The Classicists of Cottonwood
Last weekend marked the 35th year of the Cottonwood Classic and three men from Craig who were playing on the fairways and greens at Yampa Valley Golf Course have been there since the beginning.
“I remember being scared to death to go out there the first time,” said Larry Seip, who missed one tournament when he went to California for his daughter’s wedding. “Now I just go out there and tee it up and let it go. Some days are great, others aren’t as much.”
“One of the best memories for me has been all of the great competitors I’ve played with at the Cottonwood,” said Jim Shepherd, who said he missed one tournament to go to a friend’s 50th wedding anniversary. “It has always been around the Fourth of July so it reminds me of a time to raise the flag high.”
Deems Utzinger receives the outstanding attendance award because he has attended all 35 of the tournaments. He said he hopes he is far from done: “I hope to attend fifty straight. There has been an amazing progression from the first tournament to now.”
All three of the men have helped the golf course administratively at one point in its history. Utzinger assisted in building the original course, served as a grounds keeper and was also a board member of the golf association.
Shepherd was the course’s original president and has served off and on as the president several times.
Seip has served as the Cottonwood Classic’s tournament chairman and remembers a time when the golfers had to promote the event by going out and distributing flyers and making phone calls to get people to attend.
“Things have changed a lot from then,” Seip said. “Now there is a waiting list and there are probably more out-of-towners than Craig golfers.”
“Those three have been some of the tremendous supporters and have contributed to the stability of the golf tournament and course today,” said Chuck Cobb, YVGC pro.
Each one has stories of the early beginnings of the tournaments and the golf course.
Jim Shepherd said prior to the present location of the golf course, it was farther south near the airport. The city wanted to extend the runway through six of the fairways, so the course was moved to the cottonwood bottoms.
“The reason it is called the Cottonwood Classic is because it is about this time of year when all of the trees blossom and the cotton covers the course like snow,” Shepherd said. “We used to have the Mosquito Open because they were so bad out here, but over the years the larva control has improved and we just have the Cottonwood tournament now.”
Utzinger recalls a time when being a member of the course and playing in the Cottonwood meant more than just bringing clubs and balls to the course.
“That first year we didn’t have a mower for the rough so we marked off plots and people would be responsible to take care of their own plots of the rough,” Utzinger said.
Each of the three have enjoyed successful tournaments with Shepherd and Seip winning flights and Utzinger placing second in a playoff one year.
“I know I’ve won some, I just am not sure which years they were,” said Seip.
“I still hope to win that first one if it takes me fifteen more years,” Utzinger said.
The Yampa Valley Golf Course and the Cottonwood Classic have grown into successful stories in Moffat County and these three are just as proud as any to see that happen.
“The Cottonwood Classic is like a reunion of friends for me every year,” Seip said. “My handicap keeps getting bigger but so does the enjoyment of the tournament.”
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