Ski and tee: Cotton Ranch open

Chris Freud
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Danny Pagni, of Glenwood Springs, tees off on the eighth hole Saturday at Cotton Ranch in Gypsum. The eighth is a 164-yard par-3 hole that drops a good 150 feet. (Preston Utley/Vail Daily)

GYPSUM – Daylight savings time can be your friend, especially when you’re a golfer.

With clocks springing forward earlier in 2007 and Mother Nature cooperating, the Cotton Ranch Golf Club has 18 holes open.

And that means a whole month of skiing and golf in the same day. The club is located west of Vail and Beaver Creek.

“It’s wonderful for us,” Cotton Ranch head golf pro and general manager Steven O’Brien said. “It’s great for us to have the ski and tee, which has always been a great promotion for us. The tourists are coming down. They’re so excited. They’re skiing. They take a day off and they call their friends up and say, ‘Hey, I’m playing a round of golf at Cotton Ranch in March.'”

And as an early-season special, greens fees at the Pete Dye course are $55, including cart.

In skiing terms, Cotton Ranch’s front nine is definitely a double-black diamond. Nos. 1 and 2 are straight-forward. Hit a long iron on the opening tee shot to avoid the reeds at the end of the fairway, and just don’t go left on the second.

Holes 3-9 offer arguably the toughest stretch of golf In Eagle County available to the public. The third is a long par-3, 184-yarder from the men’s tees and usually plays into some form of cross wind.

No. 4 starts the march up to The Mesa with 555 yards from the tips. With the uphill climb, this plays a lot longer than the card. For those with a slice, your shots, especially during the early season, have a chance of popping out of the sage.

Once on top at the fifth, accuracy is paramount. Miss a fairway on Nos. 5-7 and forget about it.

“If you can get by those holes – par them or even bogey them – you are ahead of the game,” O’Brien said.

People’s evidence A is No. 6. The par-5 is No. 1 on the card, but not in golfer’s hearts. The landing areas slant from right to left and are very narrow. This is a true three-shot par-5. If you haven’t had enough fun here, a ravine and bunkers guard the green.

Drop shots are a signature element of golfing in Eagle County, and Cotton Ranch has a beauty in No. 8. It’s a 164-yard, par-3 that drops a good 150 feet. Please club down or you’ll find your ball on its way back to Vail.

Most like to use pitching wedge here, but for the record O’Brien goes with a choked-up 9.

“The views from there are great” O’Brien said. “The ball just floats out there and drops like a rock.”

There’s some new help on No. 9 in 2007. During the winter, the crew at Cotton Ranch widened the fairway on the right, eliminating some of the marsh area. The hole is still a tough end to the front at 443 yards from the men’s tees. Do note the pin position on this two-tiered green.

After hanging on during the front nine, golfers can score on the back. Nos. 10 and 11 usually play into the wind as Dye’s links-style course asserts its character. You’ve got the wind at your pack on the back’s two par-5s (13 and 16), and those are reachable in two.

Nos. 14 and 15 are two excellent side-by-side par-5s. For our money, the green-side pot bunker on 14 is one of the toughest from which to escape in the county.

The last is a fine finishing hole with Gypsum Creek along the right side of the fairway. Make sure your drive is long enough, otherwise your approach will be in the aforementioned creek. There is plenty of potential for a “Tin Cup” moment here.

Either way, summer is definitely on the way.

“Evening golf out here is paradise, especially now with daylight savings time,” O’Brien said. “I checked last night and it was 7:15 or 7:30 (p.m.), and you could still be playing. It’s certainly brisk now, but come the summer, it’s going to be beautiful.”