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Summer Has Plenty of Fun and Affordable Play

I never played golf before I moved to Eagle County nine years ago. Boring. What’s the deal with hitting a little white ball with an oddly-shaped club? Why is Jim Nantz always whispering? And what’s with the pants?

Nine years later, I’m a golf junkie, but I don’t yet have the Rodney Dangerfield trousers. And I’ve come to the realization we’re awfully spoiled up here.

You don’t have to be a member of Bushwood ” or belong to one of the many exclusive clubs in Eagle County ” to play a lot of good golf. (I do tell myself occasionally, though, “Why don’t you improve your lie, Judge Smails?”). Publicly available golf is not your average muni here. Fantastic scenery, dropping par-3s, long ” even with the altitude ” par-5s, hazards all over and memorable stretches await.



With Vail, Eagle-Vail, Eagle Ranch and the semi-private Cotton Ranch, local golfers can get out and play great golf without blowing a hole in one’s wallet. Season passes are available for those who live within the realms of the first three loops, and all four courses usually have some form of specials ” especially come twilight.

Vail Golf Club



The oldest of the county’s loops, and the highest situated of the publics, Vail ironically is the most walkable for those looking for exercise or to save some dough. Vail, with its signature black, blue and green tees for the slopes ” gold was added later ” is straightforward, but no pushover.

The Gore Creek is all-too inviting on many holes, the bunkers I find to be the most difficult here, and the course turns east with No. 6, offering stunning glimpses of the Gore Range. Play here early season with nearby snow-capped mountains or in the fall with the colors turning.

Toughest hole:



The par-5 12th is definitely a contender, but No. 6 gets my vote. This par-5 plays 452 yards from the tips and doglegs left around the Vail Athletic Field. A booming tee shot with a slight draw is required. The approach isn’t much easier with the green guarded by the beach.

Signature hole:

Vail purists don’t like me for this ” but it’s 14. Thread the needle with 250-275 yards off the tee, and you’ve got a good look at the elevated green, guarded by Gore Creek and a sometimes life-saving bunker. Do note upon which tier the flag is once you finally get there.

Drop shot:

No. 7 is nice, but nothing matches 15 for sheer terror when it comes to Gore Creek. This par-3 is just 115 yards, but a very easy pitch or sand wedge is required to avoid the creek which borders the front of the tiny green.

Fun stretch:

At the turn, you start 10-13 going east. The greens slope and speed up as the summer progresses. Water off the tee is intimidating on 11, and 12 and 13 can be a painful illustration of Vail’s length. These holes also contain the bane of my existence, “The Tree” on No. 12, which comes into play even when I’m playing Cotton Ranch.

Eagle-Vail Golf Club

I forget who said this to me, but it describes Eagle-Vail perfectly. “You need a beach towel and a fishing rod to play here.”

Eagle-Vail is not long, and it doesn’t need to be. Accuracy and elevation change are the names of the game here. And given the latter, don’t even think about walking this course. With the Eagle River and Stone Creek at the ready as well as 50 bunkers ” No. 16 is the only sand-free hole ” bring a bunch of golf balls.

First-time players can find this course downright befuddling. I’ll insert a disclaimer here ” this is my home course ” but the insides and outs of this loop are what make it great and never a dull day no matter how many times you play it.

Toughest hole:

The ninth, a par-4, 462-yarder is awfully intimidating from the tees. This completely blind tee shot requires a fade though the chute toward a fairway which is downhill and opens up to the right. Longer hitters should go with an iron here.

On your second shot, watch your altitude and be careful of the green which slopes away from you.

Signature hole:

For my money, I love 15. It combines all the elements of Eagle-Vail. It’s not long. It’s just 377 yards ” if that ” from the tips with an elevated tee shot, which accommodates my hook. The approach to a two-tiered green narrows and the elevated putting surface is guarded by rocks, Stone Creek and beautiful forest (as long as you’re not in it).

Drop Shot:

No. 10 is just your average 210-yard 8-iron. Even if you’re playing from the whites, head up to the pro tees for this mammoth drop shot. Hit your shot, order out for a pizza while your shot comes down and fix your ball mark if you hit the green.

Fun stretch:

Holes 14-18 finish Eagle-Vail with a flourish. Winding through an aspen grove, it’s got two par-5s, including a hit-it-’til-you’re-happy cliff shot on 18. Stone Creek winds through these holes providing a refreshing cool off on those hot summer days, and these holes are gorgeous when the colors turn.

Eagle Ranch

As disclosed previously, I’m an Eagle-Vail regular. Every year, I fall into the trap that most pass holders do of playing your home course to death. But I always forget how much fun Eagle Ranch is.

The new kid on the block as far as publics, this Arnold Palmer course is a gem. One of its many great features is its five sets of tees, ranging from 7,575-5,504 yards. Golfers of various abilities can all enjoy the same course. Not being super long off the tee, I’m a big fan of the whites here.

Pretty walkable, this is a driver-friendly course with all sorts of challenges. The King did not disappoint in Eagle.

Toughest hole(s):

Umm, the entire back nine? OK, I’ll narrow it to Nos. 9 and 18. These par-4s ” at 498 and 478 yards, respectively (gulp) ” are separated by water. On the other sides of these narrow fairways are brush and other stuff you really don’t want to explore. Take your par and run to the clubhouse. Get a birdie and a buy a round for everyone at the 19th.

Signature hole:

Umm, the entire back nine? (Sensing a trend here?) The 12th will definitely leave you talking ” one way or another. At 614 yards, the par-5 dips then rises to an elevated green. To get to the second fairway, you have to cross water. To get to the green, you have to carry some bunkers. If you go in those bunkers, as well as the monster on No. 4, may I suggest a pina colada?

Drop shot:

Two good ones here in Nos. 5 and 15, but I’ll take the latter. There’s more elevation change from even the whites on 15, and I have bad memories about the pond on five. Beware the sucker pin position on the front of the green.

Fun stretch:

Umm, the entire back nine? Well, the back nine finishes with three wonderfully brutal holes. No. 16’s a par-5 which traditionally plays into the wind and a pond, which should be named for me, guards the green. Seventeen is tight with water to the right and 18 is a part of Eagle Ranch’s Twin Monsters. This is where good rounds go to die.

Cotton Ranch

Celebrating its 10th year, this Pete Dye course is the first to open and last to close and an early and late season favorite for local golfers. However, come summer this loop is in full bloom and a treat to play.

Hang on for dear life on the front and try to make hay on the back here. While the front nine is the course’s calling card, there’s plenty of fun on the back. Be sure to check out two excellent par-4s on 14 and 15, and don’t go into that center-greenside bunker on the former. (Been there, done that. It’s a highly overrated experience.) No. 18 is a superb finishing hole with an adventuresome trip across

Gypsum Creek.

With the long-awaited tram from the fourth green up to The Mesa for No. 5 firing up last year, this is a good walking 18.

Hardest hole:

No question here. It’s No. 6 ” all 568 yards of it. With narrow landing areas, which slant from right to lift, surrounded by sagebrush, this is a behemoth. There really is a green at the end of it. It just takes a while to get there.

Signature hole:

Well, No. 6 is it, but I offer you No. 9 as well. This par-4 is a true golfing test at 455 yards. Even with a solid drive, the approach to this two-tiered green is difficult. Don’t be long on your approach. You may never get out.

Drop shot:

Much like its cousin, the 10th at Eagle-Vail, No. 8 is a jaw-dropper. It’s 164 yards on the card and plays much more like a wedge or a 9-iron. Watch that wind from your right. If you don’t, you could be back at the clubhouse before you know it.

Fun stretch:

The Mesa from Nos. 4-8 can make a grown man cry. The fourth starts the joy with an uphill par-5 which plays longer than the card. Once up on The Mesa, accuracy is paramount as you’ve traveled south to Arizona and the world of desert golf. Enjoy the view and limit the damage.

So go out and play. I’ll see you out there. Hopefully, I’ll have my Al Czervik pants by then.


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