Kragthorpe: St. George summer golf requires beating heat
Exhausted, I hit a 90-yard wedge shot that fell woefully short as the ball landed in the lake fronting St. George Golf Club's No. 9 green.
The course was practically deserted, so no one could hear me when I angrily shouted, "Alice!"
Yeah, Alice Cooper is to blame for this entire episode. The legendary rock star and golf addict once told me about playing in ultra-hot conditions in Phoenix, which triggered this summer's annual golf adventure.
In the tradition of Tribune staff members playing in four states in one day, tackling an 8,000-yard course and playing 18 of the state's toughest holes, I scheduled the 2014 Alice Cooper Invitational on a July afternoon in St. George. Nobody accepted the invitation.
So I traveled alone, and I cheated or, more accurately, I got cheated. Sunday's high temperature was only 97, five degrees below normal, spoiling the authentic experience.
OK, it was hot enough, judging by the dark red sweat stains resembling a mountain range on my Phillies cap. Yet the combination of walking nine holes at St. George GC and taking a cart for 18 at Southgate GC convinced me that Alice is not completely crazy, and I almost agree with St. George resident Phil Kernan's declaration that because of the low rates, "Anyone who doesn't play summer golf is nuts."
It does require some conditioning. Kernan, 68, walks nine or more holes almost daily at Sunbrook GC during his personal peak season, June through September. His summer pass to St. George City's four courses (among the dozen venues in the area) costs $450. Do the math: The punishment costs him only a few dollars a day.
"I'll keep going until I drop dead on a golf course," Kernan said, making it sound like more of a goal than a prediction.
St. George GC is walkable, but I was worn down after nine holes. Even so, Dixie State golfer Skylar Schone is not derisive of me. "You have to remember, I'm 22," he said. "I have all the energy in the world."
Skylar and his cousin, Southern Utah golfer Taylor Schone, tee off regularly at 5 p.m. in St. George, usually playing until dark. As the temperature drops, he said, "I don't want to leave."
After touring Southgate's nicely redesigned course on a cloudy, breezy evening, I know the feeling. While there was enough traffic to make me wait on each hole, the round took barely more than three hours and became increasingly pleasant.
The discounted rates are enticing. "You have to come up with some pretty creative, inexpensive ways to get people out," said Colby Cowan, director of the city's golf operations.
Southgate offers a three-hole option on Monday evenings, charging $4 for adults and $1 for juniors. Bret Olsen makes that loop regularly with his 6-year-old daughter, Faye. "Three holes is about perfect for her," said Olsen, who sometimes invites other children from his neighborhood to join them. They're rarely pressed by other golfers, taking as long as they like to play those holes.
The irony is that during the winter, when St. George's courses are in high demand, the playing day is short. In the summer, when the tee sheets are fairly empty, daylight lasts 14 or 15 hours.
Working the counter at Southgate, Rod Engle recalled his first impression upon moving to St. George from Glen Eagle GC in Syracuse. "It just totally baffled me that the golf courses down here weren't busier than they were," he said.
The courses generally are well maintained amid the heat, thanks to shrewd water management and turf expertise, and they're well stocked with coolers and fountains. My frequent water breaks evoked Alice's tale about playing in Phoenix on a 126-degree day when, he claimed, the airport was closed because planes' wheels were sinking into the tarmac. Apocryphal? I don't care. It's good stuff.
"Well, we teed off at noon," he told me, launching into a detailed story. "We drank a bottle of water on every hole and never had to pee."
The conditions apparently never become that extreme in St. George. A sign next to the 17th tee at Southgate reminds golfers to respect the course by using the restrooms that are provided.
Previous adventures of Tribune staff members:
2009 • Kurt Kragthorpe and James Patrick play nine holes at each of four courses in one day, visiting Montpelier, Idaho; Evanston, Wyoming; Stansbury Park; and West Wendover, Nevada.
2010 • Kragthorpe plays the Promontory Club's Nicklaus Course, stretched to 8,357 yards for a "Longest Day" promotion.
2011 • Kragthorpe, Jay Drew and Gordon Monson pick the toughest hole at each of 18 public-access courses from Eden to St. George and play only those holes during a three-day trek.
2012 • Kragthorpe and Drew repeat the "Longest Day" challenge at Promontory.
2013 • Drew completes his quest to play all 122 golf courses in Utah.
Nine at The Ridge, Alice?
Rock star Alice Cooper will perform with Motley Crue on Friday at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City, adjacent to The Ridge GC. Here's an open invitation for a quick nine holes before the show.