Kane County would be foolish to use tax dollars to pay for a golf pipe dream. Robert Gehrke explains why.

Why would a high-end golf course in a remote town succeed when others have failed? Because taxpayers would have to prop it up.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The site of a proposed Kane County golf course nearKanab, on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.

Editor’s note This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Southern Utah probably needs another golf course like it needs 18 holes in the head.

But that’s not even my biggest complaint about former state Rep. Mike Noel’s crusade to build a championship course near Kanab.

Neither is it the scarcity of water. Noel, as director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, is the local water boss, so maybe he can solve that problem — although the fact that the average U.S. golf course uses 312,000 gallons of water per day should make us question if it’s a good idea.

No, the bigger problem is that Noel apparently wants taxpayers of Kanab City, the water conservancy district and Kane County to be on the hook for subsidizing this nonsensical endeavor.

As my colleague Brian Maffly reported last week, Noel has been working for more than a year to win backing for the notion — working with an elite golf course designer, lining up funding and trying to acquire the parcels of land needed for the course.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

The plan he has hatched would rely on local governments to pony up to pay for the project, which would be run by a new special service district that would have the authority to levy and collect taxes.

County officials are wary of the proposal, rightly so.

Still, Noel has lined up $10 million for the project in community-impact fees, money that extractive industries pay to offset some of the effects on neighborhoods — even though it’s unlikely most in the area would get to enjoy the ritzy links.

Golf would cost upward of $100 a round, something likely out of reach for many of Kanab’s residents, who on average make about $900 a week before taxes (although they would get discounted rates at off-peak tee times).

The real goal, if it works, is to lure wealthy, destination golfers from across the country to the rural town where they would generate business for the local merchants.

If the plan doesn’t work, those same taxpayers would be like the caddie — stuck holding the bag.

The history of golf courses in the area is not promising.

Kanab had been home to the 9-hole Coral Cliffs Golf Course, but it shut down permanently in 2015 and those greens have now withered.

Maybe it wasn’t fancy enough? Well, then drive less than an hour west of Kanab and check out the Kokopelli Golf Club in Apple Valley. Kokopelli was designed by golf legend Bruce Summerhays to target that same high-end, destination golfer. It survived just a few years before being shuttered in 2012 and has been abandoned since.

And Kokopelli was one of several courses right outside St. George — not a 90 minute drive through Hurricane, Colorado City, down into Arizona and back up to Kanab. (Kanab does have a small airport, but good luck getting a flight there).

If Kokopelli failed to attract the upscale golf traffic, it’s hard to see how the new course in Kanab would fare better.

The Kanab course would sit near the Jackson Flat Reservoir — which has derisively come to be known as “Lake Noel” — right off of Landfill Road (which, yes, leads to the city landfill) and a short drive-and-a-chip to the Kane County Jail.

These are not your typical amenities at Augusta National Golf Club or Pebble Beach.

(Rendering courtesy of Kane County Water Conservancy District) A rendering produced by architect David McLay Kidd provides a preliminary design for a proposed 18-hole luxury golf course that retired Utah lawmaker Mike Noel is looking to build outside Kanab.

Other golf courses also have high-end hotels and restaurants, which are scarce (putting it mildly) around Kanab. Perhaps they’ll spring up to serve the flood of tourists in sweater vests and pleated skirts and visors.

Even if they do, the town is still going to be dependent — even more dependent — on the tourism economy that local commissioners love to complain about.

None of this is intended to put down Kanab. It’s a terrific town with incredible strengths and tremendous opportunities.

It is one of the most visually spectacular areas in the state. It’s a magnet for outdoor recreation worldwide. It has served as the backdrop for movies and television shows. And the Best Friends animal sanctuary is the county’s biggest employer and a huge visitor draw (one the city has been hostile toward).

If local officials want to spend a bunch of money on economic development, they should play to those strengths.

If private investors want to build Mike Noel’s golf course, then have at it. But don’t hold your breath on that happening, because the likelihood of success is about on par with me hitting a hole-in-one. And smart business people are reluctant to take big risks when they aren’t playing with other people’s money.