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Tee it up at Cotton Ranch

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GYPSUM – When the Masters hits the television set, High Country golfers know it’s time to break out their sticks.But the Cotton Ranch Golf Club in Gypsum got a jump on Vijay Singh and Tigers Woods this year, opening all 18 holes two weeks ago.”‘The hole in the sky’ came true,” said Stephen O’Brien, the club’s head pro and general manager. “It’s amazing how much snow the Vail Valley got this winter, but we missed it. Right now, everything’s starting to green up.”And with warmer temperatures, local golfers can take advantage of an early season deal of $45 for a round of golf with a cart during the next two weeks.Cotton Ranch, designed by Pete Dye, mixes mountain-links and desert-style golf in one loop. Hole Nos. 1-3 and 9-18 have traditional mountain scenery, lined with water, while the mesa, starting with its ascent on No. 4, and even faster descent on No. 8, takes the golfer to an Arizona-like setting with red rocks and sagebrush.

A demanding front nineCotton Ranch, playing 7,052 yards from the tips to 5,197 for the ladies, opens with a tricky par-4. An iron off the tee is often required from the back for most to avoid a hazard 220 yards out. After No. 2, a rare birdie opportunity on the front nine, golfers are tested with a difficult par-3, 209-yarder on the third. Do take into account the crosswind here.The climb to the mesa begins with the first par-5 of the course. No. 4 is 555 yards on the card, but plays much longer because it is uphill all the way.The mesa holes simply require accuracy. This obviously is easier said than done.”The best approach to those holes is to hit the club you hit the straightest,” O’Brien said. “It’s OK if you sacrifice distance. If you keep it on the fairway, you’ll score well.”

The toughest hole on the mesa, the course, and possibly the county, is No. 6, a par-5 568-yarder. Lined with sagebrush and its narrow landing areas slanting from right to left, this hole is a supreme test. The last challenge to this hole is a gully which guards the long-awaited green on your approach.Golfers leave the mesa in magnificent fashion with the par-3, 164-yard eighth. Those who are scared of heights might consider skipping this hole. This one features a 200-foot droop from the boxes to the green. By all means club down, watch the wind from your right and fix the divot mark if you find the putting surface.Just when you think you’ve passed the test with the mesa, the front nine ends with the 455-yard ninth. This long, dogleg right has marsh to the right and brush to the left. A long drive is required followed by a delicate approach to a two-tiered green. Do note pin position here because if you’re on the wrong tier, you’re likely looking at a three putt.Birdie time?The back opens with two holes – 10 and 11 – which can play like the British Open if the wind is blowing. Both holes require correct club selection off the tee because the water crosses the fairways of both.



Nos. 13 (561 yards) and 16 (514 yards) are reachable par-5s. With the wind usually at your back, these can be chances to go low.”On the back, there is a little more flexibility and room for your driver,” O’Brien said. “The back offers some better opportunities to get some birdies.”Sandwiched between these par-5s are two solid par-4s in 14 and 15. A word to the wise on 14 – don’t shoot for the flag when the pin is front and center. That pot bunker is there for a reason. The author has spent many an afternoon there.After another tough par-3 with water to the left on 17, Cotton Ranch finishes with another great par-4. The 18th is 461 yards from the tips. A good drive gives the golfer a good look and a shot at the final green guarded by Gypsum Creek. Any doubts? Take your medicine and lay up before crossing the creek. Par’s easier laying two before your approach than with a lost ball.

Extra chipsCotton Ranch has a full practice facility with a driving range, bunker and putting green. Range balls are included with green fees. … A tram, which started operation last year, takes golfers from the fourth green up to the fifth tees, making Cotton Ranch a very walkable course. … Tournaments: The Frostbite is April 15-16. Look for the 8-Inch Cup Tournament on May 6. Yes, the holes are twice the size, but pin placements are sadistic (in a fun way). Match play is on its way as well, starting April 17. … Ladies clinics are on Monday nights at 4:15 and 6:15 through the end of April for $15 per session. If you need to brush up your game, there are also lessons from O’Brien available. … Before or after your round, The Rittenhouse has a full menu for lunch or dinner with seating overlooking the 18th. The restaurant also offers traditional golf fare to go if you’re making the turn. … For tee times at Cotton Ranch, call (970) 524-6200.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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