Playing every golf course in Utah apparently wasn’t difficult enough for former Salt Lake City resident Jim Behnke. Now, the former University of Utah Hospital administrator is closing in on the new goal he set when he finished playing all 122 courses in his adopted home state in 2013.
Behnke, 63, who now lives in St. George, will have played golf in every state in the country when he tees it up July 29 in Alaska. His ever-patient wife, known as B.J. to her friends, insisted he save that state for last so they could make it a part of a long-planned vacation cruise.
Just wondering: Does she come in duplicate?
“She’s been a saint through all of this,” Behnke says. “When people ask about her about me doing it, she just says, ‘it makes him really happy.’ She has been the most patient person imaginable.”
But Behnke isn’t stopping there, in case anyone is wondering, or would even have that question. His next bucket list item: Play every course on Golf Digest’s list of “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses” by the time he’s 68. That task will be harder than playing in every state because roughly 80 percent of the top courses are private and/or exclusive and extremely difficult to get on, with or without connections.
That includes courses such as Augusta National, home of the Masters, Cypress Point (which Behnke has already played) near Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula, and No. 1-ranked Pine Valley in New Jersey.
Don’t laugh — he’s off to a good start. It helps that he’s almost a scratch golfer, playing to a handicap index of 2.
Behnke has already played 42 of the top 100, and all but one in California. And due to his perseverance, engaging personality and willingness to be told ‘no’ and keep on pushing, he’s developing an army of well-placed friends around the country who are interested in what he now calls his “crazy quest.”
“The golf community can be really small, and when you start doing these quests, people want to be a part of it, so people start helping you,” he said Monday at Salt Lake City’s Bonneville Golf Course, the course he frequented the most when he lived up north and annually bought a city golf pass. “When people hear what you are doing, they say, ‘hey, I know a guy who can get you on here, or there.’ They call their friend and it just keeps going. It snowballs. It is amazing.”
JIM BEHNKE’S FAVORITE U.S. GOLF COURSES
• Cypress Point Club (Monterey, Calif.)
• Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (Southhampton, N.Y.)
• Oakmont Country Club (Oakmont, Pa.)
• Pebble Beach Golf Links (Monterey, Calif.)
• Pacific Dunes Golf Club (Bandon Dunes, Ore.)
Behnke’s quest to play every course in Utah and then move on to the country was featured when The Salt Lake Tribune completed the same quest six years ago. But we said we would pass on the 50 states goal. Behnke obviously hasn’t.
“As I got to the end, everybody was always asking me, ‘OK, what’s next?’” he said. “I had a head start, because I had already played in a bunch of states. But with some, I’ve played there again.”
Behnke credits Promontory Director of Golf Ryan Kartchner, former head pro at Hidden Valley Country Club, for helping him get on some of the more exclusive courses in Utah.
In his most epic trip, he played golf in 12 East Coast states in the space of two weeks. On another trip, he took his son Peter and toured the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., and checked off states such as Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas.
“It takes a lot of planning,” he said. “You think, ‘how can I clip a corner of this state and catch a course, things like that. … The greatest thing is Google Maps for finding places, and how long it will take to get there.”
One of the highlights of the all-50-states quest was running into a 31-year-old man who spent an entire year golfing after a divorce. He bought a recreational vehicle and put a driving range on top of it.
“There are some people out there who are as crazy as I am,” Behnke said.
Behnke is now a member of Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club near St. George, and one day the club’s general manager, David Hall, heard about his Top 100 goal and suggested he become a golf course rater so he could get more access to private and exclusive courses.
He got that certification two years ago, “and that has been really helpful,” he said.
His favorite memory in that regard was playing Shinnecock Hills in Southhampton, N.Y, which is No. 4 on the list. He got to play with the club president in 75 degree weather, with a “perfect prevailing wind” and shot an even-par 72 on the 7,445-yard course.
“It was just one of those magical days,” he said. “The golf gods said, ‘OK, we are going to give you this day.’”
At Sea Pines Resort at Hilton Head Island, S.C., the former Highland High tennis coach got to meet tennis legend Stan Smith, another highlight.
“Half the fun now is just working the angles to try and get on these courses,” he said. “People want to be part of the quest. It’s been a fantastic journey. I feel lucky. I feel very fortunate that I have the opportunity to be doing this. I have had several friends who I lost to cancer. I am just going to ride it until the train stops.”
And it is far from over. So don’t even ask Behnke what he’s going to try next.
“If I reach this 100 top courses goal, it will be hard to top,” he said.
BEHNKE’S FAVORITE UTAH GOLF COURSES
• Victory Ranch Golf Club (Kamas)
• Glenwild Golf Club (Park City)
• Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club (St. George)
• Sand Hollow Golf Club (Hurricane)
• Hubbard Golf Club (Hill Air Force Base)