Away Game: Colorado
Un-Vailing Golf in Colorado
Vail in June feels like an intimate European ski village eager to share its thawed-out offerings with summer enthusiasts. My golf agenda crossed creeks with an annual event called the Teva Mountain Games, so as the kayakers were cartwheeling in the ice-cold water to the crunchy crowd's delight, I was navigating mountain courses in short-sleeves and a cart.
I flew into Denver, and before I made my way to Vail, I played CommonGround, which is a former military course renovated by Tom Doak in 2009. One of the hottest shapers in golf received no fee from the course's owners, the Colorado Golf Association and the Colorado Women's Golf Association. At that time Doak was getting about $750,000 to design a layout. "We were looking for a project that would allow us to give something back to the community and that was accessible to the average golfer," Doak says. As a result, CommonGround is one of the best courses in the country for $55 or less, and it's one of two courses used for the stroke-play portion of this year's U.S. Amateur (Aug. 13-19). Only 20 minutes from the airport, it's a must-play if you're anywhere near Denver.
After a serving of afternoon winds and five tough finishing holes, it was in my best interest to make the two-hour drive from CommonGround to Vail's high ground.
Bandon Dunes owner Mike Keiser recently said, "I don't think anyone has created a true St. Andrews concept in the U.S." CommonGround feels a little like St. Andrews to me. It appeals to tourists, caters to locals with special rates ($40), encourages walking and is cultivating a caddie program. In addition to Doak's design, there are nine holes for kids. CommonGround says its philanthropic mission is "to represent, promote and serve the best interests of golf in the state of Colorado."
At 7,880 feet, the ball never went far enough to make the game feel easy at the swanky and semiprivate 36-hole Red Sky Golf Club. The 240 members have their own log-cabin clubhouse at the course designed by Greg Norman, but you'll check in at the course built by Tom Fazio. The general theme of the Norman courses I've played is long, narrow and unforgiving. Conversely Fazio assists the high-handicapper by building receptive saddle-shaped fairways. That's not the case here: Red Sky's Norman is more forgiving off the tee than the Fazio. Both were in Augusta National condition and featured Masters-fast greens. Each day, one course is open to members only. The walk-up rate for either course is $240, and you can play both (but not on the same day) for $300. You have four days to take advantage of that deal, which is more reasonable than the $85 breakfast ticket for two, including egg burritos, fruit smoothies, Bloody Marys and a $10 tip.
That meal was $30 more than a $55 twilight rate at Vail Golf Club, a perfect combination of setting, convenience, value and fun. You'll play shots along the highway, Gore Creek and at the base of 2.3 million acres of national forest. (Those 150-yard markers are ski tips.) I walked it with a friend and joined two locals, who brought beer in carry coolers provided by the course.