By: Andrew Penner
Cranky pit bosses. Ruthless dealers. Squandered money. Let’s be honest, folks, gambling can be overrated! Thankfully, as memorable as a blow-your-mortgage golf and gambling spree to Las Vegas can be, there are some “cleaner” options. If you prefer your golf junkets on the righteous side of center – or just can’t stomach one more dealer pulling a 6-card 21 – you’re best off motoring 120 miles north of Sin City to St. George, Utah.
Indeed, compared to Las Vegas, St. George – population 80,000 – is squeaky clean. Donny and Marie Osmond clean. St. George is a college town. A Mormon town. And the church-going folk here tend to be family-and-football focused. And quite a few of them like to play golf, too. Thanks to a solid collection of courses, including a couple of the simply stunning variety, it’s not just the locals on the links here. In fact, St. George – with their 10-course Red Rock Golf Trail – has become a world-class golf destination that should be on your radar.
Conveniently, at about the midway point on the easy drive from Vegas, you can get the sin out of your system one last time in the 3-casino border town of Mesquite, which is a decent little golf destination in its own right. Not only can you lose your shirt there, you can also lose your mind on a few of the wild and crazy golf courses.
The Wolf Creek Golf Club, for example, boasts one of the most dramatic courses in the American Southwest. The 6,939-yard track is a through-the-canyons crusade that features non-stop elevation changes. While there are many “wow” moments, including standing on the soaring second tee, you’ll want to keep your wits about you as you wind your way through the maze of washes, arroyos, and canyons. My advice? Keep a firm grip on your wobbly pop at all times. This is the Disney-fied version of desert golf.
Another half hour, or so, up the road is the Promised Land of St. George. The Red Rock Golf Trail (www.redrockgolftrail.com) is your guiding light for everything golf in St. George. You’ll get the best rates and packages if you book directly with them. The “trail” (all the courses are within an hour from St. George) consists of ten golf courses. And you won’t find a course that’s over $145 (including cart) to play. Most are significantly less. Unquestionably, value-focused golf travelers will find their happy place in St. George. And here’s the kicker: the stunning red-rock scenery that surrounds the area makes for an unforgettable setting. I don’t care how much money Steve Wynn has, he can’t manufacture this.
Located just off I-15 at the Hurricane exit, Coral Canyon is a great introduction to the area’s rock-solid golf offerings. Designed in 2001 by underrated architect Keith Foster, Coral Canyon is a fine example of the desert golf genre. The playing corridors are generous (so you’re not looking for your ball in cacti-infested terrain all day!) and the many arroyos and natural rock features are nicely incorporated. There are also plenty of options when it comes to strategizing your way around the course. When it’s all said and done, you walk off feeling like you’ve been fairly tested, but not beaten into submission by a narrow, one-dimensional course. Although there is some development, most of it is appropriately set back. In short, Coral Canyon comes highly recommended.
Speaking of courses with ample room to play, the impressive Sand Hollow Resort is, for many good reasons, turning plenty of heads. Although the short drive to the course – on a desolate, flat-as-a-pancake highway – is null and void of anything you’d consider “grandiose,” the championship golf course here is an absolute stunner. It’s a world-class layout that includes a 4-hole stretch that rivals anything I’ve played in the Southwest.
Although the easy-flowing front nine – which oozes with character and incorporates a very cool rock outcropping – is enough to win you over, it isn’t until the back nine when things progress to jaw-dropping levels. The run from the 12th through the 15th, which cruises along a massive bluff framed with a glowing sandstone cliff, takes the cake. What’s most impressive here is the fact that these aren’t just “trophy” holes that the architect, in this case the talented John Fought, squeezed into spots that he had no business utilizing for golf. Rather, the holes, while magnificent from a visual standpoint, play exceptionally well, too. And, given this fact, it’s not surprising that very little was done here in terms of moving earth or blasting. The holes were “there.”
Included in the stretch are one of the best long par-4s you’ll ever play (the cliffside 12th), a breathtaking drivable par-4 (the 13th), a sweet, semi-blind par-4 (the 14th), and, the cherry on top, a dazzling par-3 with a punchbowl green encased by the cliff (the 15th). If you’re not having any fun here, check your pulse.
Although Sand Hollow could very well be your favourite in the region, there are other nearby courses that definitely merit a go. The Ledges, for example, is an exceptionally scenic Matt Dye design that parades through stunning red rock scenery near Snow Canyon State Park. It’s certainly a premier play in the area.
Entrada at Snow Canyon is definitely another track you want to play. However, there’s a catch. You’ve got to stay at The Inn at Entrada or be a guest of a member in order to play it. And it’s not part of the “official” trail. The Johnny Miller designed course, which includes a sweet three-hole stretch through an ancient lava field, is impeccably maintained and exciting to play. The location, too, on the edge of Snow Canyon State Park, couldn’t be better.
But as much as Coral Canyon, Sand Hollow, The Ledges, and Entrada at Snow Canyon represent the best of St. George, it’s the “rest of the best” on The Red Rock Golf Trail that solidify the region as a world-class destination. More established courses such as Sunbrook, the St. George Golf Club, and Sky Mountain are all rewarding plays that offer the winter-weary golfer a “righteous” week of golf.
No, you won’t find many night clubs, palatial hotels, or Vegas’ over-the-top energy in St. George. People actually go to bed. St. George is meant for discerning, value-focused golfers with pure intentions. Throw in the incredible beauty of nearby Zion National Park and the majestic, red-rock scenery that envelops this place, and you’ve got the makings for a grand and guiltless experience. Godspeed, golfer!