Eagle Vail Golf Club in Avon, CO
Tee Time: July 26, 2013, 1:20, 87 F, light wind
Designer: Bruce Devlin/Robert von Hagge (1975)
Playing Partners: Brendan Noonan, CJ Phelan, Greg Ryan, Landon Weight, Landon Norton
Tees: Blue, Par 71 (70.7 rating/133 slope/6,538 yards)
Course Handicap: 11 (9.5 index)
Stats: 87 (41-46); 33 putts; 2/13 fairways; 5/18 greens; 2 penalty strokes
Eagle Vail Golf Club served as the opening round at the 2nd Annual Hacktus Open Invitational, which is now represented by an ugly cowboy gecko statue instead of that majestic crystal cactus. And I know I picked a good course when five contestants, of five wildly different skill levels, all agreed on how beautiful and fun it is. Eagle Vail is the perfect example of mountain golf, and peaking at 7,805 feet on the 18th tee box, it is most definitely in the mountains. There are majestic Douglas firs, flowing streams and leafy aspen trees. While they are captivating, those elements can also mess up a hole pretty badly. My last hole finished with a punch out that went into a group of four aspens, pinballing off each trunk before being spit back into the rough ten yards away. But of all the mountain courses I’ve been to, which unfortunately isn’t too many, I can tell this is one of the fairer ones. The course won’t beat good shots, although whoever places the pins will. An absurd number of flags were on some treacherous slopes where three-putts would be considered a good finish. The only real drawback at Eagle Vail is the one hole where you get a view of the Wal-Mart and Home Depot across the I-70.
The opening hole features a monster drop from tee to fairway. While it looks intimidating, especially with homes off to the left and fellow players watching from the pro shop and putting green, it is still the easiest of the tee shots that drop like a roller coaster. The fairway at this 550-yard par 5 is wide and the ball will hang in this altitude like an NFL punt, so there is a good chance to get the round off on the right foot. The 436-yard 2nd is a tough par 4 that bends right to a shallow green. There are trees that make cutting the corner risky, and missing into the rough leaves the green out of reach. The rough here is pretty thick and the ball has no problem settling down and requiring a strong hack to advance it. At least the 3rd is a gentler curve to the right and 60 yards shorter, but the creek comes into play for the first time so there is that to look out for. The first par 3, the 146-yard 4th is pretty dangerous, especially with that front pin. There is almost nowhere to miss. Go short and either roll into the water or find a deep sand trap. Go long and find an impossible downhill putt that won’t stay on the green, that’s for sure. Missing left might work though. The 5th is a real fun hole, a 390-yard par 4. There is a towering Douglas fir right on the driving line that can literally swat balls out of the air and into the water below. The locals call it Dikembe Mutombo, and it’s easy to see why. When a guy in our group hit the trunk, I swear I saw one of the branches give that finger wag. No, no, no.
The sixth is much more open than it appears from the tee, but there is a creek in front of the green so hitting from the fairway would be preferable. The 425-yard 7th is like a mirror of the 6th, only the water runs all down the right side and the green is a little elevated which makes running it on hard. But you do get a great view of that crystal clear mountain water by the green, if you haven’t spent too much time in the sand at least. The shortest hole, the 115-yard 8th is also the only uphill par 3, with a blind look to the pin on a front-to-back green. At least being able to hit a wedge means the ball shouldn’t run too hard off the back. Then there’s the massive 9th, with a blind drop from the tee to a downhill fairway aiming for a green 446 yards away. There is a tall pine tree on the right that you should aim over and just pray. I’d post a picture, but that would spoil the surprise when you get there. If we had to fend for ourselves, so will you, unless you’re lucky enough to have a local like Landon with you. Just for helping me make a par there alone I owe him a beer.
Enjoy the bratwurst at the 11th hole snack bar and muscle up for a 548-yard par 5. Actually don’t put too much behind that tee shot, because the creek cuts across the fairway at about 270 yards or so and runs all along the right side. Apparently there can also be trouble long of the green, because one of us found a hot tub, so watch for that, too. The right fairway at the 12th reminds me of African continent, there’s water running all along the east coast and the Horn of Africa, which is a risky spot to land as it juts into the creek. Take the risk and the approach shot is much easier. It probably doesn’t look that way on the scorecard, but that’s just how I thought of it. There were no Somalian pirates patrolling the waters, though. Probably the easiest par 3 on the course is the 187-yard 13th. It plays the longest, but there is no trouble to be found, not a tree, bunker or creek in sight, which makes life much easier. The par-5 14th plays straight away. If you can carry the bunker along the right edge of the fairway, getting home in two is a virtual lock, just avoid the left side as trees, home and sand can make for a miserable time. Your most accurate tee shot should be at the 15th, which snakes from left to right back to the left, but between the fairway and the green, water and tall trees cut off a substantial angle if playing from the left side. One of the tougher approach shots is the short wedge from the fairway at the 318-yard 16th. It is over a cascading stream to a shallow, two-tiered green. It sure is beautiful, though. Wander past the water and across the bridge to the 141-yard 17th. Combined with 16, these are the two coolest holes on the golf course in terms of atmosphere. With the water running quietly between them, it makes for a peaceful experience that should temper your frustration when the green funnels your ball off to the left rough. If the elevated tee at the first is the easiest and the drop at the 9th is the hardest, then 18 would be of middling difficulty. If you hit it far enough into the bottleneck, a downhill, 200-yard shot is all that’s left to reach the green. Anything else and reaching in three is an achievement.
I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention the amazing bratwürste that are just $5 at the turn. Well, actually after the 10th, because at the turn you are on a tee box that is so high above the clouds Mario would find secret coins there. Now I won’t be posting any pictures of said sausage because I’m not some hipster douche who Instagrams anything that’s about to enter his mustachioed mouth, but I will paint a picture. On a massive sourdough roll sits a perfectly grilled bratwurst that is ideal for filling with any topping you please. Ketchup (eww), mustard (mmm), relish (blech), sauerkraut (meh) and Tabasco (tasty) can all be added to enhance the eating experience. That or you could probably fit a second brat in there. Either way, savor it. Just don’t post it to Facebook, please.
Eagle Vail Golf Club is a great place for a round. You can take anyone and they’ll have a good time, unless you’re an old Minnesotan couple paired with Greg, apparently… The course is challenging but not so much that lesser players would quit. The views are amazing, especially playing back into the mountains where the water, evergreens and quiet ambience make golf seem secondary. The golf is fun, and the greens are very slick and tricky while the rough is as tough as any amateur should get into (unless he’s gonna qualify for the US Open of course). The pro shop is well stocked, the cart girls enjoyable and the best part is the bar offers a Coors Light after the round that is priced based on your score. An 85 would be 85 cents, for example. Adds a bit of pressure on that putt to break 100 if you’ve only got a dollar in your pocket.
#10, Par 3, 197 yards, 18-handicap, My Score: 4
Layout: B+; there are times when the layout can feel a bit too hokey, but the course does a great job of limiting that as it winds through the mountains and streams. The downhill tee shots are fun for launching altitude-enhanced bombs and the course does a great job of fitting in with the natural terrain.
Amenities: B; that bratwurst is awesome and the Score for a Beer promotion is something that should be amended into the Constitution because it’s just that genius. But the range balls were pretty lousy, probably so they didn’t get launched into the houses at the other end. Also, GPS carts, another thing that should’ve been included in the Bill of Rights.
Staff: A-; friendly at all times, from check-in to shuttling you down to the range to even walking your bags to the car, which was much appreciated as some of us still adjusting to the altitude were sucking wind.
Difficulty: B-; while the greens are tough, the pins were what made them devilish. The fairways are a good width and that rough is gnarly. The water can be in play, but fortunately there aren’t really any spots where a good shot will magically get wet.
Scenery: A-; it only got docked half a grade because of the Wal-Mart you could see from a couple tee boxes. That’s really not their fault. The I-70 is viewable from a few spots on the front nine, but the back side is as pretty as any mountain course can be.
Value: A; $79 a person in the high season is a great deal here in the mountains. With the season cut short by Rocky Mountain winters each year, these guys have to get what they can when they can, but I appreciate them not gouging the consumer. Although those logo balls are $8 Pro-V1s, I would’ve settled for a cheap Pinnacle to put in the case.
Overall GPA: 3.40 (B+); I do love this course, and it’s pretty sweet for a buddies trip too. The town surrounding Eagle-Vail isn’t too exciting, there is a decent cafe, but Vail is close and it’s just an hour from Breckenridge, making it well worth the drive out.