Gypsum marks the 10-year anniversary of its Gypsum Creek Golf Course purchase
Course hit rock bottom before town rescued it and made it public
GYPSUM — Ten years ago this month, the Gypsum Town Council took a $2.5 million gamble and purchased the former Cotton Ranch Golf Club.
The first thing the town did was to change the facility’s name to Gypsum Creek Golf Course. The town’s second action was to open the facility to public play. Today, after a decade as the course owner, the town believes purchasing the Pete Dye-designed, 18-hole public championship course was a sound decision.
But it has been a rather costly one. Each year, the town subsidizes about 40% of the cost of course operation. Last year that figure was approximately $588,000.
“It has obviously not been a profitable venture on a strictly cash basis” noted Gypsum Assistant Town Manager/Town Engineer Jim Hancock. “But I have heard nothing but praise for the town stepping in and preserving it.”
“There is a social benefit to the community in having an amenity for golfers and having green space to look out on. It’s a nice asset to have the community socializing out there,” agreed Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann.
There are also pragmatic reasons why taking over the course was in Gypsum’s best interests.
“It would have really damaged property values out there if you didn’t have the course sustained in a way that was an asset to the town,” Rietmann said.
Back in 2009, things were looking bleak for the course, which had been financially troubled for some time. The owners of the course — Cotton Ranch Club Inc. and Cotton Ranch Company LLC — had defaulted on their loan from PMC Commercial Trust. That set off a series of court hearings and the course operation was placed in the hands of a receiver.
Eventually, the lender purchased the asset at an Eagle County Assessor’s sale. PMC’s $1.7 million bid was the only offer.
PMC contracted with a management company to run the course, but the company’s attorney told town officials that PMC did not want to be in the golf course business. Activity on the links demonstrated that statement.
“The course was really going downhill at the end of the private ownership. They were taking fertilizer deliveries (cash on delivery),” said Hancock.
That’s when Gypsum officials decided they needed to step in.
“I don’t think the town had any great desire to run the golf course, but there was this feeling that it could be so much more than what it was,” Hancock said.
According to a Dec. 10, 2009, story in the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the town had actually been mulling the course purchase idea for years. Former Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll was quoted saying that the town had been thinking about buying the course for more than seven years “when the price was in the $5 million to $7 million range.”
“The town elected not to participate in the foreclosure sale several months ago because that process was hampered by the fact that the successful buyer would acquire the course in its present condition,” the Enterprise story stated. “Shroll noted by holding off the town was able to complete a comprehensive due diligence process.”
“We decided to hold back a while and let it go down to hit rock bottom,” said Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver. “But we had decided we were going to get ahold of it and try to make it work.”
After the deal was inked, the town’s due diligence included an examination of homeowners’ rights with respect to the town takeover.
Shroll, who ultimately left his job as Gypsum Town Manager to become Eagle County Manager, said there were some early concerns about the change.
“There were some Cotton Ranch members who didn’t want to lose their membership rights and amenities and we just couldn’t accommodate that wish with switching over to a public course and public ownership,” he said. “But for the most part, people knew the course was in trouble and were grateful the town was stepping in and taking over.
“I think most everyone was happy after a few years of seeing the improvements the town did,” Shroll continued. “I think in the end, it worked out pretty well.”
Irrigation, dining and more
Since it purchased the property a decade ago, the town’s biggest investment at Gypsum Creek Golf Course came in 2017 when it paid more than $1.2 million for a new irrigation system.
“That cost was just a function of having a 20-year-old course,” said Hancock.
But Hancock added that the new system, combined with efforts of the Gypsum Creek maintenance team, now has the course in the best condition it has ever seen.
“We are also saving about 15 million gallons a year on irrigation water out there,” Rietmann said.
The improved conditions and town ownership are paying off with expanded tee time bookings. According to Blake Scott, director of golf at Gypsum Creek, on four different occasions last summer the course had record days.
“We want to build on this asset. We try to get as many players as we can who come to the valley to choose to play Gypsum Creek,” Scott said.
“The course has been a conduit where we introduce Gypsum to people for the first time,” Rietmann said. “It is a great way to get people in to experience the core of the community.”
Along with the golf course, two other popular amenities at Gypsum Creek bring people to the site. During the summer, families enjoy the outdoor pool located next to the golf clubhouse. Throughout the year, valley residents and visitors enjoy dining at Creekside Grill.
In 2012 Scott and Karen Barry took over the clubhouse restaurant. They named it Creekside Grill and it has become a very popular downvalley dining option.
“Scott has been able to find the right blend of service and cost. We have been pleased with that restaurant operation, for sure,” Rietmann said.
When Gypsum took over operation of the golf course, a new marketing plan was developed. Begun under the leadership of former director of golf Tom Buzbee and expanded under Scott’s watch, the idea is to take the stuffiness out of the game.
“We always tell people to come as you are at Gypsum Creek. We welcome everyone from Cadillacs to Carhartts,” Scott said.
“We have one of the biggest junior golf programs in the state,” Scott continued. Physical education classes at nearby schools — grades 4-12 — bring students out on the course to learn the game. As time has progressed and more kids have had a chance to learn golf, Eagle Valley High School has seen a big increase in its golf teams. Scott noted that last year, 33 boys and 34 girls tried out for the EVHS golf squads.
A total of 15,600 rounds were played at Gypsum Creek last year. “We have the longest season in the valley and the lowest rates,” Scott noted. For years, the course has promoted a unique recreation idea — ski in the morning, golf in the afternoon.
“In my eyes, this course is a huge asset to the community,” Scott said. “Every day I get to go to work and I see people having fun. I see positive energy and I see laughter.”
That was exactly the vision Gypsum officials hoped to realize when they purchased the course 10 years ago.
“It has cost us some money to get it there, but Gypsum Creek is great now,” Carver said. “The town council was all in favor of buying the golf course and we wanted it to be a public course so everyone could enjoy it.”
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