Fantastic fore in Eagle County |

Fantastic fore in Eagle County

Chris Freud
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” Some parts of my job as the sports editor of the Vail Daily are not exactly fun.

Covering a middle school junior varsity underwater jai alai game falls under that category.

Then there’s putting together a fantasy 18 of Eagle County golf. This required us to play all these golf courses, which was really tough duty.

Red Sky’s slick greens and equally beautiful vistas. Cordillera’s smooth fairways and absolutely penal bunkers. (I still have sand in my shoes.) The Sonnenalp’s 18th, which I think I’m still playing.

Then there are the publics, which are not exactly your average muni loops – Vail, Eagle-Vail, Eagle Ranch and Cotton Ranch (semi-private).

Reminding myself that there is no “I” in team, we set out this spring to play and to compile The Fantasy Eagle County Golf Club. (We actually “worked” on our days off.) Of course, doing this amounts to opening Pandora’s box. How do you compare Sonnenalp’s 15th to Eagle-Vail’s counterpart? They’re completely different holes, but both equally memorable, beautiful and challenging.

You can’t smash all the wonderful golf to be played here during the summer into 18 holes. It rehashes the private-public debate. The private loops won a majority of the spots on this “course,” but we remain avid supporters of publicly-available golf in Eagle County. The

inevitable result is that we had to leave out some great holes, and it was painful. But this is the stuff of good debating at the 19th hole of your choice.

So load up your bag with extra golf balls – you are going to need them – and tee it high and let it fly on this par-72, 7,589-yard course.

Welcome to mountain golf. Framed perfectly looking northwest at the surrounding hills, you could just stand there and admire the views from the elevated tees. We had a deer run across while we were there. It’s also a great hole to play. Bunkers line the left and guard the green on both sides. And did we say the view was great?

Just to remind you that you’re golfing in altitude, we bring you up to the woods. This par-4 requires a blind tee shot. The hole bends right and is downhill all the way, including a green which slopes away from you. Long hitters should put away the big stick and fade a long iron here. On your approach club down and try to use the sidehill on the left. It takes you right into the green.

About the only thing this area doesn’t have is a Sawgrass-style island green par-3. Sonnenalp’s second is pretty close. You do have some bail-out room right, but carrying that ravine that’s right in front of you is going to make you choke your golf club to death on the tee shot.

A flat-out beautiful hole with difficulty to match. Isolated with the nearby eighth, it’s quiet and uphill, making the yardage deceptive. Cordillera’s signature killer bunkers dot this hole, and the view of the New York Range – once you get to the green – is postcard-worthy.

Part of Cotton Ranch’s signature mesa where Pete Dye’s links design turns into a mountain course, No. 5 wasn’t a pushover before this year. Now with a big pond guarding the fairway – and our thanks go out to the course’s head pro Stephen O’Brien for this addition, freaking two balls in the drink – this one has more teeth. If you survive the water, you still have to carry a ravine to a small green.

Another signature of the local links is obscenely-long par-4s. With its twin, No. 18, to the right, Arnold Palmer did not disappoint when it came to this department. Water is all-too inviting on the left side, but O.B. looms to the right. Did we say this was long? On opening day of the course, the King himself needed a driver and a 4-iron to reach the green of this behemoth.

We’ve got good news. This hole is downhill. We’ve also got some bad news. Tom Fazio, who must of not have liked sand as a child because he’s taking it out on us now, put all the bunkers in the right places. There also is a pond to the left of the green. Though the Cordillera Valley course does not have many water hazards, this one more than makes up for the lack of other splash-downs

After those two long holes, we need a break. So, it’s par-3 time. The dropping par-3 is prominent in local loops, but nowhere is it more jaw-dropping than at these two holes. On our fantasy 18, we’ll rotate these two on a daily basis – just like Red Sky does with its Norman and Fazio courses. For the love of anything holy – and golfers would find religion quickly on this course – club down. Do watch the wind, especially at Cotton Ranch. And look for more fun par-3s on our Executive Course.

Yes, this is a par-4. We weren’t joking about the ridiculously-long nature of par-4s in this county. Teeing off in Glenwood Springs, or it just seems like that, it is downhill all the way. The fairway – eventually – is split by water and the green is well-protected. Sunday pin position for this hole is front and left and that just adds to the challenge of this par-7, er, par-4.

We could have been sadistic and put Cotton Ranch’s sixth here. We could have put Vail’s 12th here, but I have a particular animus toward a tree on that hole. So let’s play some long ball down in Eagle. Please note that this par-5 is only 10 yards longer than the previous par-4. The tee shot is elevated here which is nice. On the other hand, it’s uphill the rest of the way. The elevated green, which has spectacular views, is guarded by finger-like, deep bunkers.

We give you the Vail Golf Club’s hardest hole on the card. The oldest loop in the county makes its turn toward the gorgeous Gore Range with a whopper of a par-4. A 250-yard drive still leaves you with a mid-iron into a bunker-guarded green. Have fun. And don’t hook the ball left on Saturdays because the Vail Rugby Football Club plays on the field next door. Conking them with a Titleist isn’t a good lifestyle choice.

This par-3 likely has more sand than Malibu, Calif. There are bunkers in front. There are bunkers in back. What’s really amusing is that in these bunkers there are few patches of grass just to give you the slimmest bit of hope. Bring a shovel.

A really intimidating tee shot. Trust us, there is a fairway out there. Honest. The hole seems even tighter with the presence of bunkers. If you think we were obsessed with the bunkers at Cordillera, you’re right. We were in them all day.

Yet another picturesque hole in Wolcott, where you stand at the tees and look out over the hills. This hole tightens exactly where you’re drive is supposed to go, making for an excellent risk-reward play. A word to the wise, don’t go over this green. If you’re lucky, you’re on grass facing an uphill pitch with the flag nowhere in sight. If you’re unlucky, you’re in a huge bunker in back. In that case, tell the rest of your foursome that you loved your family and start hacking.

Let the big dog eat on this downhiller. You want to land on the right side of this fairway, which doglegs left to get a look at the green. You’re not done yet though. Precision is a must with the beach on the right of the green and two well-positioned ponds on the left.

One final par-3 before we head home, except that this is not your average ace opportunity. Being a borderline par-4 with its distance, players have to carry a gully, and even then, landing on this slick green is no easy task. Right and short is not the place to be. We learned that the hard way with bunkers and the salad.

A few years ago, Sonnenalp was scheduled to host the Colorado Open. For the event, the course flipped its nines, making this hole the last. It definitely can decide a tournament or make an impact on your foursome’s competition. You need a big tee shot and then an equally exquisite approach to avoid a watery grave.

Why not bookend the round with par-5s at Red Sky? I’m on a first-name basis with the left-fairway bunker. You do have gravity on your side on this closing hole. You should have a life-preserver for your shot onto the green. There is plenty of potential for a Tin Cup moment here.

Eagle-Vail has a par-3 course in Willow Creek. Cordillera has the Short Course. Why not a fantasy par-3 set? Plus, we had to leave out too many good par-3s from our fantasy track. These can all be birdie holes. They can also leave an ugly number on your card.

We think this is the shortest hole in Eagle County on a championship 18, but with Gore Creek guarding a tiny green from an elevated tee, this requires precision. We swear the pin is always up front. Get your ball retriever.

It’s simple, right? Cross the Eagle River with a short iron. I have a severe love-hate relationship with this hole because of the number of kayakers I’ve nearly killed with shots that have fallen short.

There’s a pond to the left. Don’t go left. Think about Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the Christian Coalition. Right, right, right. Bleep, I naturally hit one left of Ted Kennedy. Splash.

A mild drop shot that gets some nice kick from the left, if you’re fortunate. I parred this hole, which means that Cordillera will likely have to raze this one.

We’re not just putting this here because the boss of Colorado Mountain News Media lives by the tees and took great amusement from watching us. Water left is a lot of trouble and this green put the “U” in undulation.

6. Eagle Ranch No. 15, 197 yards| One of two drop-shots on Arnold Palmer’s loop, this one’s a dandy. We take 15 over five just because there’s no pond. Many trout were killed in the making of this story.

Don’t go left. There’s a bunker there with a staircase. Don’t go right, there’s a bunker there, too. All things being equal, I go with my hook. I like stairs.

Going down? Yet another beautiful isolated hole at Red Sky. The good news on this very long drop shot is that you probably can get away with hitting a mulligan.

Enjoy the ride past Stone Creek to Eagle Vail’s most isolated hole. It’s a wonderful summer cool-off. The tips aren’t that long here. The blues usually play about 135 yards. It’s a nice wedge or short iron in the middle of an aspen grove.