Cotton Ranch celebrates its 10th birthday |

Cotton Ranch celebrates its 10th birthday

Preston Utley/Vail DailyThe Cotton Ranch Golf Club turns 10 today. With its signature stretch of mesa holes and its dropping par-3 eighth, the Pete Dye course has become a staple in the west end of Eagle County.

In the spring of 1997, early-season golf for most in Eagle County came when Eagle-Vail opened in May.

There were the privates ” Sonnenalp and Cordillera, the latter was just opening the new Valley Course. There were the ultra privates ” Country Club of the Rockies and Eagle Springs. But for most to play in March or April, it was time for a road trip to Rifle or Battlement Mesa.

While the early-season road trip is a rite for golfers ” one year, our foursome ended up down in Fruita playing 27 holes at Adobe Creek we were so desperate ” there’s only so much charm when it comes to playing Rifle Creek.

And then came Cotton Ranch in of all places, Gypsum. I moved up here in the fall of 1997, became addicted to golf in 1998, and can’t imagine life without the place.

Though I’ll confess to leaving the county to play at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction or Lakota Canyon in New Castle ” they’re worth the drive ” my first round of the year, like many others, usually comes at Cotton Ranch, home of spring and summer and fall.

Today, the course celebrates its 10th birthday. To celebrate, I was thinking of listing the 10 greatest moments in Cotton Ranch history which would be capped by Bob Isbell’s ace on No. 12 in 2001 and Leon Fell and I winning a horse-race tournament there last year.

OK, maybe not. But here’s why we’re proud of this birthday:

– Down-county golf ” Hard as it may seem to believe, before Cotton Ranch, there was no golf west of Wolcott. Now, look at the landscape ” Eagle Ranch, Red Sky and Brightwater to name a few. You can’t say definitively that Cotton Ranch started the boom, but it’s a significant part of the recent history of the county.

I hear old-timers talk about when Edwards was a gas station. While being here only 10 years, the county has moved considerably west. Cotton Ranch continues to be a big part of that trend, for which it should take a bow.

– The mesa ” OK, this is more under the love/hate category. Due to a really difficult assignment recently, I had to play a bunch of the privates loops in the county ” woe is me. I still think you’re hard-pressed to find a tougher stretch of holes than Nos. 4-7.

You can argue hole rankings on a scorecard at the 19th hole of your choice, but there’s no disputing Cotton Ranch’s sixth as one of the most difficult/maddening/club-breaking/fun holes out there.

– Mesa, part II ” Thanks a bunch for putting in that water on the tee shot on five. Really appreciate that, Steve O’Brien.

– I was browsing back in the Daily’s archives in 1997. I saw Sam Flickinger’s article on this new thing called “Cotton Ranch.” In it, he wrote about the eighth ” Wind could wreak havoc with tee shots here.” No wonder Sam always shot an 80 and I was carding a 120.

– A month after Cotton Ranch opened, Eagle Valley also launched boys’ and girls’ golf teams. This is not a coincidence. Eagle Valley girls’ golf has won several regional titles since. The boys’ team qualified individuals for the state tournament for the first time last fall. And in 2005, the course hosted the 4A state tournament. Mullen’s Ashley Tait scorched the course with a 3-under, two-day score of 141. Her 70 on the first day remains as the women’s course record.

– Bad bunker ” I usually play Eagle-Vail, so when I play Cotton Ranch I feel like I get a day off from the sand, except for No. 14 where that greenside bunker is waiting for me every time. (Is it just me, or is the flag always in front on 14?) I skulled one out of there last year that I don’t think has landed yet.

– We take this moment to tell people not to slice on Hole No. 13. Yeah, there’s water there, so that’s a bad idea. We just don’t want you hitting Vail Daily Publisher Steve Gall’s future home there.

– Nos. 9 and 18 ” These par-4s are two lovely ways to end the nines. No. 9 is long, really long, really, really long. Speaking of nine, if you’re long on the approach and behind the green, just forgetit. As the course’s old pro Chris Woolery said. “We’ve had people go down there and never come back.”

The last is a beautiful finishing hole with the risk-reward option of crossing Gypsum Creek. It’s even more beautiful when you’re sitting on the deck of the clubhouse watching someone else try that shot.

– Today is another beautiful, and dare we say hot, day at Cotton Ranch. Just having passed the summer solstice, it’s going to be a long day, too. But happily at Gypsum’s “Hole in the Sky,” we’re just halfway through golf season. The golf will continue through October, and hopefully, into November, making this the longest season in the county.

That’s yet another reason to wish Cotton Ranch a happy 10th birthday, and here’s to many more.

Cotton Ranch firsts

First foursome/fivesome ” June 23, 1997: Pete Dye, Perry Dye, Chris Woolery (head golf professional) Wade Vecchio (head superintendent) and Dana Dunbar

First club champs: Tom Hickman and Dana Dunbar

First hole-in-one: Wayne Carley, No. 17, Sept. 1997

First hole-in-one at 8-Inch Cup Tournament: Steve O’Brien, 2005

First member-guest champions – Craig Wescoatt and Kurk Hastings and Valerie Gordon and Cathy Lofgren

Course record: Harry Johnson, 66 and Ashley Tait, 70

Prizes for the first tournament: Old bones from the cattle ranch

Ignominious first: During an annual 8-Inch-Cup Tournament, superintendent Craig Cahalane set the pin placement on the seventh hole, and his team ended up 16-putting the green. We didn’t know 16-putting was a golf term.

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