Seeing Red at This Cool Golf Destination
Scott Kramer – Forbes.com
I always enjoy finding sleeper golf destinations — those that aren’t quite on the mainstream radar but are surprisingly nice. And I discovered one this week — St. George, Utah, which is also known as the Greater Zion area. Actually, I first visited in the mid-1990s for golf, but hadn’t been back since for no apparent reason. But now, there’s a lot to like for golfers — including 13 really nice courses.
For one thing, it’s relatively accessible — about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. But it’s also a world away. Forget the bright lights motif of Vegas, this is a blossoming town that happens to have many outdoor activities to enjoy. Then there’s the scenery — wow, red rock mountains serve as the backdrop pretty much everywhere in the area. If you enjoy hiking and camping, the incredible Zion National Park is on the edge of town, too. Here’s my experience:
I flew in from Phoenix — yes, St. George has its own airport that serves several major airlines — and bee-lined to The Advenire — Autograph Collection, a boutique hotel that’s centrally located and has a cool vibe. It combines standard rooms and luxury suites. Mine was really nice and spacious, with an ultra-comfortable bed, big-screen TV and walk-out balcony. Met up with some friends at wood•ash•rye in the lobby that has a wonderful and relaxing atmosphere — it’s an indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant that serves tasty food all day.
The next morning, we go for an hour-long hike at the scenic Snow Canyon State Park — one of four state parks in town — before heading to The Ledges Golf Club, which is located in a nice residential golf community. This 7,200-yard Matt Dye (Pete’s nephew) design features red rock backdrops, immaculate greens and fairways, and a wonderful view of Snow Canyon State Park. The front line is average with a lot of straightaway holes, but then the back nine gets dramatic with elevation changes. All along are subtle moguls in the fairway, which create plenty of uneven lies. This is essentially an upscale daily fee course. The day we played it, the course was not in magnificent shape. But you can tell that when it is, it’s probably one of the top courses in town. We also played on a busy Saturday, and the pace was slow for no particular reason. Maybe it’s because the course apparently attracts out-of-towners who aren’t familiar with the layout. Or because you’re up at a 3,600-foot altitude and the ball flies a shade longer than back at sea level — perhaps golfers were searching for their shots in the wrong place. Regardless, some of the back nine views are spectacular. One thing I learned quickly: Putts don’t break as much as they appear. This was actually a common occurrence in every round we played.
Our tee time the next day is at the Championship Course at Sand Hollow Resort in nearby Hurricane. Ranked the best public course you can play in Utah since 2009, this John Fought/Andy Staples-designed 7,300-yard layout peaks at the 11th tee where I think you can see the entire state in 360 degrees. The combination of red rock outcroppings, natural vegetation, lush fairways and indigenous red-sand bunkers is stunning. It’s a visual delight that lasts the entire round. Picture lush green holes, each surrounded by desert. The elevation drops are frequent, yet the fairway landing areas are generous. That means you can keep the ball in play on this golf roller coaster, without being pinpoint accurate. Yet there are plenty of wide fairway bunkers that seem to be in the landing areas, so golfers need to be somewhat careful on shot placement and where they aim their drives. Expect to have a lot of fun, regardless. It’s challenging yet fair. And your score will reflect that. Course conditions are fantastic, the greens and fairways roll true. There’s one hole on the back nine that has you teeing off between a chute of tall red rocks — only enhancing the drama. I honestly didn’t want the round to end.
Afterwards, we grab a quick lunch on the balcony and head across the parking lot to play the 3,600-yard, nine-hole Links Course. This course boasts Utah’s largest greens and fairways. Although it’s relatively flat, there are still some blind shots. The short par-3 7th, for instance, has a green you can barely see glimpses of from the tee. Thankfully, the flag was red the day we played it, so it was at least visible as we hit over tall vegetation to get there. The layout does remind me of some in Scotland, but in the middle of the desert. This is an ideal course for beginners and veterans, alike. Our group stays on property starting that night, at a spacious and upscale rental house. Talk about convenience!
Dinner that night is at Balcony One in nearby Virgin, which has a wide food selection. I was sold on the Dino smoked-beef ribs served with Chili Nopales, corn cakes and a side of apple jalapeño BBQ sauce. OMG. I can say without a doubt it was the largest single piece of beef I’ve ever attempted to eat. As it happens, I wind up sharing some of it.
Next morning I’m on the tee early at the year-old Copper Rock Golf Course in Hurricane — the Symetra Tour holds an event here, which should clue you in on the excellent course quality. It’s a 6,823-yard course designed by a local architect, in near-perfect condition. The course features native sage, desert dunes and copper mountains. Again, lush green fairways and greens with gorgeous backdrops. I rank this course my second favorite on the trip, behind the Sand Hollow Championship Course. There’s plenty of elevation change, birdie opportunities, twists and turns, and places to get into trouble. There are also several water holes. To be honest, it reminded me of a typical Scottsdale or Palm Springs course in many ways — course condition, backdrop, several home-lined fairways, and a resort-like feel even though it’s just a daily-fee layout at this point. It was playable and enjoyable, and required me to use every club in the bag. Best of all, play just moves along for a fairly fast pace.
Afterwards, we head 45 minutes over to Zion National Park for a pair of short hikes and a beer at the lodge. Great as the golf was, this was the most-spectacular highlight of the trip. I was a first-timer here and was wowed by the red-rocked scenery, and the ease at which you can get around inside the park by tram. No wonder it’s the third-most visited national park in America. If you’re into nature — or even if you’re not — this is an absolute must-see if you’re ever in the area. There are even first-class spas located just outside the gates, to help pamper your body after a long hike or mountain bike ride. There are even electric bikes for rent, if you want to experience the beauty without all the exercise.
Overall, the golf in St. George is super fun and I will return someday in the near future to play again. Plus there’s another new resort course — Black Desert — and a renovated Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club opening up in the near future. Am already planning on bringing my wife to Zion for some hiking, playing a few rounds of golf, and taking another stab at that Dino rib.