After last year’s dry start, Summit County golf clubs expect ‘best conditions in years’ thanks to heavy snowpack
If you ask Keystone Resort PGA professional Phil Tobias, when it comes to start-of-season weather, golf-course pros and operators such as himself like everything to be “normal.”
As the golfing season gets underway this spring throughout Summit County, the question is: how close to “normal” are the conditions at local golf courses? Considering the copious snowfall the county received this winter, especially later in the season, how did it all affect courses throughout the county?
From Copper Creek Golf Course at the county’s westward boundary to Keystone at the east, the answer to that question is slightly different at each location. But all in all, leaders at several clubs say the golf grounds have emerged from beneath this spring’s snowpack looking better than they have in years.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” Tobias said of Keystone’s River and Ranch golf courses, “and truly, this is one of the best years I’ve seen coming out of the winter at both courses.”
Last year, though some county courses were able to open early, dry spring weather affected the golf grounds in a different way.
“It’s a 180. It’s not even comparable,” Tobias said of The River Course at Keystone’s condition. “We’re in awesome shape.”
The River Course opened for the season on Friday, a week before Keystone’s Ranch Course will open next Friday, May 24.
Moments after chatting in The River Course’s clubhouse, snow descended on the county. It was a reminder to golfers at the county’s two open courses, The River Course at Keystone and The Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks — which was the first county course to open earlier this month — that Old Man Winter hasn’t completely unfurled his grip on the High Country.
For Tobias and Erroll Miller, the longtime director of golf operations at Breckenridge Golf Club, the key to a good start to golf season in the mountains revolves around Old Man Winter not blessing the county too much. Fortunately for Breckenridge Golf Club, Miller said the consistent insulation of a thick snow layer at the club throughout the winter, combined with some strong days of sunshine to melt the snow in recent weeks, has helped the club cultivate some of the best conditions, from tee to green, in years.
Considering how much more snow descended on Breckenridge compared to Keystone, Miller said the club’s maintenance work is a little behind. As a result, on Friday, May 24, Breckenridge will only open 18 of its 27 holes. Due to the more north-facing slope of the club’s Elk 9, it will open up a week after the Bear and Beaver 9s. Despite that, Miller is pleased with the success of the club’s agronomic practices since they applied fungicide in mid-March — during the height of this winter’s snowfall — to prevent snow mold on greens and tees.
The short-term drawback to all the snow: removal has been a hefty task. The long-term good news: the golf club likely won’t have to ration water like last year.
“It seems a lot of years the more snow we get, the better insulation we have from winds and desecration, et cetera,” Miller said. “We come out of it pretty darned good and, fortunately, 2019 is one of those years. … This year, with the amount of snow that the area received, we are ecstatic we are getting everything going next Friday. Usually by July 1, the course is in great shape. This year, gosh, by June 1 the course will be in great shape.
I’d say this is the best we’ve probably seen in four years.”
Over at Copper Creek Golf Course, golf pro Zach Dobrota said the plan is to open June 7, a week before Copper Mountain Resort will open up its on-mountain offerings for the summer season.
If any county golf course was hit hardest by this winter’s snowfall, it just might be Copper. Dobrota said on Friday the back nine of Copper’s course has some snow on it still. Dobrota said that next week Copper Creek crews will delve into portions of the shady back nine where 8-foot snow banks remain alongside the course.
But a lingering layer of insulation is better than, say, three separate freeze-thaw cycles on delicate, early spring sod. Dobrota said this time last year many of Copper’s putting surfaces were a kind of burnt-brown. This year, Dobrota described what he’s seen as looking like the best early-season golf conditions in his 13 years in the county.
“We need a little more snow to disappear to get our heads wrapped around what we are seeing,” he said. “But, so far, it’s looking awesome.”
Summit County golf 2019: What’s new
Dobrota said Copper Creek moved its golf shop to the north side of the Copper Station building this year. The course also will roll out a new fleet of golf carts that will amount to half of the course’s carts. The other half debuted at Copper Creek last year.
As for the somewhat-discussed redevelopment and potential redesign of the back nine of the course — which is in relation to a potential hotel development at the resort — Dobrota said that won’t happen this summer. As such, any changes or limitations to Copper Creek won’t occur until May 2020, at the earliest.
Over at Keystone, Tobias said the River and Ranch courses will soon debut a GPS system dubbed “Tagmarshal.” This golf course intelligence software will work via a mobile GPS module that is adhered to golf carts. Once on the cart, the software provides a dynamic user experience for golfers where they can do such things as monitor their pace of play, see how close they are to the cart ahead and gauge the distance to checkpoints along the course as, say, the center of the green and sand traps. Previously, Keystone featured a cellphone application that provided a similar type of service to golfers. Tobias emphasized Tagmarshal is a major step forward.
“I can tell you where every single one of our golf carts are at any time on our golf course,” Tobias said. “It’s really robust. We can message out to the guests in the golf carts. The guests can message back to us.”
Keystone will also offer what Tobias called “unlimited same-day golf.” What this means is, if a golfer finishes their round on the River Course for example, and would like to continue to play on the Ranch Course, they can check tee-time availability, and if there’s room, book 18 more holes at no extra charge.
Tobias also highlighted the latest technological evolution thanks to Keystone’s partnership with the Callaway Golf Company: the Callaway Fit Cart. The Fit Cart provides golfers with a chance to utilize Callaway’s immediate, real-time swing-analysis technology to build clubs ideal for their body and play type. The technology also provides golfers with data related to variables such as launch and spin-way.
The Keystone River Course’s pro shop on Friday featured a Callaway Fit Cart, a contraption complete with dozens of shafts, heads and lofts. Tobias said interested golfers can go through a fitting process for $25. If a golfer makes a Callaway purchase as part of their fitting process, the $25 fee is waved.
“Golf is a lot like skiing,” Tobias said. “When it comes to getting the right equipment — the right boot, the right ski — it’s definitely worth getting professionally fit to make sure it’s fun and easy.”
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