It’s golf season at Cotton Ranch |

It’s golf season at Cotton Ranch

Preston Utley/Vail DailyA golfer sets up to hit a drive from the #5 tee box Thursday in Cotton Ranch.

GYPSUM – On March 14, head golf pro Sean Riley opened the back nine at the Cotton Ranch Golf Club – and golfers in Eagle County rejoiced.On March 19, he opened the front nine – and golfers in Eagle County weren’t so happy. We kid because we care. We kid because it’s true – Cotton Ranch’s front nine is about as a stiff test as you will find when it comes to Eagle County’s four public-playable loops.”Be patient on the front and wait for your birdies and eagles on the back,” Riley said.

“And don’t worry about looking for your ball if it goes into the rough. You’ll find plenty of others,” he added with a laugh.The mesaPlaying 7,052 yards from the tips, Cotton Ranch starts innocently enough with two par-4s, the latter being a definite birdie opportunity as long as you avoid the marsh and water to the left.After a tricky par-3 which often plays into a crosswind, the vaunted mesa begins. No. 4 is your first par-5 of the day at 555 yards. That’s the good news. The caveat is that it plays uphill, making your journey a long one. This hole plays more like 650 yards.

The landing area from the No. 5 tees looks smaller than it is. But the real trick is your approach on this 411-yard, par-4. You have to carry a gully and a lot of sagebrush to find this small green.No. 6 is likely the toughest hole in publicly accessible golf in the county. The par-5 is 568 yards, has three small landing areas, slopes left, has sagebrush all around, has inviting bunkers to the right and a gully to negotiate to the green. Weekend hackers, play this as a par-6. If you bogey this hole without losing your golf ball, give thanks to the deity of your choosing and run to the next hole.After the 395-yard, dogleg-right seventh, comes a jaw-dropper. No. 8 is a par-3, 164-yard exercise of gravity. Forget the yardage and club way down, taking the wind – often from the right – into account.The front finishes with a long 455-yard, par-4. Two things about the ninth green – first, note the pin placement on this two-tiered putting surface. Wrong tier? Three-putt. Second, don’t go over this green. You’re never coming out of the bog there.

Birdie timeAfter a well-deserved bite at the turn, as Riley says, it’s time to get aggressive. On 10 and 11, unless you’re crushing the ball like Tiger, pull a long iron off the tee. Pars are definitely in the offing and No. 10 is good chance to start the back with birdie.The two par-5s on the trip home, 13 and 16, are definite chances to visit the bird sanctuary. There is trouble to the right on both, but both holes are wide and you often have the wind at your back.Sandwiched in between those two par-5 are two lovely par-4s, which make you feel like you’re playing links golf back in the birthplace of the game. Beware of the pot bunker on 14. It’s there for a reason.

No. 17 is innocent enough as a par-3 until a crosswind pushes your ball to the drink or the left greenside bunker. No. 18 is an appropriate finishing hole. The decision here is to go for the green in two or three. If you’re long off the tee and have a good look at the final green on the other side of Gypsum Creek, go for it. If the trees on the right are blocking your approach, take your medicine and lay up.Shoulder season greens fees are $35 to walk and $50 to ride until April 16. Twilight rate is $40 after 2 p.m.Vail, ColoradoThe club has upcoming tournaments – Frostbite Tournament April 15-17; the 8-Inch Cup May 7 and the 4A girls state meet May 23-24.For more information or to book a tee time, call 524-6200.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 614 or

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