Vail Golf Loses a Legend

Ben Krueger designed, built and nurtured a pioneering course.

By Jon Rizzi

The Vail Valley is mourning its lack of snow. And of Ben Krueger.

One of the patriarchs of the area’s golf and ski scenes, Krueger passed away November 20 at the age of 86. Just last year, the longtime superintendent of Vail Golf Club “played his age,” logging 84 rounds during Vail’s five-month season—all with buddy Rick Sackbauer at an average pace of two hours and 20 minutes.

They accomplished this by being first off in the morning, an accommodation the municipal facility was only too happy to make for the man whose assiduous maintenance between 1967 and 1992 made the course a destination for golfers across the state and the country, for years annually welcoming the Jerry Ford Invitational and numerous high-profile events.

Mentor and Trailblazer

“After long winters, creating a playable golf course every spring has many challenges in the Vail climate,” Steve Sarro, one of the successors he mentored, says. “Ben was the master of creating great golf conditions every year.”

“Ben worked closely with Colorado State University with the snow mold research that was conducted on the Vail Golf Course over many years,” Colorado Golf Hall of Fame member Stan Metsker shared. “The golf courses of Colorado and especially those of the Western Slope have benefited from his pioneering efforts.”

Hands-on Work

By all accounts, Krueger tended to the course as if it were his—and in many ways it was.

After finishing his military service, working for Metsker at Cherry Hills and becoming the superintendent at Los Verdes Country Club, in 1967 the Illinois native moved his young family to the mountains to become the first manager of the Vail Metro Recreation District. His chief responsibility was transforming the nine-hole Vail Golf Club—which would be losing four of its holes to a condominium development—into an 18-hole course.

Vail Golf Club

Krueger designed and physically constructed 13 new holes on the property. “Working with just a backhoe, a homemade blader and one other employee, Ben changed the course of the Gore Creek—the main creek running through Vail Valley—and shaped into a recognizable world-renowned course,” the club’s former PGA Professional Steve Satterstrom says.

“Ben’s knowledge and understanding of the mountain golfer is evident in the design of ‘his’ golf holes,” Sarro adds. “They have stood the test of time as Vail Golf Club continues to provide a welcoming challenge for all golfers. I frequently met guests from around the world who return to Vail Golf Club because the golf course is so enjoyable.”

Moreover, Sarro, who now serves as director of grounds at Pinehurst Country Club, appreciates Krueger’s “foresight and planning for playability and agronomics. His greens were well constructed, drain properly and can be managed for the beginner golfer or even the toughest of competitors.”

“Never did I not see Ben out working on the golf course,” recalls longtime Vail resident George Knox. “He was there morning, noon, and night. Early on, before a sprinkling system, he was out every night into the darkness moving the available sprinklers.”

Pillar of the Community

A skilled skier, especially on moguls, Krueger would become the first snowmaker for Vail Associates and an initial coach for the Buddy Werner youth ski racing club. He also designed and built the town’s rugby and soccer fields, softball complex, volleyball courts and several ice rinks.

“His dedication to the community cannot be overstated,” Satterstrom says. Krueger—who grew up poor in Cicero, Illinois, and started caddying at the age of 10 before moving into the grounds crew—belonged to the Knights of Columbus charitable organization for more than 60 years and helped provide scholarships to St. Clare’s School. He built homes and managed a development, where he reportedly helped many tenants who couldn’t pay their rents. He even made an ice rink on the golf course’s flat ground at Gold Peak for several years.

Ben Krueger Room at the Vail Golf clubhouse

Upon his retirement, the Vail Recreation District awarded Krueger a lifetime pass to the course he designed and built. And Vail Golf Club’s swank clubhouse features the grand Ben Krueger Room. But it’s the contoured fairways, greens, sand and water outside the clubhouse that will endure as the space on which he left his most enduring impression.

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