Although the Valley course has since become its most acclaimed, the first course at The Club at Cordillera was the Mountain course and it’s not difficult to figure out why. The vistas and mountain views, which stretch hundreds of miles, make an obvious choice for a golf club. The architect, three-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin, is also the greatest golfer in the state’s history so he made an equally obvious match for the Vail club.
Playing from the tips, the course stretches nearly 7,500 yards, but players will reap the obvious benefit of both the thin mountain air (the course sits at 8,250 feet) and gravity to help make up the difference on holes like the 620-yard par five at No. 4, which is also the strongest per the scorecard’s handicap guide.
Although the downhill play on the closing hole will provide a fine outgoing tee shot for your round, you may want to go with a smaller club. The fairway is pinched on both sides by ponds, which will quickly decide a match should one of the competitors miss big on that last big drive.
It's hard to minimize the off-course views one receives when playing the Mountain Course at Cordillera. The vistas can certainly interrupt your focus on the golf.
The issue with the golf is that on a tough site which offers plenty of elevation changes the wherewithal to navigate can be a chore for the higher-handicap player. Yes, the elevation will help you pick up distance but having the smarts to know which clubs to pull from one's bag - and those that need to remain in one's bag for a given shot -- is a never-ending guessing game.
The holes are routed with housing considerations being a main emphasis issue. You do get narrow corridors at times where precision is a must.
The main missing element deals with the rather ordinary green sites and bunker styles. There's nothing that strikes the imagination -- mainly vanilla. There's also the heavy hand of man's hand on the land with mounding that often stands out from the natural terrain rather than blending in appropriately.
One of the other aspects that impinges on the Mountain Course is how the competition in the immediate area has intensified. A number of nearby layouts have the off-course views but the detailing is more sophisticated -- more thought provoking and complex.
At the elevation of 8,200 feet the season is not very long -- usually May through the end weeks in October. Turf preparation is usually very good but in the two different times I've played the course spaced out over several years -- the need to get the turf a bit firmer in the fairways would make for an even more challenging dimension.
The Mountain Course is not for the faint of heart or those lacking serious control of one's golf ball. Playing the appropriate tees is a must for those not regular players. But, overall, the details that can propel a golf experience even higher are just not found here consistently.
M. James Ward