Hillcrest golf pro sets sights on new course

Saturday, July 7, 2018 6:02 PM
John Vickers, club pro at Hillcrest Golf Club, talks with junior golfers Thursday. Vickers has announced he will be leaving Durango for Priest River, Idaho, where he has purchased a 9-hole community golf course.
John Vickers, the club pro at Hillcrest Golf Club, stands with his son, Hayden, 11, on Thursday. Golf is a great game to play with people of diverse abilities, ages and athleticism, Vickers says, because it’s really a game of the individual against the golf course.

Durango’s golfers will soon be saying their goodbyes to Hillcrest Golf Club pro John Vickers, who will be moving on to the next phase in his career in the sport: ownership of his own 9-hole golf course.

“Through the years in golf, there’s always this idea rolling around in your head: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to own your own golf course?’” Vickers said.

The right opportunity was always the difficult part in moving into an ownership position, but when Vickers, who was attracted to the West by another of his passions, fly fishing, saw an opportunity to purchase the Ranch Club Golf Course and Restaurant in Priest River, Idaho, he was smitten.

“I’m trying to pursue a dream,” he said.

He will take over operations at the Ranch Club in August, and he said his passion for fly fishing won’t have to take a backseat in Priest River, which is about 70 miles north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

He’ll also be taking along his horses, another outdoor passion he shares with his wife, Debbie; his daughter, Sydney, 15; and his son, Hayden, 11.

Hayden, particularly, is looking forward to having his own golf course to play, Vickers said.

Golf has been Vickers’ thing since he was introduced to the sport by his father. He played competitively in high school and was good enough to play in college.

After college, Vickers, 54, said he wanted to make a living in golf, and he has managed to do that.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever done,” he said.

Guy Begay, who has served as assistant pro at Hillcrest and is the head golf coach at Fort Lewis College, said he looks forward to visiting Vickers if he can find free time from his coaching duties. “I’d love to check out his facility and how he’s getting along.”

And Begay, who is a snowboarder, says he’s intrigued by the opportunity to find new runs in Idaho.

“He’s an excellent boss, very efficient,” Begay said of his 13 years working with Vickers at Hillcrest.

He added that Vickers has helped out the FLC team with equipment and an occasional pro tip to the golfers.

“Unofficially, we consider him an assistant coach,” Begay said.

Vickers came to Durango in 2006 from Fernandina, Florida, where he was running a golf club.

Fly fishing had became a second passion for Vickers, who began traveling out West.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Much like the opportunity to purchase the Ranch Club in Idaho, Vickers said when he saw Hillcrest was looking for a golf pro, he jumped at the opportunity.

Golf’s popularity in Durango, Vickers said, has held steady during his 13 years here, and much like the game everywhere, the primary challenges facing the sport are time and expense.

Golf can be humbling, but Vickers says it teaches you patience and humility.

“It’s a game that as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, it will let you know you haven’t,” he said.

Nine holes of golf take about 2½ hours, so a commitment for 18 holes takes away a good chunk of the day. It’s one of the reasons he was attracted to a 9-hole golf course.

A set of new clubs can run a couple thousand dollars, and Vickers said his recommendation to beginning golfers is to find a good set of used clubs.

A round of golf also comes at an expense. At Hillcrest, the most affordable course in the area, a peak season 18-hole round runs $45, and a 9-hole round is $25.

Besides being Durango’s most affordable option, Vickers said Hillcrest is important to Durango because it offers a convenient location for tourists. He estimates tourists play 10 percent of all rounds on the course.

The best thing about golf, Vickers said, is its ability to bring people together.

People of different ages, abilities, athleticism and backgrounds can all play a round of golf, learn more about each other and learn a little from each other.

“When you’re golfing, it’s really you against the golf course,” he said. “Golf has its challenges, but I feel like I haven’t worked a day in my life.”