Everything green to a tee
There’s no debating that Eagle County will always be best known for its snow sports.
But one of the best kept secrets about the Vail Valley is its golf season. As the snow melts, the area turns into a golf mecca for locals and tourists alike. The season in the High Country is surprisingly long: it usually runs from March through October.
From Vail to Cotton Ranch to a Pete Dye-designed links downvalley in Gypsum, there is a little something for everyone ” from the scratch golfer to the weekend warrior.
For 13 holes, Cotton Ranch, which usually boasts the longest season of the four public courses, plays like a traditional British links course. Nestled in between these 13 holes is what locals call “the mesa” ” holes Nos. 4 through 8, providing players a combined links-mountain golf experience.
No. 4 is a 555-yard, par-5 which takes you up the beginning of the mesa. Sure, it says 555 yards on the card, but this hole plays more like 650 with its steady rise. You leave the mesa with the jaw-dropping No. 8, a par-3, 164-yarder. This shot drops a good 200 feet and usually has a right-to-left crosswind. Word to the wise ” club down.
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In between is Cotton Ranch’s signature hole, the par-5, 568-yard sixth. With narrow landing areas surrounded by sagebrush and a gulch and bunkers protecting the green, it’s easy to understand why this hole is the No. 1 on the card. The rule for playing Cotton Ranch is to hang on during the front nine and make hay on the back.
Moving east about 10 miles is Eagle Ranch, the newest public course in the county. At 7,530 yards from the tips, the 5-year-old course, designed by Arnold Palmer, has quickly established itself as a great course.
Two of Eagle Ranch’s best holes sit side by side separated by some all too inviting water. They are Nos. 9 and 18 ” 498- and 478-yard par-4s, yes, par-4s. And, if that isn’t enough, Eagle Ranch’s back nine is about as challenging as they come.
The course rolls up into the hills surrounding Eagle with No. 12, a demanding and scenic par-5, a reachable par-4 on No. 14 and a fun drop shot on No. 15. Eagle Ranch’s final three holes measure 1,541 yards from the tips. Get through those and you’ve earned your beverage of choice at the 19th hole.
Like elevation change? Well, Eagle-Vail is the course for you. All you need to know about the county’s second-oldest loop is seen on the opening hole a par-5, 552-yarder ” where tee shots soar off a 150-foot cliff. It’s an intimidating start to a course which has a little bit of everything.
Holes Nos. 3 through 6, located south of U.S. Highway 6 and accessed by “Little Eisenhower Tunnel” are short and dangerous. Try not to hit a kayaker on Nos. 3, 5 and 6 because the Eagle River is right there.
Eagle-Vail hits the hills on Nos. 9 and 10. The ninth – a par-4, 462-yarder – is a blind tee shot, surrounded by aspens, which opens up all the way down to the right. Even if you are playing from the regular white tees, you’ve got to take a poke from the tips on No. 10. This par-3 drops 250 feet. Where else can you say you hit an 8-iron 208 yards?
Eagle-Vail’s finish is something to behold. Starting on 14, a monstrously long par-5, the course winds up into the hills. You finish just as you started with a final cliff shot on the par-5 at the 18th hole. Bring your camera for these final holes, especially if you’re playing Eagle-Vail in the fall when the colors are turning.
Vail is the oldest 18-hole public course in the county and it has stood the test of time. The Gore Creek comes into play on 12 holes. Equally present is the Gore Range, snow-capped through the seasons, which serves as a backdrop for the course.
Vail shows its teeth with No. 6, a par-4, 452-yarder, which is justifiably No. 1 on the card. It’s a long, dogleg right hole, which requires a good 250 yards off the tee to get you a mid-iron to the well-guarded green.
The back nine at Vail has many highlights, including the par-5, 585-yard at the 12th hole, which is reachable for only the longest of hitters. Then, there’s No. 14, likely the course’s postcard hole. This 416-yard, par-4 is split by Gore Creek and plays to an elevated green. If you’re short off the tee, it’s decision time. Go for it? More often than not, you’re in the drink.
Vail finishes with a birdie opportunity on the par-5 18th, and there’s no better way to end your day like that.
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily and an avid golfer with a handicap of 36.