Aspen Golf Club prepares for banner year |

Aspen Golf Club prepares for banner year

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN – My first shot of the 2011 golf season was an abysmal start to a terrible round.

I pulled my three-wood out of the back of the cart parked next to the tee at Aspen Golf Club’s No. 10, having received permission from the club pro to start on the back nine. There were too many people lining up to play the front nine and I didn’t want to embarrass myself or injure anyone.

It had been about nine months since I last picked up a golf club. Trust me: When “The Doctor” comes out of hibernation, you don’t want anyone within shanking distance. I doubt the cars passing through the roundabout were safe.

I promptly duffed the first shot, sending a worm-burner about 20 yards to the left into a grove of cottonwoods guarding the 10th fairway from the Truscott Place apartments.

Thank goodness the guy I was golfing with had agreed to two mulligans per nine holes. I then sliced my second tee shot to the right toward Highway 82, somewhere near the running path, but still within play by my standards, about 160 yards from the box.

Problem is, when I got to the spot where my ball should have been, it wasn’t there. I looked a few yards away and saw some sort of furry creature scurrying into a hole.

No, this was not some sort of “Caddyshack” flashback. The gopher or prairie dog (or whatever the varmint was) made off with my ball, I believe.

I didn’t tell my playing partner, sports editor Jon “The Hammer” Maletz, about the incident. I don’t think he would have believed me. He might have thought I was smoking the bentgrass-bluegrass hybrid that the putting surfaces are made of.

It was my first round of golf in nearly a year, and I was already off to an inauspicious start. Still, I managed to muddle through the round, managing a few decent shots and generally keeping the ball within play. I counted one par and four bogeys on the par 71 course; the rest was forgettable.

The moral of the story: Ditch the 25-year-old irons. Learn to enjoy the game again. Don’t get frustrated. Bring Band-Aids to the course to cover the blisters. Practice more and play more.

That’s what the folks who run the Aspen Golf Club are hoping will happen this summer – that people will practice more and play more. And they’ve put the pieces into place that will allow for it.

Director of Golf Steve Aitken, who has been working for the municipal course since 1993 when he was hired as its superintendent, is quick to point out all the positive things happening there.

He noted that this year marks the beginning of an association with the Carl Rabito Golf Academy, a prestigious school with satellite locations across the country. Instructor David DeMay, from Sanctuary Ridge Golf Club near Orlando, Fla., has already arrived in Aspen to represent Rabito for the next five months. In true Aspen fashion, he will be commuting to work via bus or bicycle, Aitken said.

Rabito emphasizes a swing method that’s more in tune with how an individual’s body naturally works. All of the instructors at Aspen Golf Club will be giving lessons using the Rabito philosophy. It is hoped that the golfing school will help to lure more visitors to Aspen, benefiting the course and the community at large, Aitken said.

“Rabito gives us the potential to market Aspen Golf Club as more of a golfing destination,” he said.

The city of Aspen’s golf director mentions a lot of other things – too many to fit into these pages – but I will try to hit a few highlights:

• Two weeks ago, Golfweek magazine rated Aspen Golf Club as the top municipal course in Colorado. It also is ranked the 33rd best municipal course in the nation. “It’s the community’s golf course,” Aitken said. “It’s an affordable golf club that many local residents call home.”

• The course has been a certified member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program since 1999, a designation belonging to 816 courses across the United States. It meets criteria in six categories of environmental stewardship. “That was a huge feather in our cap,” Aitken said.

• Some of the top youth golfers in the United States will be in town June 6-9 for the American Junior Golf Association tournament. “These are kids who go on to get college scholarships; some of them will even make the PGA Tour,” Aitken said. “The community can come out and watch them play for free.”

• PGA Tour professionals Chris DiMarco and Stewart Cink will be on hand for the annual Aspen Junior Golf Foundation fundraiser on July 11, which raises money for the local junior golf program. The nonprofit exposes the sport to more than 175 kids who would otherwise not be able to afford instruction.

• The annual Challenge Aspen Fundraiser, featuring appearances by musical artists Vince Gill and Amy Grant, will be held Aug. 1-2. The event features a pro-am tournament with PGA touring pros and auctions, raising money for disabled veterans.

• Each year, the club closes on a Sunday to accommodate a community picnic. This year, the event is scheduled for Sept. 11.

• Two ponds on the course are stocked with trout and people holding a state fishing license are free to fish them.

Aitken mentioned many other interesting tidbits about Aspen Golf Club, such as its history. It was first built in the mid-1960s as a nine-hole facility. In 1978 it was completely redesigned and rebuilt under the direction of architect Frank Hummel.

A computerized, state-of-the-art irrigation system was installed six years ago. That’s the main reason why the rough is so thick – it’s getting more water than it used to, Aitken said.

The course is well-known for its fast putting greens in the summer. “The greens are very slick and very sloping,” he said. “Golfers should try to stay below the hole.”

Aitken lists holes No. 9, 11, 15 and 18 as being the most challenging or interesting. (See the accompanying feature with hole-by-hole descriptions.) He also notes that the course accommodates golfers of all different skill levels.

“At most golf courses, there’s not a lot of difference playing from the gold tees to the blue (average player) tees,” he said. “In Aspen there is a difference of 657 yards.”

A big yardage difference is evident when taking into account the red tees (ladies) and white tees (seniors and juniors). From the reds, the course measures 5,222 yards; from the golds (advanced), it measures 7,156 yards.

“There’s four different golf courses, so to speak,” Aitken said.

The Aspen Golf Club seems straightforward enough. There are no drastic elevation changes. The fairways appear wide, the greens large and the hazards few and far between.

I entered last week’s round with high hopes. I left with an even higher score and a new-found appreciation for one of the nation’s preeminent public courses.

Maybe I was distracted by the postcard-like, sweeping views of the Maroon Creek Valley or the unseasonably warm weather. More likely, I’m just a terrible golfer with the touch of a baby elephant.

The course was in great shape. My game, well, was a much different story. I was accurate off the tee for much of the day, but I was spraying the ball like an untethered fire engine hose with my iron.

I nailed tree limbs and had to dig myself out of cavernous sand traps. I hit the water on the scenic par 3 14th, then proceeded to drill my ensuing shot some 20 yards over the green; my ball hit the cart path and came to rest mere steps from the 15th fairway.

My drive on No. 14 skidded across the ladies’ tee, drilled a large boulder, then shot straight up into the sky like an erupting geyser. (Thankfully, my playing partner gave me two mulligans per nine holes.)

I four-putted No. 18. In my defense, the pin was tucked in the back left, and that green has more swells than Hawaii’s Pipeline.

It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor. I needed it at No. 2 (our 11th hole), when my swing – and my round – came unhinged.

I bent my left elbow and lost my balance on the backswing and wound up shanking my tee shot to the left. Things did not improve – from the second shot that clipped thick brush to a third that made a splash landing in a water hazard I didn’t even know existed. Before I knew it, I was three-putting for a quadruple bogey.

A snowman on a 70-degree day. Imagine that.

I “held it together” and carded a 96. Talk about a humbling experience.

I can’t wait to get back out there.

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