Gyspum’s Cotton Ranch Golf Club opens today |

Gyspum’s Cotton Ranch Golf Club opens today

Chris Freud
Vail, CO Colorado
Published: Daily file photo/Preston Utley

GYPSUM, Colorado ” If you’re still waiting for that last-minute invitation to the Masters, the good news is that Cotton Ranch in Gypsum is opening today, so you can polish your game up when the call from Augusta, GA., comes.

OK, maybe not.

But for golfers of all kinds from Carl Spackler, the original “Cinderella story about to win the Masters,” to the average local weekend warrior, with Cotton Ranch opening, the 2009 golfing season in Eagle County is under way.

“It’s great, you can ski and golf in the same day,” said Hugh Paine, who is the new head golf professional at Cotton Ranch. “This time of year it can snow up there and there’s nothing down here. I live in East Vail and a come down here with snow on my car and it just falls off my car in the parking lot. People down here are wearing shorts.”

Cotton Ranch, a semi-private club, allows public play and the course has $50 greens fees, which include a cart and range balls, until May 29.

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Here comes the mesa

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, aka thr mesa, Cotton Ranch’s signature stretch of golf.

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 guarding the carry, golfers have a hard time convincing themselves of that.

After a hopefully successful drive 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.

On the mesa, Paine says, it’s important to have the right mindset.

“In actuality, the mesa is more visually intimidating than it really is,” Paine said. “The sixth fairway is actually 60-paces wide, though it doesn’t look that way from the tee. That’s (course designer) Pete Dye making it look harder than it really is.

“The thing is when people get in trouble on these hole, they try for the miracle shot, and that just makes for more trouble. If you get in the brush, just hit a shot that will get you out and be safe,”

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. For newcomers to Cotton Ranch, it plays more like 130 yards and clubbing down 2-3 irons is good idea.

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 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

In addition to public play, Cotton Ranch has a special for Vail Golf Club members. Because Vail is re-doing its irrigation system this summer, if you are a Vail Recreation District pass-holder, you can play Cotton Ranch for $50 per round, including high season. … And if you don’t get that invitation to the Masters, Cotton Ranch has the Sixth annual Frostbite Tournament April 18-19. There will also be the spring 8-Inch Cup Tournament as well. The date for that event is pending. … For more information or to get a tee time, call (970) 524-6200.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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