Want to play golf in Utah for $9? All you have to do is take on the ‘invisible hazard’

Due to high canyon winds in the morning, The Oaks at Spanish Fork and El Monte in Ogden offer substantial “wind rates” discounts to golfers

(Kurt Kragthorpe | Special to The Tribune) A white flag blows in the wind, backdropped by turbines at The Oaks at Spanish Fork. Due to high canyon winds in the morning, The Oaks is one of two courses in Utah that offers a substantial "wind rates" discount to golfers.

Dale Hadley speaks rather reverently and practically poetically about his regular morning rounds at Ogden’s historic El Monte Golf Course, with the sun rising near Ben Lomond Peak and shining on the stone clubhouse perched well above the ninth green.

“By 9 or so, the winds die down and the sun is out, with a pleasant breeze,” Hadley said. “Just perfect for a round of golf.”

Picture him pausing, before this wry conclusion: “But by then, we’re finished.”

That’s because Hadley, who tries to visit El Monte twice a week with his brother, Craig, and son, John, likes to play in the first group of the day. Their preference is mostly connected to the challenge presented by the wind blowing from Ogden Canyon and how that element keeps the course from being too crowded — but it is also partly due to financial rewards.

El Monte and The Oaks at Spanish Fork, a course similarly positioned at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon — and where, in case there’s any doubting the wind’s potential power, nine 280-foot-high turbines loom beyond the 10th green — offer significant “wind rate” discounts to golfers who tee off before 9 a.m.

It may not be an original phrase, but golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. popularized the phrase “invisible hazard” for wind as a factor in designing holes. That’s a good description of the way the wind comes into play in Ogden and Spanish Fork, practically and psychologically. Fiscally, too.

Municipal administrators in those cities figure they need to incentivize golfers to confront the canyon winds that also are familiar to patrons of courses such as Bonneville GC in Salt Lake City and the Logan Country Club.

Some strategy is involved here. Booking the last tee time prior to 9 a.m. in either Spanish Fork or Ogden greatly reduces the percentage of holes played in the toughest conditions. That especially matters to 18-hole golfers at The Oaks, where every minute they can postpone the battle helps on No. 10, a par-5 that plays uphill toward the canyon and is fully exposed to the wind, with trouble on both sides.

There may not be a more intimidating tee shot anywhere, which is why I was stunned to see two carts of players headed through the tunnel to No. 10 to start their day just after 6 a.m. in mid-June. That evoked a memory from 30 years ago. Having registered to play the back nine, I popped up a shot that practically sailed back over my head, so I immediately turned and walked through the parking lot and around the clubhouse to No. 1 and hit a westbound drive, with the wind.

Then again, there’s value in learning to properly strike shots that bore through the wind, and in the conditioning that comes with playing in that setting.

Jordan Rogers, who coaches the Spanish Fork High School boys golf team, purposely schedules a 6:30 a.m. tee time for one of his tryout rounds in August. The canyon wind “will definitely separate” some would-be Dons from genuine players, he said. “I’ve weeded out less serious kids by playing early. On multiple occasions, boys have simply not shown up for the second day of tryouts, and I’ve got to believe the ‘tornado’ winds have played a role.”

Rogers, whose team finished second to powerful Skyline in last October’s Class 5A state tournament at The Oaks, added, “I’ve had players tell me they are glad when we are greeted by difficult conditions as we arrive at a high school meet. The funny part is I think they mean it.”

The survival aspect, while being toughened by the wind, is part of what draws Hadley, 72, and his son and brother to their twice-weekly walking rounds at El Monte, as much as the $9 rate. This time of year, there’s also a heat-beating aspect to playing in the wind, with jackets required.

In the spring and fall (and, when possible, the winter), the Hadleys are known to wear wool hats and gloves while playing in extreme cold, as the wind prevents frost from forming. The absence of dew at these courses indeed is striking; at The Oaks, the freshly mowed greens are firm and fast, even before the sun moves across the course.

Unlike the layout of The Oaks, where three of the first four holes play downwind, El Monte’s opening hole goes toward the canyon. The long par-5 comes with the added challenge of two huge cottonwood trees in the middle of the fairway.

The tradeoff is a friendly ending. Nos. 8 and 9 play with the wind, toward the stone clubhouse that’s approaching a century old. Hadley labels it “really my favorite finishing hole of any course I’ve played … reminds me of the historic nature of the game.”

The Hadleys also love the pace of the early mornings, when they’ll occasionally finish nine holes and realize they’ve had the course to themselves.

And while the wind is unrelenting in the early mornings, both courses are designed with variety. Once you get past the tough drive on No. 10, three subsequent par-4s offer downhill, downwind tee shots that are fun to launch on holes that the late Billy Casper designed with options in mind.

Casper, a legendary golfer with 51 victories on the PGA Tour, likely would forgive us for choosing to wait out the morning wind. His best chance to win the British Open was lost in 1968 at Carnoustie in Scotland, where the final-round conditions became so difficult that Gary Player’s 73 was good enough to overtake Casper’s lead.

A sampling of discounts offered by Utah public golf courses:

• Wind rates: Starting prior to 9 a.m., $9 to walk nine holes at El Monte GC in Ogden; $15 per nine holes at The Oaks at Spanish Fork (essentially, a free cart).

• Senior rates (60-over): $12 to walk nine holes at the West Valley City-operated Stonebridge GC and The Ridge GC.

• Summer rates: About a 40% discount on green fees from June through September at the four courses operated by St. George City.

• Twilight rates: $500 season pass to play nine holes on weekdays after 4 p.m. at Talons Cove GC in Saratoga Springs; $36 including cart for 18 holes in October at the Homestead Resort & GC in Midway.

• Junior rates: $5 or less for nine holes at more than 30 courses, with a Youth on Course membership.