and vision into a masterful work of wood, rock – and concrete.

I hope John wears his cowboy hat for the occasion.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or at editor@vaildaily.com

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