Golf season in swing

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Sun and green grass greeted Kirk Mahaffey as he wandered, handcart in tow, along the just-opened fairways of the Steamboat Golf Club on Wednesday.

The crowds that typically flock to the Steamboat Golf Club on opening day were still several holes behind and a world away from Mahaffey as he plopped his approach shot in the middle of the No. 5 green, just minutes after the flag had been set up by one of the course maintenance workers.

"It could be better," Mahaffey said. "But this is the first time I've played here in a while, so things are going pretty well."

Mahaffey's 10 a.m. tee time was the first since the Steamboat Golf Club closed for the winter last fall. However, the course had plenty of cars in the parking lot Wednesday, and the groups were departing from the No. 1 tee at a regular pace.

Course manager Scott Matt-hews said the phones at the clubhouse started ringing at 7:45 a.m. as interested golfers checked to make sure the course was open and to inquire about tee times.

"The course is looking really good," Matthews said. "I guess golfers could use the winter rules, but they don't really need to."

Matthews said the course plans to offer shoulder-season rates ($22 for nine holes, $33 for 18 holes) through June 17. The course then will shift to its regular season rates of $29 for nine holes and $39 for 18 holes.

For golfers seeking tournament play, the club will host a two-person, 27-hole tournament Sunday. The entry fee is $63 a person and includes green fees.

Last year, the course added a new 1,600-square-foot pro shop and restaurant called the Golfing Beagle.

Matthews said the pro shop is fully stocked and the Beagle already is serving hotdogs, hamburgers, fries and beverages.

Judging from the steady pace of golfers and phone calls in the pro shop Wednesday, residents of the Yampa Valley are more than ready to get back out on the links. Matthews suggests golfers call in advance for tee times at 879-4295.

Steamboat's three other courses are expected to open for play in the next few weeks.

The driving range and golf shop at the Haymaker Golf Course are expected to open at 8:30 a.m. Friday. However, the opening of the golf course still has not been announced.

"By the end of next week, we should have a pretty good idea," said Haymaker pro Hank Franks. "It's just day to day right now."

The Sheraton Golf Club is hoping to open the front nine about May 1. Usually, it takes a little longer for the snow to melt off the mountain course, which is slightly higher than the Steamboat Golf Club or Haymaker.

The final course to open in the valley will be Catamount Ranch & Club. That facility plans to open its driving range May 1, with the course opening May 14.

For Mahaffey, playing a round at the Steamboat Golf Club on opening day has become a tradition.

He is one of the course's founders, and for the past 40 years, he has made a habit of showing up on opening day and getting one of the first rounds at the west Steamboat course.

"No there aren't any real advantages to being the first guy out," Mahaffey said. "But I don't think I've ever missed an opening day."

He was one of the lucky ones.

Golfers heading out to the course late Wednesday afternoon were greeted by snow flurries -- reminding us all that tee times this time of year are subject to Mother Nature's approval.

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