The Greens of Utah’s Color Country: Great Golf Leads the Charge in Historic, Fast-Growing St. George
If flashing neon, spinning wheels and exorbitant green fees are what you’re craving, there’s a certain city
in southern Nevada that will satisfy. For those in search of a more lowkey, high-desert holiday, perhaps one that’s diametrically opposed to the Las Vegas experience, the answer lies 120 miles to the northeast, in St. George, Utah.
With more than a dozen courses — a handful of them nationally ranked — plus sunshine, culture and scenery, St. George has quietly emerged as an enticing golf vacation destination.
Often known by its nickname, “Color Country,” St. George is ringed with brick-colored sandstone monoliths and red rock cliffs and is considered the gateway to the state’s other colorful natural wonders, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Next door in Arizona, just three hours away, is the Grand Canyon.
At a 2,800-foot elevation, with little rainfall and low humidity, year-round golf is possible in St. George, with spring and fall the prime golf seasons.
SEEING REDS ON THE GREENS
Among golf courses, the leader in the clubhouse is the Sand Hollow Resort. Architect John Fought and associate Andy Staples carved gigantic greens into the massively wide, 7,315-yard Championship layout, resulting in a playable, natural-looking, high-desert design. Ridgelines, canyons and red rock cliffs accent the round, especially on the back nine, which is highlighted by a four-hole, ridge-top stretch (Nos. 12 through 15) that’s as memorable as any in the Southwest. A walkable, nine-hole Links course — with even bigger greens and fairways — and a nine-hole par-3 track round out the offerings at Sand Hollow.
St. George’s other top public courses offer that same enticing blend of the three Vs —variety, views and value. Coral Canyon GC is a playable 7,200-yard layout from Keith Foster that sports generous landing areas, escapable bunkers (many that are shaped like plump cashews) and moderately undulating putting surfaces. Most memorable is the 122-yard sixth hole, its green a virtual island encircled by volcanic rock. I mourn the abandonment of the original, isolated 163-yard back tee, but it’s still a hoot from a buck-twenty.
Another must-play is The Ledges, a 2006 creation from Matt Dye, Pete’s nephew. After a benign front nine, the 7,145-yard track roars home with a drama-drenched series of holes, starting with the red rock backdrops at the par-5 11th and highlighted by the risk/reward 320-yard, par-4 15th, which plays to a green guarded by desert ravines. On the shortish side at 6,383 yards from the tips, Sky Mountain GC dazzles for sheer scenery, with Zion National Park and the Pine Valley Mountain Range constant visual companions.
NEW & NIFTY
Two superb new courses will undoubtedly raise St. George’s golf profile even further. Entrada at Snow Canyon CC rolled out a comprehensive redesign by David McLay Kidd in April 2022; next door to Entrada and slated for a nine-hole preview this fall is Black Desert Resort, one of Tom Weiskopf’s final designs, completed before he succumbed to cancer in August 2022.
Entrada opened in 1996, a design collaboration between architect Fred Bliss and PGA Tour legend Johnny Miller. The course was unquestionably handsome, but indisputably difficult. Post-round grill room talk inevitably centered on holes 15, 16 and 17, known as the “lava triangle.” Each of these more progressively
demanding holes snaked through fields of black lava that would look more at home on the Big Island of Hawaii. Enter David McLay Kidd of Bandon Dunes fame, who renovated Entrada.
While keeping the routing mostly intact, Kidd and his team crafted wider fairway corridors, removed some bunkers, grassed over others and pushed the greens down to the grade of the surroundings. When the course reopened in spring, players who misfired on their approaches now had options, whether to flop, chip, putt or bump-and-run.
“It’s definitely a desert course,” said Kidd. “You’re out here in Southern Utah, but I wanted to have that links experience. From the design to the way the grasses are maintained, it’s all about being able to run the ball along the ground and use it to your advantage.”
The “lava triangle” remains a conversation piece, but Kidd made it much more fun to navigate. With Kidd’s imaginative use of player-friendly contours and slopes, arroyo-slashed terrain and the panoramas of sandstone cliffs, Entrada is now a joy to play. Outside play is limited, as it is essentially a private club amid an upscale residential community. However, guests at the 57-room Inn at Entrada have some tee-time access.
Black Desert Resort, on the other hand, is purely public — with the welcome mat out for resort guests — but not until 2023. The aptly named golf course is set amid ancient black lava fields and will serve as the centerpiece of a full-service resort and residential development, which will include retail and restaurant space.
Weiskopf and lead architect Phil Smith equipped the golf holes with roomy fairways, 70 to 100 yards wide. Not surprisingly, the emphasis is on playability. However, the overwhelming aesthetics — black lava, red rocks, blue skies, green fairways — are what resonate most.
“Black Desert is truly a special place,” said Weiskopf. “The beautiful red rock backdrops remind me of Sedona (Arizona).”
Limited preview rounds beginning in November 2022 will feature nine holes. Autumn will also see the debut of the practice range and a 36-hole illuminated putting course. Weiskopf included not one but two of his signature drivable par4s — holes 5 and 14 — but they won’t open until spring 2023. Also expected in 2023 are 150 hotel rooms and a slew of other resort features.
EAT, STAY, DO
Historic downtown St. George is worth exploring for many reasons, if the arts, shopping, dining and a farmer’s market hold appeal. Don’t miss dinner at the Painted Pony in Ancestor Square. Featuring contemporary American fare with Southwestern accents, the Painted Pony requires some stair climbing to enter, but it’s worth the extra steps to sample the creative cuisine. The best breakfast in St. George is just down Main Street, off St. George Boulevard, at the Bear Paw Café. Classic Belgian Waffles, stone-ground oatmeal and more than 15 different tea options elevate this local favorite.
Several lodging options await downtown, but the best choice for golfers is out in the ‘burbs, at the Inn at Entrada. Its 57 suite and casita rooms in a gated community — essentially a patio home, complete with garage — make it ideal for friends, couples and families. Sand Hollow Resort is another strong option for vacationers who want golf right outside their door. Rooms, suites, condominiums and vacation homes are among the offerings.
For your must-do off-course adventure, the question of the day is: Can golf and hiking co-exist on the same vacation? In St. George, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” Some of America’s most spectacular trails and vistas await nearby at Snow Canyon State Park and even more impressively at Zion National Park, just under an hour’s drive. The best drives of all, however? Just pick any St. George area golf course, tee it up and let ‘er fly.