Swingers | AspenTimes.com


Tim Mutrie
Aspen Times Staff Writer

So many splendid golf courses, such a deplorable swing.

Though it might appear like I’m only warming up on the golf course, most times it’s for real and I just whiffed, missing the ball entirely (but not necessarily the divot).

If there’s one genre of sport that fully escapes me from a participatory perspective, it’s the country-club set. Anything with racquets or clubs, and I’m at a loss.

Not that I haven’t tried. I was exposed to both golf and tennis growing up, but I seem to have devoted more time to scavenging for lost balls than hitting them.

And over the years as sports editor at The Aspen Times, I’ve received countless offers to play all of the valley’s courses, public and private. Each time I decline – “Really, I can’t play” – and pass on the offers to our sports columnist, Todd Hartley, an avid golfer himself who invariably accepts.

Todd once tried to give me a “lesson” at the Ranch at Roaring Fork. The experiment failed, most poignantly at the sub-100-yard eighth hole, where I plunked three consecutive “drives” into the small water hazard (pond?) before safely jerking one across.

In fact, the only par I’ve ever scored was on a beautiful, if soggy, links course in Dungarven, Ireland, three springs ago while playing in a foursome with my dad, sister and brother. My brother, the only golfer among us, opened the proceedings prophetically by launching his first drive into a sheep pasture adjacent to the fairway.

By the third hole, I was ankle-deep in muck, chasing my ball into a swamp. As I tried to “spray” the ball back out onto the fairway, I instead splatter-painted myself with mud and only pounded the ball deeper into the mire.

Then a rainstorm forced my dad and sister off our prescribed nine-hole outing after No. 5, and my brother and I played on in the downpour. It worsened as we arrived at the ninth tee, escalating into a full-blown hailstorm – with balls a third the size of the golf balls bouncing all around us.

But this great distraction was what I needed, apparently, because I pinged my drive into the fairway a good ways and managed an iron-shot to the lip of the green. That left me two shots to make par; my final putt caromed from hailstone to hailstone – like a “plinko chip” on “The Price is Right” game board – and into the hole. With that, we called it a good day and squished back to the clubhouse.

Sometime later, a buddy from Chicago sent me a set of irons – my first – in the mail. I purchased a vintage red-and-white, fake patent-leather Titleist bag for $20 at Gracy’s and found a cheap putter at the Thrift Shop.

I was ready, so Todd and I launched the grand experiment. And I still couldn’t hit the ball most times, and certainly not straight or with any consistency.

The clubs gathered dust for the next two years in my storage closet.

Then another one of those offers came in, this time from Alden Richards, the executive director of the Aspen Junior Golf Foundation (AJGF) and a pro instructor. Would I like a lesson?

Within half an hour, I was striking balls straight and true each time. Well, at least it seemed that way inside the new AJGF clubhouse, where I hit into a net and then got to review my swings on a video display.

After an hour, I’d internalized some of the fundamental mechanics Richards was talking about and went out to the range for a real test drive. To my amazement, it was the same thing: the same “ping” with each hit (or, rather, most hits) and another thing – a smile.

Just then I got an inkling of understanding about golf – of what motivates passionate players to drive to Grand Junction in January to play, of why it’s a weekly (at least) ritual for guys like Todd, of why this week the range was full of bartenders and waiters and other night crawlers taking advantage of early season-pass specials at the Aspen Golf Club.

All the courses in the valley are now open, from Aspen to Glenwood and in between. The Glenwood Springs Golf Club, incidentally, has been open for more than a month, and the new, private Ironbridge Golf Club in Glenwood Springs will hold its grand opening May 1. The Snowmass Club, currently closed for an extensive redesign, hopes for an August reopening, though a spokesman said that remains an optimistic goal.

Just “fore” kids

One of these days, a tiger’s going to come of these woods.

Richards knows it, and he smiles at the thought.

During my lesson with Richards, the phone rings every couple of minutes. AJGF is gearing up for its 16th summer season of offering youths ages 5 through 18 inexpensive golf instruction and play. While the summer program doesn’t begin for another six weeks, in early June, parents are eager to sign up their kids.

Each year, more than 300 kids participate in the program, as well as in the newly created “Junior Tour in the Rockies” youth tournaments throughout the valley.

“This is an opportunity for all kids to get involved in the game of golf and have fun,” said Richards. “There’s a lot for them to take advantage of.”

AJGF is one of two major programs for valley youth to learn the game of golf. The other is run by Doug Rohrbaugh, the former AJGF director, at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale.

Other programs are offered at the Ranch at Roaring Fork and the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt.

River Valley Ranch’s program is similar to Aspen’s in that it’s affordable and accessible. Classes run weekday mornings in the summer and, like AJGF’s, open in early June.

Getting involved, in fact, is merely a matter of getting in the swing of things.

For information about the Aspen Junior Golf Foundation, call 920-3221; for information about the River Valley Ranch Junior Golf Program, call 963-3625.

Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com

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