Golfers get into the swing of things for Craig’s 51st Cottonwood Classic | CraigDailyPress.com

Golfers get into the swing of things for Craig’s 51st Cottonwood Classic

In five decades of Craig’s signature golf tournament, Larry Seip has only missed the big event twice, once due to hip surgery and once for his daughter’s wedding.

Apart from those occasions, he has always made time for the Cottonwood Classic.

The 51st annual Cottonwood kicked off Friday with a field of 95 golfers hitting the links at Yampa Valley Golf Course, a lineup of both local and out-of-town duffers across six flights.

Craig’s Don Smith was right in the middle of the pack in the third flight, arranged by handicap. The first day was a tough one though not without plenty of practice, as Smith prepared for the tournament — 54 holes across the weekend — with 36 holes from Tuesday through Thursday.

Still, come tee-off time for the opener, he still had some challenges in store.

“Some tough pins out there today, they’ve tried to speed the greens up, but I like it like that,” he said Friday. “It’s probably going to get tougher. Three days, it’s a grind, you’re worn down by that last day.”

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Golfers from nearby included Steamboat Springs, Meeker, Silt and Rifle, as well as golfers from the Front Range and beyond.

“There’s only two three-day tournaments on the whole Western Slope, and I love this one,” said New Castle’s Danny Adams.

A variety of new and familiar players is something Seip has seen each of the 49 years he has gathered his clubs for the three-day stretch. Even so, a total field that’s just beneath 100 players is a good deal smaller than the peak the tourney used to have.

“Back in the old days, we had close to 200 players,” he said. “I always love coming out here, I just wish there was more people.”

Seip added that the event’s timing in late June — closer to the 4th of July in previous years — can make it hard to commit to on the calendar.

Mike Gardner currently lives in Roxborough, though he was a regular at the Cottonwood when he lived in Grand Junction about 20 years ago.

His attendance has been more sporadic in recent years, though when time allows, he’s happy to make the trip.

“Since I’ve been out on the Front Range, I haven’t been able to play here as much, but it’s just a great three days away from home,” he said.