Jay Drew's golf odyssey: I've played every course in Utah
My 12-foot putt on No. 18, a 520-yard par-4 at magnificent Victory Ranch Golf Club and Conservancy, slipped past the hole on a sweltering, wind-free day a few weeks ago, and I tapped in for a bogey as my golfing partners headed to our golf carts, eager to get out of the mid-July heat.
But I paused for a few seconds after I put the flag stick back in the cup and took one last look at the spectacular setting that director of golf Greg Stephens wisely insisted I save for last. For me, it wasn't just another round of golf or another bogey, of which there were many on that incredibly demanding course.
It was the realization of a goal, the end of a quest I unofficially started a quarter of a century ago.
I can say proudly that I have played every golf course in the state. That's 122 courses, by my count.
I have played 26 courses (or additions to courses I previously had played) since my quest found its second wind at the beginning of last year, and only one The Ridge in West Valley City, which I reviewed for the newspaper on company time, or the company dime. For some reason at the beginning of 2012, I decided I needed to get it done before I turned 50. Mission accomplished.
Best private courses
Invariably, when I tell people I have played every course in the state, they ask if I have played fill-in-the-blank course in some remote part of the state such as Belmont Springs in Plymouth, or Cherokee Springs in Hatch, or one of the most remote golf courses in the country, the nine-hole track at Dugway Proving Grounds in the west desert, which recently has been renamed "Top Secret Country Club."
Who says the military folks don't have a sense of humor?
Then they ask me about the best courses, so let's start there.
In my opinion, the best golf course in Utah is the aforementioned Victory Ranch, an ultra-exclusive private course on the mountaintop just south of the road that connects Heber City and Kamas, Highway 32. For my tastes, it just edged Glenwild Golf Club and Spa, just north of Kimball Junction.
Frankly, there's not a lot of difference between the exclusive Wasatch Back courses that began springing up 10 to 15 years ago, a list that also includes both Promontory Ranch Club courses (Nicklaus Painted Canyon and Pete Dye Canyon), Red Ledges in Heber City and Tuhaye, which also overlooks Jordanelle Reservoir. They are all fantastic.
The views set apart Victory Ranch, especially on the incredible back nine.
My pick for the best country club in the state from a golfing standpoint is Hidden Valley Country Club in Sandy, partly because it has 27 holes. But mostly HVCC is my favorite because it is one of those 1950s-era, tree-lined courses that is challenging but doesn't beat you up. And I might be biased. I get to play it a lot, thanks to having a good friend, Dave Trimble, who is a member.
Best public courses
I am calling Sand Hollow Resort in Hurricane, designed by former BYU golfer John Fought, the best public-access course in the state. Not only is the design phenomenal, the course always is maintained impeccably, and there are holes on the back nine with massive drops and unbelievable views of the surrounding red-rock canyons that will take your breath away.
At a not-too-distant second among courses you can play without being or knowing a member is The Hideout in Monticello. Believe me, this gem is worth the drive to the southeastern corner of the state. It's a lot like Wasatch Mountain State Park but without the slow play and overcrowding. Stop and play Moab Golf Club, another hidden gem, along the way.
Also making my top five public-access courses are Valley View in Layton, Hobble Creek in Springville and Sunbrook in St. George. The Soldier Hollow Gold Course, Palisade State Park in Sterling (near Manti), Birch Creek in Smithfield, Wasatch Mountain's Lake Course and Wingpointe, where I luckily aced the par-3 No. 8, make my honorable mention list.
The journey taught me that Utah has some of the best courses in the country in terms of value. Some underrated courses include Glenmoor in South Jordan, Coral Cliffs in Kanab, Bountiful Ridge, Gladstan, Talon's Cove, Logan River and the Hubbard Course at Hill Air Force Base, if you can get on it. An underrated "rural" course is Richfield's Cove View; the newer back nine is really good.
Adding them up
So how did I determine there were 122 courses in the state? I started with the Utah Book of Golf, which is published and updated annually by the Utah Section of the Professional Golfers' Association. If it isn't in the bible of Utah golf, it doesn't count, with one exception: the nine-hole Camperworld course in Plymouth, formerly known as Belmont Springs. It existed 10 years ago when I played it and still does today, I've been assured.
Some facilities include two 18-hole courses Wasatch Mountain, Promontory, Mountain Dell and Soldier Hollow, for instance so I counted each 18-hole layout separately. However, facilities that have 27 holes Stonebridge, Sand Hollow, Sunbrook and Hidden Valley were counted as one course.
And, yes, I didn't just play at every course. I played every hole at every course, even the seven-hole executive layout at East Bay in Provo and the third nine at Sand Hollow, which has a ways to go to catch up with the original 18.
One of the quirkiest "courses" in Utah isn't among my 122 but deserves a mention. It's officially known as Granite View, a little five-hole layout in Milford that the locals refer to as The Windy Five Country Club. Milford High football coach Mike Grajek delayed or canceled practice and took me there when I told him about my quest one August morning in 1993. We plugged a couple bucks into the "honor-system" can nailed to a tree stump and played it twice in about an hour. Three months later, he became just the 18th coach in Utah prep football history to win a state championship in his first year.
The golf gods were smiling on him.
Actually, I've played at least 130 courses in Utah, but eight or so no longer exist, such as Kokopelli outside of Hurricane, Brigham Willows in Brigham City and the old Fort Douglas Country Club/University of Utah course.
I still am counting the once-thriving Cascade in Orem, which soon will close because the property has been sold for a residential development. It's a shame that Cascade's original nine faces the bulldozer. The new nine, not so much.
Gone also are Nordic Valley in Eden, Golf City in Ogden, Twin Lakes in St. George and Seven Peaks in Provo, which allowed night golf about 15 summers ago, if memory serves.
The quest begins
My uncle Mark first put a golf club in my hands when I was 12, and I played mostly at Glenmoor, Mountain View, Mick Riley and a few other Salt Lake County and SLC golf courses until 1991, when I took over the high school sports beat at The Tribune. While traveling throughout the state to cover prep games and interview coaches and players, I often took my golf clubs along and would try to squeeze in rounds at courses from Kanab to Logan, Vernal to St. George, and everywhere in between.
During the summer, I would help out with the newspaper's golf coverage "duty," which gave me access to more courses, including country clubs and the HAFB course.
That's when I first hatched the idea to play every course in Utah.
My quest suffered some setbacks when my job description changed, and I briefly gave up when all the exclusive residents-only courses sprung up in the Park City area.
But a few things fell into place, and I launched my comeback, of sorts, last spring.
I had to double back on a couple of courses that had built new nine-hole courses since I originally played them, courses such as Morgan's Round Valley, Tooele's Oquirrh Hills, Palisade State Park and Ferron's Millsite, which has the state's rarest hole, an uphill par 3 into a box canyon with a waterfall next to it creating a mist that makes it feel like it is raining, especially when the wind is blowing.
Along with getting to play some of the best courses in the country, let alone the state, the best part of my journey simply was talking about it with dozens of other everyday hackers, golf professionals and course workers along the way. I learned that people truly love and cherish the golf courses they work at and play the most, which is why I've resisted the urge to list the five worst courses in Utah. It's all in the eyes of the beholder.
Signs of the times, or tees
Along with awesome beauty and some really bad golf, I saw some interesting signage on golf courses along the way.
Here's a sampling:
"No cowboy boots on the greens" at rural Ferron Millsite in Emery County.
"It is illegal to harm wildlife or to discharge a weapon on or around the golf course" at Delta's Sunset View.
"Please keep carts out of rough" at barren, pasture-like Cherokee Springs.
"Please do not spit anything on the greens. This includes sunflower seeds, dip and chew" at Vernal's Dinaland in 1995 (since removed).
At Dugway, where the tiny entrance sign simply says "golf course" and the massive sign near the first tee lists no fewer than 22 rules: "Lay flagpole gently on greens" and "Do not spike golf clubs into ground on tees, greens or fairways."
The strangest name for a Utah golf course might be Toad's National in Ogden, formerly known as Mulligan's North. Owner Jimmy Blair nicknamed his daughter "Toad." And the National part is from, believe it or not, Augusta National.
Perhaps the most interesting character I met in this sojourn was Randy Valerio, who oversees the course on the military base in the west desert between Grantsville and Wendover. He met me at the desolate, almost treeless course, insisted I take a "Top Secret Country Club" T-shirt and spent the next two hours golfing, looking for wayward shots, talking tongue-in-cheek (I hope) about monkeys escaping from the testing labs and hiding in the nearby bushes, and extolling the virtues of the course that has to be the least-played in Utah. It also might have the least amount of grass, although out-of-the-way Cherokee Springs and its "smart shot" signs come close.
Cherokee seemingly only waters its grass, or has grass, on selected portions of its fairways. Hence, the "Smart Shot 210 yards" signs on the tee boxes. It takes you two to three holes to figure out that one.
Just getting the grass to grow at bone-dry Dugway is a challenge. Not only is Valerio a one-man maintenance crew, he also manages the pro shop and bar, keeps the equipment running, runs tournaments, holds barbecues ... and manages the bowling alley on base as well. All with no overtime pay.
Having heard about the difficulty of getting on the base from other reporters, I was a bit worried and saved Dugway for the end of my quest. But the public affairs folks were great, welcoming me almost immediately, and access wasn't a problem. Just don't try to take pictures or you might have to return to civilian life without your cellphone.
The last few
Access actually didn't turn out to be a problem at any course. Most of the final few I needed to play were of the exclusive sort I've already mentioned, but the folks at Red Ledges in Heber City (especially Chris Maddox), Promontory, The Ranch Club and Victory Ranch were incredibly accommodating. I was able to play Glenwild a few years ago when my buddy was high bidder at a charity auction for a foursome there. Bloomington Country Club in St. George, Carbon Country Club in Price and the new The Outlaw Golf Club at Hideout Canyon (above Jordanelle) also were among the courses I got to play in the last month or so.
In the last few weeks, I became acquainted with another golfing nut who just finished the quest to play them all, 57-year-old Jim Behnke of Salt Lake City. Behnke, who has worked for the University of Utah hospital for the past 31 years, wrapped up his journey by playing the Nicklaus Course at Promontory on Pioneer Day.
He amazingly played 71 courses in the past 15 months to complete the list.
"Didn't think I would get them all done before I retired, but I got on a roll and was enjoying myself so much I just kept playing," Behnke said.
He lists Glenwild as the best course in the state and Sand Hollow the best public course.
At the Top Secret Country Club, before he teed off, an officer sitting at the bar jokingly (perhaps) told him: "Just remember, this is Dugway. We are always watching."
Like me, Behnke had to add The Ridge in West Valley City to his list at the last minute. And also like me, he will remember the great people along the way, their interest and their appreciation.
Now he's going to try to play a round of golf in every state, and only has 30 more to go.
I think I will pass on that one. Jay Drew's top five public-access golf courses in Utah
Golf course, location Comment
1. Sand Hollow Resort, Hurricane Designer John Fought hit a home run in southern Utah.
2. The Hideout Golf Club, Monticello Might be the least-played great course in the country.
3. Valley View Golf Course, Layton Could pass as a country club course. It's that good.
4. Hobble Creek Golf Course, Springville In the fall, there might not be a more beautiful setting than Hobble.
5. Sunbrook Golf Club, St. George All three nines are excellent and include memorable holes. Jay Drew's top five private golf courses in Utah
Golf course, location Comment
1. Victory Ranch and Conservancy, Kamas Feels like you are on top of the world, but quite a challenge.
2. Glenwild Golf Club and Spa, Park City Surroundings not quite as scenic as VR, but the course just as good.
3. Hidden Valley Country Club, Sandy Well-maintained, rarely crowded, and all 27 holes are special.
4. Promontory Painted Canyon, Park City If you aren't a top-notch golfer, this course might test your love of the game.
5. Red Ledges Golf Club, Heber City Another upper-level Nicklaus course that requires shotmaking on every hole.