Fore: Cotton Ranch in Gypsum opens |

Fore: Cotton Ranch in Gypsum opens

SPO Cotton Ranch 01 TS 04-06-08

GYPSUM, Colorado ” It’s been a long winter for golfers, but it is finally spring as the Cotton Ranch Golf Club in Gypsum has opened all 18 holes for the season.

The Pete Dye course’s opening has marked the beginning of the year since it opened in 1997 and this track usually welcomes play in mid-March, but Mother Nature had other plan this years.

“We’re tremendously excited,” said Tim Garton, Cotton Ranch’s president and 50-percent owner. “It is our latest opening, but it’s not nearly as late as other courses in the region. We have all 18 open and we’re in quite good condition.”

Being located 2,000 feet lower than Vail certainly has its advantages to the tune of being about 10-12 degrees warmer in Gypsum than in the eastern end of the county.

And now that course is open golfers rejoice and are filled with a bit of foreboding at the same time. That’s because Cotton Ranch’s Mesa, hole Nos. 4-8, arguably one of the toughest stretches of golf in the county, is looming.

A water amenity?

Cotton Ranch’s first three holes are relatively straight-forward with a few hints. An iron off the first tee is usually a good idea on the 420-yard, par-4 as native grasses will swallow your shot if you pull driver. On the second, avoid the water left and it’s a birdie opportunity, and watch the crosswind on the par-3 third.

Then the fun begins. The fourth is a par-5 at 555 yards from the tips. The kicker is that it’s all uphill. Good luck reaching this in two. The fourth takes the golfer up to an elevated stretch of four holes, which can raise a handicap very quickly.

The fifth, a par-4 411-yarder has an intimidating tee shot. The fairway is wider than it appears from the tee, but with a pond installed there last year, golfers have a hard time convincing themselves of that.

“That was a big improvement for two reasons,” Garton said. “One, we needed additional water storage, and it doubles as a water amenity or a hazard, some might say.”

Once safe from the “water amenity,” the approach to a small green is protected by a ravine, which has its fair share of lost golf balls from years past.

There is no debate as to why the par-5 sixth is ranked No. 1 on the score card. It’s long at 568 yards and very tight with sagebrush waiting for any errant shot. Just like the previous hole, golfers have to negotiate a gully and bunkers on their approach.

After the dogleg right seventh, it’s off to one of the signature par-3s in the county. Drop shots are common on the local links, but this one is a jaw-dropper. The hole is 164 yards, but 150 feet down. Clubbing down is a wise play here.

The back nine finishes with an often overlooked hole, a 455-yard, par-4. In fact, this one was Dye’s favorite when the course opened. The reason was that little earth had to moved, making the ninth a hole which blends in naturally with the environment.

While the tee shot is not exactly easy, it’s the approach that can be most golfers’ undoing. The ninth has a two-tiered green, so pin placement is critical and shots that go over the putting surface are pretty much donations to the golfing gods.

Coming home

While the general strategy at Cotton Ranch is to hang on during the front nine and make hay on the back, the final nine is not a pushover.

The course resumes its links-style theme with back-to-back par-4s on 10 and 11, holes which usually play into the wind. After, a 194-yard, par-3, No. 13, along with 16, is the first of two reachable par-5s on the back. If golfers have had a few big numbers on the front, this is where to make up ground.

In between those two par-5s are two beautiful par-4s. A word to the wise, though, if the pin is up front on the 14th, be careful. Dye put that pot bunker there for a reason. Hitting out of there is a highly-overrated experience.

Cotton Ranch finishes with an excellent risk-reward hole. The 18th is 389 yards from the tips. An ideal drive puts you within 150 yards with a clear view of the green, which is guarded by Gypsum Creek. If you don’t have a good tee shot, it is best to take your medicine and lay up here.

Chip shots

Cotton Ranch has special rates until Memorial Day. For Eagle and Gypsum residents, it’s $52; Eagle County golfers $59 and the rest of the public $69. … Cotton Ranch’s driving range, including practice chipping a putting greens are open. … The clubhouse restaurant is under new management and is now the Cotton Ranch Club (CRC) Restaurant. … The course will have its annual Frostbite Tournament April 18-20, and the first 8-Inch Cup tourney of the season in May. … New for 2008 is a a tee box sponsoring program in which homeowners will be growing plants and flowers to give each hole a distinctive look. While we don’t endorse wagering, our money’s on hole No. 15. … Cotton Ranch also is able to host group outings. … Lessons are available from new pro Brian Ryall. For more information or to book a tee time, call (970) 524-6200.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or

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