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Pro works to make the game of golf accessible to all ages

Steve VanDyke admires the scenic landscape of River Valley Ranch in Carbondale, where he has served as Director of Golf since 2019.
John Stroud/post independent

Bringing the game of golf to the community, and especially making it accessible to younger players, is a major goal for Steve VanDyke as Director of Golf at Carbondale’s River Valley Ranch.

That commitment helped VanDyke win the Colorado PGA-West Golf Professional of the Year and Young Player Development awards at the organization’s Spring Meeting in Grand Junction last month.

“Steve has been a true pillar on the West Slope golf scene and is well deserving of these awards,” said Chapter President Luke Brosterhous when this year’s awards were announced. “His dedication to the game is evident on a daily basis.”

It was a long but not terribly winding road for VanDyke to land where he is today.

After playing high school golf in rural Nebraska with his father as his coach, VanDyke ventured to the college level, playing his freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University. But he decided early on that he finally wanted to become a club pro.

He passed his player ability test his second year, meaning he lost his amateur status as a player and could no longer compete at that level.

After finishing college, without deviating from this career path, he headed west to Colorado in 2000, where he immediately went to work as an assistant pro and then, from 2009 to 2019, as a chef pro. at the private Aspen Glen Golf Club outside of Carbondale.

The public course at River Valley Ranch changed ownership in 2019, and the golf course and restaurant operations were leased to local golfer and lifelong enthusiast Red Cunningham and his wife, Julie.

The Cunninghams asked VanDyke to become director of golf; an opportunity he jumped on, as a public lesson opens up more opportunities to introduce the sport to a wider audience.

So what exactly does a golf pro do?

“It’s funny,” VanDyke said. “I think there’s a perception there when people ask you what you do, and you say, ‘Well, I’m a golf professional.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, do you know Tiger Woods? Or do you play on TV?

“And I tell them, ‘No, I’m a club pro. “”

During his days as a professional assistant at Aspen Glen, it wasn’t a full-time job, so the Glenwood Springs resident spent his winters working as a lift operator at Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort and in the store. ski from downtown Glenwood.

But managing golf courses remained his first job choice, especially after he married and started a family with his wife, Jennifer.

“I love to play and I love to compete, but my main focus is on running a business,” VanDyke said of the big picture aspect of golf course management.

He gives lessons and still finds time to play a little golf, but the job also involves managing staff, overseeing golf operations, setting prices, keeping track of finances, planning and coordinating tournaments. and – very near and dear to his heart – leading the junior golf programs.

Growing up in golf

Part of his motivation for introducing the game to young people and developing young players has been his own daughters, Sophia, 10, and Thea, 12.

“Jennifer and I grew up with golf in our family, so we understand the benefits – socially, physically and mentally – of learning golf at a young age,” VanDyke said. “It’s not something that we really pushed them into, it just organically became something that we do as a family.

“My dad coached high school golf for 35 years, so I think that kind of runs in my blood.”

Youth golf has been strong in the Roaring Fork Valley for a long time, in part due to programs like Aspen Junior Golf and the various programs offered at area golf courses.

Golf also saw a resurgence at all ages during the pandemic, when it became one of the few small-group outdoor activities people could enjoy together while social distancing.

“I would say the state of golf, and especially youth golf, is exceptionally good right now,” VanDyke said.

River Valley Ranch, for its part, has a special youth pass for golfers 19 and under that’s $5 per round, with special incentives for bringing families to the golf course together.

RVR’s First Tee program which begins in June is aimed at junior golfers aged 10 and under, and a series of Drive, Chip and Putt lessons are offered for ages 7-15.

These programs helped feed the local high school golf teams, housed at Glenwood Springs High School for the girls’ spring golf season and Basalt High School for the boys during the fall season.

Both teams recruit players from several Roaring Fork District high schools and area private schools. RVR is the home course for both programs.

“Bringing kids into the game early and into the community as a whole is so important and helps grow the game,” said GSHS girls’ coach Lori West, thanking VanDyke for the opportunities he provided. as a club professional.

“It’s not just the physical development and the mental aspects of the game,” she said. “Golf kind of mimics what is happening in the world. You have a lot of ups and downs, and when you hit the ball in the sand or in the water, you have to figure out how to deal with that.

It’s also a way to bring families closer together, and many business deals have been struck on the golf course between colleagues, West added.

Play the game

Now 44, VanDyke admits part of him wishes he had put a little more effort into his college playing abilities.

But, after saying he was a high school golfer for two of his four years at Crete High School, he said he was missing something when he got to college.

“I come from a very small high school, with my dad as a golf coach. Our practices were very structured, and we practiced and played as a team,” he said. “Then in college, it was training alone, playing alone and bringing in your own scores, so there wasn’t that team dynamic, so it lost a bit of its shine for me, because what I really enjoyed, it’s just being out there with my teammates.

These days, in addition to playing pro-am events in the area, he competes in some of the biggest sectional events on the Front Range as well as Colorado PGA-West events on the West Rim.

“It’s the start of our busy season at the golf course, so I’m not traveling to play a lot of tournaments, just because I have to continue my operation here.

“I still love to play and compete, and I’d like to work on my game a bit more. That’s the great thing about golf is that you can always improve in certain facets of the game, whether you’re a golf professional or a never-never.

“But maybe the senior tour (PGA) one day, who knows?”

The Golf Pro of the Year and Youth Development awards were a great honor, VanDyke said.

“There are a lot of great professionals on the West Slope who are equally deserving, so just to be nominated was an honor,” he said.

And what’s not to love about running a golf course?

“Just coming to the golf course every day, especially in a setting like RVR or anywhere in the Roaring Fork Valley, is worth it,” VanDyke said, as a deer came by. exit Crystal River and cross the 18th fairway.

“If you can’t be in a good mood with it, you should probably make a change, because it’s not getting much better,” he said. “And then getting the kids involved in the play and seeing the joy they get from being outside having fun is pretty special.”

River Valley Ranch golf manager Steve VanDyke takes a swing from the back tee of hole #1 on a perfect spring morning.
John Stroud/post independent

Senior Reporter/Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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