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Teeing it off at the Vail Golf Club

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VAIL ” It really shouldn’t be that difficult.

The 15th hole at the Vail Golf Club is only 115 yards long from the tips. Depending on where the tee boxes are set on any given day, it’s usually more like a 100-yard shot from the regular blue tees down to the green.

A simple pitching wedge or sand wedge, depending on your distance, should suffice



But with Gore Creek below you, guarding the green, and the pin seemingly always in front, you mind becomes your worst enemy.

“It’s a wedge from the back tee. It’s hard,” Vail Golf Club’s director of operations Alice Plain said. “If you take your back swing and start thinking, ‘Oh this is going to be too much,’ then you’re going to chunk it in Gore Creek. You really have to be committed to the club that you choose and deal with the consequences.”



In a way, No. 15 is emblematic of the golf experience at Vail, the county’s oldest loop ” what you see is what you get, sort of.

“I think the best way to describe it is that it’s deceivingly challenging,” Pain said. “It looks pretty straight-forward, but once you get out there and start playing, the greens are fast with quite a bit of undulation. You really need to hit it well off the tee to set yourself up.”

After the usual trials and travails of having a course at 8,150 feet and thanks to some hard work by superintendent Steve Sarros and his crew, the public course is open to all comers. Nestled beneath the Gore Range, Vail ironically is the most walkable and wide-open of the public courses in the county, but difficulty abounds with the water meandering around 10 holes, fast greens and some bunkers in which Jimmy Hoffa might still be lurking.



The sixth looms

The front opens with two fairly manageable par-4s although a precise tee shot is needed on the second to clear a narrow chute and water. The third is ranked as the second-easiest on the card, but locals know better.

From Vail signature black-diamond tees ” even in the summer, you’re in ski country ” it’s 154 yards to an elevated green. The rub here is that the putting surface is crowned. Many seemingly-solid tee shots tend to roll off, and once you’re on, using the flat blade can definitely be an adventure.

After a slicer’s delight on the dogleg-right fifth looms the hardest hole on the course. A par-4 for men and a par-5 for women, No. 6 is 452 yards from the back. The hole wraps along a sidehill left toward the hole ” eventually.

“If you favor the right side on your drive, you can get the kick off the hill and get a little extra yardage,” Plain said. “You’ve got to put a little extra right to left spin and then you’ll have shorter shot.”

Shorter is a relative term as even with a good 250-yard drive, it’s still a mid-iron into a green guarded by two frontside bunkers.

Beginning with the seventh ” the 15th’s par-3, drop-shot cousin, the course heads east with spectacular views of the Gore Range.

Signature hole?

Vail’s signature hole is the source of great debate. What is not debatable is that the back nine is a fun journey home. The 11th might get Plain’s nod for the course’s signature experience.

“I really like 11,” she said. “That view is awesome. You’ve got the trees overshadowing the tee box (from the tips) with Gore Creek on the right side. A majority of golfers slice the golf ball. If you slice, you can be in a little bit of trouble. You’ve got to hit a good tee shot there to set you up for the approach.”

If you’ve avoided the creek to your right, the 11th veers to the right and pin location is essential here. Good luck stopping your putt if your approach lands above the flag.

The par-5 12th actually has been voted in the Vail Daily’s reader’s poll as one of the most intimidating tee shots in the county. There isn’t much trouble on this hole, but it’s a safe bet that golfers are intimidated by the fact that it’s 585 yards long.

No. 14 gets the author’s vote. If you’re playing from the blues, you need about 230 yards off the tee to give yourself a chance at crossing the creek to an elevated two-tiered green.

“If you didn’t get a good tee shot, take your medicine there and lay up, and try to get your wedge close to the pin,” Plain said. “It’s less damage on your card.”

Vail closes with a nice opportunity for birdie. For longer hitters, it’s definitely reachable in two and even the more modest strikers can get there in three.

“The course is in very good condition. It’s come around,” Plain said. “Steve and his crew have worked very hard. We had to aerify the greens. We top-dress them regularly. They’re firm. They hold the ball and they’re rolling really well. Steve’s doing a phenomenal job.”

Chip shots

Rates for the course are at vailgolfclub.net. Season passes are still available. … The club has women’s clinics on Friday at 4:30 p.m. Other group lessons are available through playgolfamerica.com. The club’s new head professional, Jeanne Sutherland, also is available for private lessons. … Men’s and women’s league play is on Wednesdays. The club also has the Sundowner on Mondays. It’s a nine-hole shotgun tournament, starting at 5:30 p.m. … The 19th hole at Vail is new this year. Whirled Peas has moved into the space, serving contemporary American pub fare, as being a comfortable place to relive moments of golf glory over an adult beverage. … For more information on the Vail Golf Club, call (970) 479-2260.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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