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Playing with the upper crust

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The governing bodies of international golf have done much in the past few years to break down the image of golf as a game only for the privileged.

One obstacle the United States has faced is that America’s most well-known golf courses have traditionally been reserved for America’s most well off. If you don’t have big money, you can’t play the big courses. It’s the curse of the country club.

Only recently have country club-quality courses been offered to blue-collar birdie hunters. Architect guru Jim Engh’s newest offering in Colorado ” Lakota Canyon Ranch ” is a world-class course open to the public in New Castle, which, in case you’ve never been, isn’t exactly Nantucket.

Yet even fabulous public access courses can never give the average golfer the feel of a true country club ” the perfectly manicured greens, the empty fairways, mahogany locker rooms. The country club, alas, remains an Elysium only for the elite.

But Aspen golfers should not despair. Thanks to a pesky group of county commissioners in Eagle County, Cordillera Resort in Vail (because of Kobe Bryant, certainly now the most famous golf resort in Colorado) must allow public play on its oh-so-private courses.

When Cordillera was conceived, the Eagle County commissioners mandated that the resort and residential community, which has three championship golf courses attached to it, reserve afternoon tee times for members of the public. It ain’t cheap ” the green fee is $235 ” but it’s a lot cheaper than joining the club (the joining fee is nearing $200,000).

Last weekend, I sampled the Summit Course, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course at the top of Cordillera property. Designed on a weather-beaten heath thousands of feet above the valley floor, the Summit Course gives one the feeling of strolling a course built on top of the world. Playing there is an amazing, if sometimes dizzying, experience.

Having said that, it’s not a truly great golf course ” even Nicklaus at his best lacks subtlety. But the greens are flawless, the service extraordinary, and the course almost always empty. You’ll leave the club with many different things ” a significantly lighter pocketbook to be sure ” but above all you’ll leave knowing what it’s like to be part of the country club clique, if only for an afternoon.

Start a piggy bank and consider a visit.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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