Midway • Bill McCarthy was acting kindly and professionally enough, but Soldier Hollow Golf Course pro Chris Newson was feeling defeated.
Newson was pitching his course as a host of a United States Golf Association event. He knew he was hardly overwhelming his USGA guest. During lunch after their round of golf on the 36-hole facility's Silver course, Newson remembers thinking, "We have no chance of getting this."
To say he was wrong would not necessarily be right. Yet because of Newson's alternative strategy, Soldier Hollow will stage the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links this week and send the winner to the 2013 Masters.
In a state with a proud golf tradition, this is Utah's first USGA event. After this month, only Alaska will lack such a distinction.
"We ask ourselves why it took so long," said USGA executive committee member William W. "Skip" Gist IV, labeling Utah's breakthrough "well-overdue."
The explanation includes the state's having few true championship courses and the responsibility involved with hosting the USGA. Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy and The Country Club of Salt Lake City issued invitations and withdrew them for various reasons over the past 20 years. Valley View Golf Course in Layton once expressed interest, only to recognize the side effect of shutting down the course for more than a week.
The Utah State Parks Department was willing to make a commitment that includes closing Soldier Hollow to the public for 10 days. With support from the Utah Golf Association and the Utah Section PGA, the USAPL host committee secured nearly $350,000 in sponsorships and in-kind donations and recruited more than 300 volunteers, overcoming a conflict with this week's Utah Championship in Sandy on the professional Web.com Tour.
The USGA's presence in Utah is traced to Newson's desperation. In the spring of 2009, USGA Central Region director Mark Passey and McCarthy, the Public Links director, played the Silver course during a site visit.
Newson believes the layout "bored" them (McCarthy's version is nicer), so he asked about having them just look at the more demanding Gold course before leaving. The outcome is obvious, by now. "I fell in love," McCarthy said.
The irony is Passey, a former Utah Golf Association executive director, originally suggested that architect Gene Bates design one of Soldier Hollow's courses on the Wasatch Mountain State Park property with the USGA in mind. Golfers must walk in the Public Links, however, and carts are required on the mountainous Gold course for daily play. So Newson had never considered that option.
McCarthy helped develop a plan to transport players and caddies at four points on the course ("It's going to be a tough walk, even with the shuttles," Passey said). The traditional nines will be reversed to create a more dramatic No. 18, while a modified No. 11 using the Gold's No. 2 tee and the Silver's No. 11 green was crafted into a 540-yard par-4, the longest in USGA history.
The course "just lies on the side of the mountain so beautifully," McCarthy said. "All the holes have individual character, and there's a great variety of holes to challenge the elite amateur player."
While the course can stretch to 7,670 yards, the tournament setup features the option of turning three holes into drivable par-4s, including No. 18.
The USGA likes the way everything has come together, and Passey believes the 87th Public Links will lead to other events in Utah among the USGA's 13 annual national championships. While deflecting any credit, he's thrilled about the historic tournament. "I have an emotional attachment to golf in our state," said Passey, a longtime Logan resident who now lives in Colorado. "I was so glad to see it finally happen."
The 87th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship
Site • Soldier Hollow Golf Course, Midway.
Course • Gold (modified); 7,670 yards, par-71. Opened in 2004; hosted State Amateur in 2006, 2008 and 2011.
Field • 156 qualifiers and exempt players, from among more than 3,000 entrants who do not hold playing privileges at private facilities.
Utah contestants • Cottonwood Heights' Nick Drost, Sandy's Dan Horner, Salt Lake City's J.T. Timmons and BYU golfers Zac Blair, Justin Keiley and Adam Tebbs.
Schedule • Stroke play Monday-Tuesday, reducing field to 64; match play Wednesday-Saturday (36-hole final).
Notable winners • Billy Mayfair, Trevor Immelman, Tim Clark, Ryan Moore, Brandt Snedeker, Farmington's Clay Ogden.
2011 champion • Corbin Mills, making his pro debut in the Utah Championship in Sandy.
Admission • Free.