Is the Vail resort complex oversupplied with golf courses? You could make that argument, as several of the valley’s 17 public and private clubs have struggled enormously in the wake of the Great Recession.
But don’t paint with too broad a brush, warn several resort leaders in the Vail Valley.
“They’re not all the same,” said Johannes Faessler, owner of the Sonnenalp Resort of Vail and a companion golf club downvalley at Edwards. “There are different reasons why things happen to different clubs,” he told the Vail Daily’s Lauren Glendenning.
Even in the 1980s, a columnist for a now-defunct newspaper in Vail joked that someday it would be possible to golf continuously from Vail to Glenwood Canyon, a distance of nearly 80 kilometres.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, developers seemed determined to make that come true. There was even a proposal to build a golf course atop an abandoned landfill. At another location, a developer proposed to cap an old pile of mine tailings and create a golf course, as was done at Anaconda, Mont.
Then golfing, as had happened with tennis in the 1970s and skiing in the 1980s, started losing its luster. The growth flattened, nationally as well as at mountain resorts.
Those golf courses that suffered most substantially in the Vail area were those farthest from the ski slopes and resort centers of Vail and Beaver Creek. Brightwater, a project located south of Gypsum, about 72 kilometres from Vail, is now in bankruptcy. A beautiful course called Adam’s Rib, south of Eagle, reportedly sold very few memberships and has revised its fees.
Then came news that only one of four courses at Cordillera, a resort about 16 kilometres from Beaver Creek, would remain open. There are countersuits between the owner of the golf courses, David Wilhelm, and club members, who own property adjacent to the courses.
“Don’t let the Cordillera fiasco overshadow the fact that each one of these courses is doing better,” said Harry Frampton, managing partner of East West Partners. The Avon-based company most typically has built golf course-based higher-end real estate.
Frampton, an avid golfer, says there’s no better place to play golf in the United States than the Vail area. But there are two problems. First, the season lasts only three or four months. And second, he thinks too many of the golf courses are too hard for the average golfer, taking four to five hours to play, too much commitment when there are dozens of other things to do.
He also told the Vail Daily that in a survey of his company’s high-end real estate buyers, 20 per cent had been driven by golf. It’s still important, he said, but golf does not drive the economy of the Vail Valley.
What does during summer? Unlike winter, there is no dominant driver. The Vail Daily sites research done for the Vail municipal government that showed hiking was the top activity of summer visitors.
The percentage of summer visitors who had or planned to golf while in Vail had declined from 32 per cent in 2005 to less than 12 per cent in 2012.