Mother Nature doesn't pick sides, but if she did, she'd be with the Rocky Mountain golfers this spring.
"I'm sure the other courses have seen it as well, but with the type of winter we had we're opening with better conditions than we have in years," said Erroll Miller, head PGA pro at the Breckenridge Golf Club. And he should know: He's been working and playing there for 33 seasons this summer — basically since the course opened — and when he says things are looking better than usual in mid-May, well, they are.
"The tees, greens, bunkers — even a lack of vole kill — means we have such great conditions," Miller continued. "Golf is so beautiful here in the High Country and I'm truly excited about the conditions we'll have start to finish this season."
Erroll and his peers at all five Summit County golf courses — Breckenridge, Keystone Ranch Golf Course, The River Course at Keystone, Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne and Copper Creek Golf Course at the base of Copper — have been busy prepping greens and fairways for mid-May openings. All courses except for Keystone Ranch and Copper Creek are open with full 18s as of this weekend — a good two weeks earlier than last year.
"If you would've asked me in January when we were going to open, I would've said June 15," said Phil Tobias, PGA pro for Keystone Golf Club and another veteran of 20 years in the county. "But you never know in Summit County, and with the snowmelt we had we'll be getting out there sooner than we have the past few years."
The golf season has been in full swing (har har) in north Silverthorne since May 5, when all 18 holes (Par 72) at Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks opened for the season. It's usually the first course to open and last one to close, with a seemingly endless season of five months by the time fairways freeze over in October.
That means plenty of time to enjoy one of the wildest courses in Summit: a combo Tom Lehman and Hurdzan-Fry design that makes full use of the area's rolling hills and aspen-lined terrain. Elevation is the name of the game here — and it can be unforgiving if you aren't ready.
Spring greens fees: Public rates are $55 to $85 for 18 holes and Summit County rates are $45 to $65, depending on time of day, until June 9. Rates include green fees, golf cart and bottomless range balls.
Memberships: A single-season trial membership is $2,855 (family) or $2,195 for unlimited play and member benefits all season. A 12-play punch pass is $1,400 and fully transferable, with unlimited access. See the club website for more options.
Today (May 13) marks the official start of golf season at the fairways off Tiger Road, when the Bear 9 — one of three nines at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course (27 holes, Par 36) — opens with almost pitch-perfect conditions. Miller says the second nine, the Elk 9, is scheduled to open on May 20, followed by the Beaver 9 around Memorial Day Weekend. The driving range and practice greens have been open since May 10.
That's the typical opening schedule at Breckenridge, where the lowest hole sits at 9,200 vertical feet, and Miller says he's excited to open the two original nines, the Bear and Beaver, with upgraded bunkers and irrigation systems. It's been in the works for two seasons now, and although it won't greatly alter the original Nicklaus design, it will introduce Breck golf faithful to a better, more manicured experience.
"Those two nines are now totally completed," Miller said. "We're continuing to upgrade the facility after 30-plus years of being open as a club. We're glad to have all that behind us and offer better conditions for the golfer."
Also new this season: a state-of-the-art cart fleet, complete with GPS trackers for pin and hazard locations.
"That's exciting for us," Miller said. "We've never had GPS and we're excited to offer that to our golfers."
Spring greens fees: $22 for nine holes walking or $44 for 18 holes walking, local ID required. Add a cart for $10 per person for nine holes or $18 per person for 18 holes. Green fees increase on May 27.
Memberships: Breck resident punch cards are $440 for 10 rounds of 18 or $265 for five rounds of 18; Summit and Park County resident punch cards are $275 for five rounds of 18.
Copper Creek (Par 69) is traditionally the last course to open, and it will be the same this year. The full 189 is scheduled to open on June 9 — all that snow under Super Bee chair has to melt out first — with ridiculously low $46 rates until June 30. It's one perk of opening late: rates stay low when everyone else is getting into peak season.
This season, Copper Creek is home to a new golf pro, Zach Dobrota, a Frisco local who's offering ladies clinics, juniors clinics and private lessons for any ability throughout the season.
Returning this season is the "hitting cage" — think of it as a batting cage for golfers in place of the dusty old driving range on the Alpine parking lot — and golf bikes. For the same price as a cart, get a spin-class workout between holes with the one-year-old bike fleet. Just strap your clubs to the stabilized back rack and play.
"I like the relaxed atmosphere we have here, the type of clientele we get," said Scott Sundeen, a longtime course superintendent who's in his second season as general manager. "Copper is obviously a beautiful environment for a course, with scenic holes, and that makes it a fun yet challenging course to play."
Spring greens fees: $46 for nine holes or $76 for 18 holes, including cart or bike, practice facility and range balls. Price increases June 30. Juniors pay $36 for nine holes or $52 for 18 holes all season. The Super Twilight pass (after 6 p.m.) is $23 for as many holes as you can play before dark.
Memberships: Unrestricted adult season pass is $409 (no cart) or $549 (cart) until June 30 and includes one free round for a friend, eight discount vouchers and a Copper Mountain lift ticket for the 2017-18 season. Youth season pass is $159 (no cart) or $258 (cart).
Keystone Golf Club is home to 36 holes, the most in Summit County, but don't expect the same-old play on both 18s.
The River Course (Par 71), a Hurdzan-Fry design, opened for the season with a full 18 yesterday (May 12). It's true "mountain" golf, with tight fairways, pinpoint par 3s and gorgeous vistas, all along the banks of the Snake River.
Keystone Ranch (Par 72), designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and revised this past fall, opens on May 26 and is a more traditional course, with links-style play on the front nine and hilly, alpine-style play on the back nine. The off-season changes make for a more versatile course, Tobias said, without taking away from the original design. Yardages are now 4,800 from the front tees and 7,000 from the back tees.
"We were essentially able to get yardages that will better suit all abilities of players and all types of games," Tobias said. "We've made those improvements to get that balance we want to accommodate players of all ablities so they can have fun on that Ranch golf course, because it really is one of the gems in Colorado."
Also new this year is an updated cart fleet, complete with USB chargers for cell phones, and 80 sets of brand-new Calloway clubs.
But the grandest addition doesn't debut until September 8-10, when the 2017 Colorado Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship premieres at Keystone Ranch. The tourney promises to draw 84 players from across the nation for three days of golf — a first in course history.
"We're quite excited to host that event," Tobias said. "It's a major, major event for Colorado Golf Association, and I'm excepting the play to be top-notch. That Ranch golf course lends itself to championship-style golf."
Spring greens fees: $55 for nine holes or $95 for 18 holes, including cart, practice facilities and range balls. Price increases June 1.
Memberships: Full lifetime membership is $25,000 initiation fee, plus $2,700 in annual dues, and includes unlimited play for member, spouse and unmarried children (younger than 26 years old). Young professional membership is $12,500 upfront and $12,500 on member's 50th birthday.
Driving range: Unlimited daily access is $20 and season passes are $250.
Happy birthday: Are you a summer baby? You're in luck: golf at Keystone on your birthday for a free (yes, free) round of 18.
Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks
Where: 2929 Golden Eagle Road in Silverthorne
Phone: (970) 262-3636
All green fees include a cart and access to the on-site practice facilities with bottomless balls. For reservations, current greens fees and maps, see the club website at http://www.ravenatthreepeaks.com.
All fees include cart or golf bike and access to practice facilities. For reservations, course cards and lesson info, see the course website at http://www.coppercolorado.com.
2017 GOLF CLINICS
Junior? Veteran? Never-ever? There's something for everyone at Summit County's five golf courses this summer. Browse through their marquee programs, and then see each club's website for registration info.
Breckenridge Golf Club
Group clinics — $99 for five lessons, one hour each, all season
Youth/junior clinics — $30 for four lessons, 30 minutes each, 5-7 years old, Mondays and Thursdays. $50 for four lessons, 45 minutes each, 8-9 and 10-12 years old, Mondays and Thursdays.
Mens and ladies leagues — $80 initiation dues, greens fees and $5 weekly pot, ladies on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon, men on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Copper Creek Golf Course
Private lessons — price varies, 30 minutes to nine holes, flexible scheduling
Junior clinics — $30 per session, time varies, Tuesday and Thursday mornings
Ladies clinics — $20 per session, one hour each, Tuesday and Thursday evenings
Keystone Golf Club
Themed group clinics — $25 per session, one hour each, various times and themes ("Lunch and Learn" on Wednesdays, "Happy Hour" on Fridays)
PGA Junior League — $250 per child (7-13 years old) for season, includes junior golf pass, coaching, team uniform and six tournaments from May 22 to July 28