When the Salt Lake City Open tees off this weekend at Bonneville Golf Course, it might seem like Jordan Gibbs has the upper hand.
A competitor and the new head professional at the course, he helped pick the pin locations.
“I’m the host pro, but most people in the field probably know the course better than I do,” said Gibbs, a New Jersey native who took charge at Bonneville in March. “I don’t have a home course advantage yet.”
Ask the 162 players who will be competing there Saturday and Sunday and most locals will probably tell you how important the course on the East Bench has been in their development as golfers.
“I always love playing this place. In high school, we used to play here every night for free,” Zach Johnson, the City Open’s defending champ, said with a laugh.
Johnson, the head pro at Davis Park Golf Course, added: “It’s the gem of Salt Lake golf. For public golf, you look at what this place provides and it’s hard to match.”
The original nine-hole course was built in 1929 and later completed as an 18-hole course in 1959, redesigned by William P. Bell and William F. Bell, the father and son duo who originally co-designed the renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
Now, with a pandemic-fueled boom that saw a 25% jump in activity on city courses compared to the five-year average, Bonneville is a bustling center of public golf in Utah. The course saw about 85,000 nine-hole rounds last year, Gibbs said.
But he sees value too in using the course to host marquee events, such as the Salt Lake City Amateur and the City Open.
“It’s really important that Bonneville keeps doing that,” he said. “We’d like to host other Utah Golf Association events throughout the year, too. I think that’s part of our responsibility as Bonneville, just where we’re located and our history.”
This weekend another champion could be part of that history.
“It was nice to drive in and see your name on the sign,” Johnson said this week. “... At my age, I didn’t think I was ever going to win it. It was eluding my career and that was disappointing. I always wanted it.”
This year’s field has been cut from 192 down to 162 players to make it even more competitive for a purse of $5,000 for professionals and about $3,000 for seniors.
Gibbs predicted it might take 12-under-par weekend to be crowned the champion.
“You can drive it well here and get yourself in position,” said Chris Moody,” a two-time City Open champ. “It’s score-able. The par 5s, you definitely need to take advantage. Then make a few birdies here and there and try not to make too many bogeys.”
“There are a lot of birdies,” Johnson agreed. “But there are a couple of holes, if you hit the wrong shot you can walk away with a big number.”
Get on the wrong tier of the green on the par-3 ninth, he said, and you might find yourself marking a 6 on the scorecard.
“But it’s always a treat to play here,” he said. “It’s always in good shape and it seems to get harder every year. It’s a special place.”