Eagle Ranch Golf Club: Friendly lies meet awesome Vail Valley views
EAGLE, Colo. -- Soon after Arnold Palmer arrived at Eagle Ranch Golf Club for its grand opening, members of his design team whisked him away to take a closer look at no. 12, a hole that is causing lots of golfers to put the ball in their pocket before holing out.
It didn't take long before Palmer and his team made a decision that would please everyone.
The testy hole is a par 5, 614-yarder from the back tees that requires a long straight first tee shot and some decision-making on the second. A natural wash follows the fairway on the right, then crosses diagonally in the line of fire on the second shot.
The safe path is across the gully going right, just in front of a series of bunkers. That gives you a clear shot and view of the green for your third shot. The gambler, however, will go straight for the pin -- a path only for the best players because you can't see the target and trouble is everywhere.
The green is long and narrow and the ravine continues, cutting a path in front of the putting surface. Only the most accurate shots are going to find this green -- any kind of mis-hit will probably land in the deep wash.
"After looking at the hole again we decided to add a green in front of the bunkers to the right on the second shot," Palmer said. "But many members like the challenge and asked us to leave the original green. So we will make it a hole where you can play it either way -- you can take the most difficult route, the original green, or play to the less challenging green."
"I think it's a great decision," said Jeff Boyer, Eagle Ranch's director of golf. "Our GPS system allows us to see every golf cart on the course on a computer screen. And when the pace slows down the golf carts behind pace turn yellow. We were getting a lot of yellow carts on No. 12. I think a lot of golfers had the ball in their pockets before they even got to the green."
Eagle Ranch Golf Club is the first daily-fee course built in the Vail Valley since 1975 and its marketing claim states: "Play golf at 6,600-foot elevation without falling off the side of a mountain on a downhill lie."
That's a definite jab at some courses along the I-70 corridor out of Denver where the average golfer goes nuts trying to hit downhill, uphill and sidehill shots. And pay big bucks in the process.
Eagle Ranch is carved out of the Brush Creek Valley, a walkable beauty with only 1,000-feet in variation from the lowest to highest points and mountain views of the Sawatch Range, the Flat Tops and Castle Peak.
It plays to 7,575 yards with five sets of tees ranging down to 5,400 yards and forces you to negotiate generous-sized bent grass greens, lakes and streams, and uses drought-tolerant natural grasses, perennials and wildflowers in its environmentally-friendly landscape.
"The fairways are very playable and the rough won't be extremely tough," said Palmer. Green sizes range from 6,000- to 9,000-square feet.
A huge lake makes Nos. 9 and 18 two very tough holes. No. 9 is a whopping 498 par 4 from the back tees and one must favor the right side to set up the second shot away from the lake. In his exhibition round Palmer nailed his drive, found the right side of the green and two-putted for par. "That was a nice little four," he said.
But Palmer also demonstrated how tough the hole is, especially when the pin is on the left, near the water. After his first approach landed safely on the right side of the green, he stroked three into the lake trying to nail the pin.
No. 18, which plays along side the same lake, is a 478-yard par 4. This time you favor the left side of the fairway and since the green is deep and narrow, it's tough to attack the pin when it is back right near the lake and a huge bunker. If you make par here you have earned congratulations from Boyer and his staff.
The most interesting par 3 is on the front nine. No. 5 has the largest elevation change on the course. Climb to the top tee box and you have a 182-yard shot fronted by water. Palmer mis-hit his into the lake, then his second try was a beauty. The pros say take one less club to allow for the downhill nature of the hole.
Palmer was joined by two old friends on this day -- former PGA tour star Bob Toski and a Vail Valley golf pioneer, Dick Hauserman, who was on the board that launched the Vail Golf Club in the mid-60s.
"I first came to Vail in 1968 to do golf clinics with Hauserman and it was just a small town and the Vail Valley area was sparsely populated," Palmer said. "We think this golf course will do wonders for Eagle -- it's very important for the public golfers to have a place in this area."
Actually Palmer arrived that day in 1968 to establish the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy at Vail. It was just after he tied Bob Charles for second place in the PGA Championship at Pecan Valley in San Antonio. It was the closest Palmer ever came to winning that title.
Today, when you come to the Vail Valley and Eagle Ranch, you can rediscover Palmer's impact on the game of golf in this mountain setting. You might also want to keep a fly rod in your golf bag, because you could be tempted to head for a trout stream after your round of golf is over.
July 1, 2002