Ranch at Roaring Fork " a low-key, surprisingly good course
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE ” Who says you can’t polish off a round of golf in an hour?
That’s the niche filled by Ranch at Roaring Fork, a nine-hole, par-3 course outside Carbondale nestled amongst the Roaring Fork Valley’s bevy of world-class courses.
“We have our little, unique golf niche,” Tom Vail, Ranch at Roaring Fork’s golf operations manager, boasts.
And it lies in the heart of a residential community that favors fishing over all else.
“(It’s) a fishing, equestrian and golf (crowd),” Vail noted, “though it’s fishing dominated. About 15 percent of our play is by owners.”
The residual 85 percent is a blue-collar crowd ” folks who do not necessarily have the time, nor the money to pay the hefty green fees, required to tackle a more prestigious 18-hole course.
“We get seniors, kids, a big after-work crowd,” Vail said. “You can just stop in. Not everybody has five hours to play a round of golf. You can stop in and pay at an affordable price, and it doesn’t take all day.
“We get the tourist crowd, too. Not everybody can play Snowmass. They look at the price and realize they can show up here and golf with their whole family.”
Vail’s polished pitch paints a very honest picture. He knows the prime demographics to target, and does not oversell the course he’s working with. But, he’s a perfectionist to the core and he aims high.
“I think you have to deal with what you have to work with,” he said. “We do a good job. People are pleasantly surprised. Notoriously, par-3 courses are like cow pastures.
“People are surprised with how well the greens are kept. They might not roll as fast as the higher-end courses. But at places like Aspen Glen, they spend more time on one hole than we can spend on our whole course here.”
THE COURSE CROWD AT A GLANCE
Jack Sebasta is a man who makes the most out of a value, and the Carbondale resident gets the most out of his Ranch at Roaring Fork pass every season. Last season, he golfed 136 rounds.
“That’s not bad on a $400 pass,” Sebasta said with a chuckle. “There’s not many who do that, no.”
And if you catch Sebasta on the course, you won’t mistake him for Tiger Woods – well, not the present-day Woods, anyway.
“Actually, at my age, I probably swing the club about as well as Tiger Woods did when he was 2 or 3,” Sebasta, a Chicago native, quipped.
Sebasta is about as loyal as they come, and there are others like him. For the most part, though, the course draws from folks looking to get on and off the links quickly, but would rather get a round in than hack at the driving range.
A relaxed dressed code and virtually no wait time to hit the course make for a low-maintenance affair. At most, says Vail, golfers will find a 20-minute wait.
And that’s an extreme.
“We might get two or three groups stacked up on a Sunday,” Vail said. “Some holidays get stacked up.”
And the dress code doesn’t require a trip home to change after work.
“We don’t require collared shirts,” Vail relayed. “We prefer people don’t wear clod hoppers or work boots, just smooth-soled shoes.”
THE MAN BEHIND THE COURSE
Vail is a man of many hats. His golf operations manager title is a loaded one.
His days run from 8 in the morning to 8 at night and entails a little of everything.
“It’s a mixed blessing,” he said. “One minute, I’m playing irrigation guy, then I’m doing maintenance, then I’m on a mower, then I’m fixing a golf shop issue. Like I said, it’s a mixed blessing.”
And, curiously enough, Vail’s a golf course manager who doesn’t golf all that much.
“I spend so much time at the golf course; I put in 85 to 90 hours a week, full-time, the last thing I want to do is play.”
Still, he’s been associated with – in one capacity or another – Ranch at Roaring Fork since 1989, save a two-year stint at Aspenglen in the late 1990s.
Vail, a product of the Denver suburbs – specifically, Northglenn – arrived in the Valley in 1984. He played ski bum for a while and never left.
“It’s the Ute Indian curse,” he joked. “You come, look at [Mount] Sopris and you can’t leave. I made a niche for myself.”
That niche revolves around seasonal jobs. Vail, who back in the day studied ski area operations at the Leadville Colorado Mountain College campus, spends his winters planted in a Sno-Cat maintaining trails at Snowmass.
Though it’s the ski industry that brought him here in the first place, golf is where his heart is at as far as his work life is concerned.
“I have learned to prefer golf,” he said. “It probably has something to do with this place being not as corporate. It’s like Disneyland at Snowmass, so corporate. But I’m sitting on a Sno-Cat with nobody bugging me, so I guess that’s why I like it.”
Perhaps the greatest gift golf has given Vail is his wife, Nancy.
“I met my wife mowing behind her fence,” he proudly boasted. “I used to work with her father at the golf shop. It all started with patio talk. She let me through the back gate to fill up my water bottle and we live happily ever after.”
The couple has been married five years and Nancy co-manages the golf shop.
“I was a single, stereotypical ski bum forever,” Vail said. “She slowed me down
Judging by his around-the-clock work schedule, she hasn’t slowed him down the uber-active Vail too much.