It’s one of the West’s true places to play the grand game at lofty levels
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Aug. 14, 2018) – Salt Lake City is one of the nation’s cleanest, friendliest and most picturesque cities, and the city and the surrounding region are renown as a haven for winter sports, so much so that the area was the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
But Salt Lake (as those in the know call the city) is also a haven for wonderful golf, and with its 4,200 feet of elevation – even more in the surrounding areas – is one of the West’s true places to play the grand game at lofty levels.
There’s not much publicity about golf in the region, as the powers that be prefer to let the courses do their own talking. The northern suburb of Farmington is the host of Utah Championship on the Web.com Tour (at Oakridge Country Club), and the U.S. Amateur Public Links was held in 2012 at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, about 50 miles south of SLC.
We’ve taken a handful of golf trips to the area, and decided on our most recent visit to focus mostly on a handful of public courses within 20 miles of the City Center.
The fact that we were able to play at three tracks – the Canyon Course at Mountain Dell, Stonebridge Golf Club and Old Mill Golf Course – that stack up with any public courses anywhere is an indication that the area’s offerings are on par with its more recognized golf destinations.
Stonebridge Golf Club showcases Miller’s prowess as a designer
Our first stop on this trip was a round at Stonebridge Golf Club in West Valley, a 27-hole Johnny Miller design that plays though both a residential area and business park on the flight path to the burgeoning Salt Lake City International Airport.
The three nines here are called Creekside, Sunrise, and Sagebrush, and on our visit we teed it up on the 18 holes made up of Creekside and Sunrise, which play to a par pf 72, at almost 7,100 yards from the back set of four teeing grounds, to a rating of 73.4 and a hearty slope of 138.
Located along the Wasatch Front, the golf courses all have scenic views and plenty of water. The club is named Stonebridge after the red rock bridges that are scattered throughout the courses.
The Creekside course has a Scottish links-style layout that features bunkered greens and fairways with wide, open landing areas. It begins with a bang with the 449-yard par-4 first that’s one of the toughest opening holes I’ve played, and crescendos at the 445-yard par 4 sixth. Creekside ends with back-to-back par-5s of 498 and 531 yards that should be birdie holes but require precise approaches to devilish putting surfaces.
The Sunrise course is a little more of a parkland layout and, like the other two nines here, is relatively flat. Don’t take lightly the 134-yard par-3 third, which demands a tee shot to underneath the hole to have any chance at birdie but give it all you got on the drivable 350-yard par-4 fourth. This nine also closes with a par-5, but it’s a legitimate three-shotter of 580 yards, with the approach over water to a smallish green.
Of the three courses we played on this trip, Stonebridge has the least elevation change. Large bunkers, plenty of water, and undulating putting surfaces are the track’s defense, with mostly wide driving corridors and smooth rolling putts once you have the flatstick in your hands.
Two for one at Mountain Dell’s Canyon course
The Canyon course at Mountain Dell is one of two 18-hole tracks at this bustling, municipal facility set situated 16 miles east of downtown Salt Lake City and at an altitude of 6,000 feet above sea level.
The Canyon offers breathtaking views and frequent glimpses of wildlife and its higher elevation provides ideal alpine golfing conditions as it stretches up the mountain from the clubhouse approximately four miles before looping back.
The course features 13 of the facilities original 18 holes as designed by the legendary William Bell in 1962 with five newer – and quite frankly – better holes fashioned by the Neffs, William H. and his son William Howard that roll up the eastern canyon, carved out of the natural oak brush and rose thickets. It’s carded as a par 72 at 6,787 yards from the back tees with a rating of 72.1 and a slope of 133.
There is plenty to like about the Canyons course, which, because of its dual personality, is really two courses in one – both a parkland layout and an alpine test. I loved the go-for-it-from-the-tee 322-yard par-4 third, and the back-to-back par-5s that followed, one, the 517-yard fourth, that you can reach in two, and the other, the 595-yard sixth, on which you have to play for three shots to the green.
You play out of the parkland design after the 155-yard 10th and are immediately faced with a rolling, mountain challenge on the 535-yard up-and-over par-5 11th. Canyon’s best hole is likely the 444-yard par-4 15th, which requires a tee shot out of a chute onto a wide fairway and a solid middle iron to medium-sized, back-to-front sloping putting surface.
The closer here is a 410-yard par-4 on which you can cut the corner to the left of the fairway and find a shorter approach into the uphill green right next to the clubhouse.
Many of the Canyon course’s holes can be visually intimidating for the average golfer and the majority usually punish inaccurate tee shots, especially on the newer offerings.
All in all, Mountain Dell’s Canyon course (shown above) runs the gamut for fun and varied tests. Combined with the Lakes course on the West side of the property and it’s one of the best municipal facilities you can play.
Old Mill has its quirks
Our final stop of the trip was to the Gene Bates-designed Old Mill Golf Course, owned and operated by Salt Lake County and set just off I-215 a short drive from all major area of the valley as well as the airport.
Open for play since May 1998, Old Mill GC, routed in an old gravel pit on the mountain slope between Wasatch Boulevard and the freeway, plays to a par of 71 and at just 6,769 yards from the back set of five tee boxes. Playing the tips here will garner you a rating of 70.1 and a slope of 128, the least demanding numbers of the courses we played on this visit to Salt Lake.
The clubhouse is on the mountainside overlooking the course and five holes from the track’s back nine. Great views of the valley from point of the mountain to downtown contribute to the overall golf experience. The majority of the course is laid out on rolling mounds and hills without trees, and the fairways are wide and mostly forgiving, allowing the occasional errant shot and a realistic chance to score from an adjoining fairway.
Those fairways have been sculpted for hole definition and to provide landing area options, making the correct club decision paramount. From the tee it becomes important to pick a target and then choose the right club.
The greens were designed to provide a wide variety of easy to more difficult hole positions.
The back nine here has, by far, the most testing holes. It introduces two ponds, a winding stream and a forest to the challenge.
One of the most discussed features of Old Mill is the dramatic change of scenery the course takes on the last four holes. In complete contrast to the open and treeless terrain of the first fourteen holes the track finishes by cutting its way through a thickly wooded corner of the property, with narrow fairways and crisscrossing streams.
The quirkiest of this final threesome of holes is the 343-yard 16th, a dogleg-right par-4 that requires a bit of “local knowledge” to survive. A layup with an iron into the dogleg’s corner is the safe shot as anything further is blind and must clear some tall trees. You’ll be tempted to go for the green in one mighty blow (you likely can even get there with a 3-wood) but it’s best to play with prudence.
The 433-yard closing hole is one of the toughest on the course, with a narrow fairway and a stream crossing the fairway about 240 yards from the back teeboxes. A drive must carry the water and still stay on the short grass.
Overall the quirkiness of the final three holes has led to talk about flipping the nines here, a move that would place those holes in the middle of the round rather than at the finish. I think that’s a good idea – and will add to the end-product of a day at Old Mill.
The bottom line on public golf in Salt Lake City is that it’s a great place for a buddy trip, with an abundance of fun, challenging and, ultimately, affordable golf.