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Vail Valley Revisited – Fall Golf in the Rockies

By: Nancy Berkley


It was hot and humid on the East Coast this summer. So, in August, when Vail Resorts invited me out to Colorado to review golf courses, I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. Angela Berardino, the communications manager for Vail Resorts, was especially interested in my evaluation from a women’s point of view because they recognize women as an important customer segment.

Vail Resorts, known for its savvy and successful management of ski areas, such as Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone to name a few, also manages luxury golf resort properties, including those for the famous “Rock Resorts” brand (www.rockresorts.com).

My first stop was the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, (about 30 minutes west of Vail). The facility had just recently become a Rock Resort and is now managed by Vail Resorts. Although the new management had been in place just a few months, the Rock Resorts branding was already on the front door.

Cordillera is basically a private development with several hundred expensive homes. Golf memberships are almost exclusively for Cordillera residents, and residents have priority tee times on their four courses. But perched on a fabulous location is a small 56-room public hotel – the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. The patio at the Lodge offers one of the finest après golf settings in Colorado.

The four Cordillera courses have had mixed reviews. I’ve always been more on the positive side because I appreciate the panoramic vistas on golf courses. (Under the current Vail Resorts management, guests of the Lodge do not always have access to prime tee times; so, it is important in making Lodge reservations to confirm available tee times as well.)

Will women golfers enjoy their visit to Cordillera Lodge and golf courses?

My answer is mixed. The spa facility was completely renovated in 2004 and offers an excellent menu of spa activities. But, in general, if you are expecting the five-star service of a luxury resort, you could be disappointed. To be fair, judgments should be suspended until Vail Resorts has managed the property for a full season. Check out www.cordillera-vail.com to find some Fall specials that still offer excellent value.

What about golf at Cordillera? The Mountain Course, which I played briefly during an afternoon rain shower this past visit, was carved out of the mountains by Hale Irwin a decade ago. The Mountain Course is the course closest to the clubhouse and the Timber Hearth Grill and is on the development’s higher elevations. I’ve played Mountain several times. It’s not an easy course for women because there are so many difficult uphill shots. The slope from the red tees – 138 – confirms this.

The Summit Course, a Jack Nicklaus design, has spectacular mountain views almost as good as those found on Cape Kidnappers (a Tom Doak design in New Zealand). That said, there are certain weeks in the summer when the black flies on Summit can ruin a round. Also, the fairways are so exposed to the elements that the turf is fragile and shows wear quickly. The forward tees on Summit are friendlier than on Irwin’s course. But beware of the altitude – 9,000 feet – which makes the walk up to the elevated greens an aerobic exercise.

Many women golfers will find Cordillera’s Tom Fazio Valley Course, a 10-minute drive from the Lodge, probably the most enjoyable course to play. The fairways are like funnels, and errant shots miraculously find their way back into the fairways.

The fourth course at Cordillera is the Dave Pelz short course. I love this nine-hole course! It’s a great family layout and a fine place to sharpen your short game. Pelz offers several golf schools at Cordillera (packaged with a stay at the Lodge) during the season.

A Bonus of Staying at the Lodge

The two courses at Red Sky Ranch in Wolcott, Colo. – about 15 minutes east of Edwards – are among my favorites. Red Sky Ranch is another Vail Resorts real estate development with very pricey golf memberships. Every day and alternatively, one course is exclusively for members and the other is open to guests of about 20 Vail Resorts properties in the area – including Cordillera. The in-season fees are expensive at $250, but look for special pricing in the shoulder season. See www.redskygolfclub.com. Vail Resorts has so many lodging properties in the area that their golf and stay packages offer great value.

Both the Norman and Fazio courses are excellent choices for women. The Red and most forward tees (about 5,250 yards) have almost identical ratings and slopes: 68 course rating and a 125 slope. The Sage tees (about 6,000 yards) have women’s ratings of about 72 and slopes of 137. On both courses, it is possible to play a “combo” set of tees – some Red and some Sage. New this season is the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at Red Sky, which offers several options ranging from private lessons to three-day mini schools. For more, visit www.davidleadbetter.com.

Women will appreciate the amenities on the Red Sky courses. The restrooms are beautiful, spotless and well-stocked with supplies. And the on-course food service is managed by a chef from one of the best restaurants in Vail. Delicious!

On this visit, I played the Greg Norman course. Norman’s forward tees are always excellent – very playable but still challenging. And the scenery on Red Sky is breathtaking.

On some holes, I couldn’t decide whether to reach for my camera or my driver. Norman’s greens are strategically challenging because of the huge fringe around the greens. Women with good short games will do well on this course.

Another Favorite Course

Finally, I want to mention another favorite course: Eagle Ranch Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer design situated a bit west of Eagle. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Red Sky Ranch. This public course is the centerpiece of the new Eagle Ranch development.

The course (www.eagleranchgolf.com) is carved out of an old ranch set in a broad valley. I’ve played Eagle Ranch several times since it opened in 2001 and each year, as it matures, it gets better and better. The shoulder-season 18-hole rate is $69. But the course offers coupon books that make peak-season rates affordable. The course layout plays up into the hills and offers panoramic views of the Sawatch Mountains.

Although Eagle Ranch from the forward tees is only 5,500 yards (about the same yardage as Red Sky), the slope is 132 and plays a little harder than the Red Sky courses because of water hazards and natural, untended vegetation bordering the holes.

Women will find Eagle Ranch a friendly place for golf. While there, take a lesson from Alice Plain, a popular and experienced PGA and LPGA instructor at Eagle Ranch.

The town of Eagle is the county seat of Eagle County. The community has seen recent growth as people move “down valley” and away from the busy and more expensive Vail and Beaver Creek. Eagle is also booming due to its airport, which offers jet service on United and Continental airlines.

For an economical vacation, consider staying at the highway hotel and motels in Eagle. Save money on your room and spend it on the links. Most of all, play well and have fun.

If you would like to read more about other golf destinations in Colorado, see my summer 2004 review of Rocky Mountain golf, at http://www.ladiesgolfjourney.com/rocky-mountains-golf.htm.

Nancy Berkley is an expert on women’s golf. Her book, “Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women’s Golf,” published in 2003 by the National Golf Foundation, is the industry reference on how-to attract and retain women golfers. She updates her research and best practices on her website www.nancyberkley.com.

Nancy consults with facilities on how they can increase participation and revenues from women golfers and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Nancy also reviews courses for “The Golf Insider,” an international golf and travel newsletter, and “Ladies Golf Journey,” a golf publication for women. She’s contributed articles to “Golf For Women” magazine and is the author of the 2004 PGA Magazine cover story about women golfers.

A respected resource in the golf industry, Nancy participates in Golf 20/20, the annual strategic invitation-only conference sponsored by the PGA Tour, the PGA, the LPGA, and the World Golf Foundation. At the November 2004 Conference, she moderated the panel discussions on player development with a focus on women golfers. She has addressed the National Golf Course Owner’s Association at their National Conference as well as at numerous marketing seminars for the PGA and LPGA professionals. Nancy serves as a consultant to the Golden Links Advisory Board of Corporate Meetings & Incentives, a PRIMEDIA Business Publication. Nancy is an experienced golfer and has competed on the Metropolitan Women’s Golf Association (N.J., N.Y., Conn.) interclub matches. She’s served on the Board and Golf Committees of her golf clubs in Florida and New Jersey.

In 1998, Nancy founded Berkley Consulting and The Woman’s Only Guide® to Golf to share her long-time passion for golf and to help grow the game. Prior to working in the golf industry, Nancy was an attorney for a Wall Street firm and then held a number of senior executive positions with Prudential Financial, including Assistant General Counsel and Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Business Integration. Nancy began her professional career as a high school teacher.

Nancy holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Minnesota; a master’s degree in teaching from Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and a law degree from Rutgers University School of Law, where she was a member of the Law Review. She is a graduate of the Program for Management Development at Harvard Business School.

Nancy describes herself as a bogey golfer and plays on her home courses in New Jersey and Florida. To contact her, write, call or email Nancy at: Nancy Berkley, Berkley Consulting 16 Fordham Road, Livingston, NJ 07039; Telephone: 973/992-1656; Fax 973/533-1986; E-mail: NMBerkley@aol.com. (Winter: 242 Eagleton Estates Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418; Telephone: 561/776-7243).