Two golf architects share name, ideas about great golf

IN AND AROUND SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If you’re a golfer who’s played a few rounds in Utah, the chances are you’ve played a course designed by William Neff. That’s because the majority of golf courses along the Wasatch Front have been designed, engineered, or remodeled by Neff.

But which William Neff? 

The two most prominent golf course architects in the Beehive State over the past five decades both happened to be named William Neff. Better yet, both have the name “William H. Neff.” 

Though separated by 28 years in age, William Henrichsen Neff and William Howard Neff are not father and son. In fact, they’re not even remotely related. 

William Henrichsen Neff (also known as Neff the elder) was a Utah native who designed dozens of courses in the state and stayed active in the game until his death, in 2001, at age 95. 

Then there is William Howard Neff (called Neff the younger), a Colorado native who moved to Utah to attend college, became an architect and ended up making a name for himself as a golf architect after getting a jump-start from – you guessed it – Neff the older.

Confused yet? 

All you really need to know is that both Neffs fashioned golf courses that involve a great deal of skill and fun and they employed an awesome place – the high country of northern Utah – to display their handiwork. 

The two worked together, both at the drawing table and in the field, for nearly 15 years. The Neffs co-designed several courses, and have their names – or name, as it were – on three of the tracks we played in or near Salt Lake City during a recent trip to a region that’s a haven for great golf at reasonable rates. 

The Lake course at Mountain Dell

Mountain Dell is a great 36-hole municipal
The Neff name is all over the 36-hole, two-course facility at Mountain Dell Golf Course, set about 16 miles east of Salt Lake City but still close enough to be run as a municipal facility. Mountain Dell features two layouts – the Canyon (designed by the legendary William Bell in 1962 and since renovated by Neff the elder) and the Lakes (fashioned by Neff the younger in 1990). 

The clubhouse for the two courses rests at 6,000 feet above sea level and the up-and-down nature of the routings offer wonderful views and frequent glimpses of wildlife. Both courses traverse alpine terrain. 

The Canyon course, carded at 6,787 yards from its back set of four tee boxes, stretches approximately four miles up the eastern side of the mountain through Parley’s Canyon before looping back. 

It consists of 13 of Mountain Dell’s original 18 holes and five new holes carved out of natural oak brush and rose thickets. 

The Canyon course starts out relatively flat but eventually reaches a summit some 1,300 feet above the clubhouse; the par-72 carries a rating of 71.3 and a Slope of 126 from the tips. Players at Canyon with early-morning or early-evening tee times may see deer, elk, moose, eagles, hawks, badgers, squirrels and an occasional cougar.

The par-71 Lake course contains pinched, rolling fairways and dramatic tee shots over ravines and water. Stretching 6,745 yards from its back set of four tees, the course descends from the clubhouse to the Mountain Dell Reservoir. 

Holes Nos. 1 and 2, both narrow and downhill, demand attention, and the fourth – an engaging 371-yard par-4 that crosses an arm of the reservoir – presents a precarious tee shot. Holes 7-9 climb back up the hill. Lake has a rating of 72.2 and a Slope of 129. 

The courses at Mountain Dell are considered by many to be the most attractive public tracks in Salt Lake City, but their beauty is equaled by their testiness. 

Hobble Creek GC in the fall

Hobble Creek highlighted by back nine
About a half-hour’s drive south in Springville, the city-owned Hobble Creek Golf Course may be even better, and more luscious, that the two courses at Mountain Dell. 

Built in 1967 by Bell in the relative flatlands of Hobble Creek Canyon, this course (which was redesigned and expanded to 18 holes by Neff the elder in the mid-1990s) offers some of the best scenery in Utah. 

The course features tree-lined fairways, with its namesake creek snaking throughout it. The mountains seem to be right on top of the golfer and provide a great backdrop, especially with shots into the greens. 

Hobble Creek isn’t necessarily long, topping out at 6,406 yards from the tips; its defense is its fast, sloped greens that require accuracy on approaches. Trouble abounds above the hole. The par-71 sports a rating of 70.0 and a Slope of 130. 

The front nine is easier than the back as the home half’s fairways are very narrow and crossed by streams. The secret to the course is not length – just keep the ball in play. And though located in the mountains there are not many extreme elevation changes. 

Wasatch Mountain State Park

Wasatch Mountain State Park also is a two-fer
Two more Neff courses are highlighted in Wasatch Mountain State Park, a 22,000-acre preserve in the Heber Valley of Wasatch County near Midway, about a 30-minute drive southeast of Salt Lake City. 

Established in 1961, the park provides year-round recreation, including camping, picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, off-highway vehicles, horseback riding and – for our purposes – two outstanding golf course that have withstood the test of time. 

The well-regarded Mountain and Lake courses are consistently ranked among the most popular and scenic in Utah. Nationally, Golf Digest rated the courses 4.5 out of five stars in their “Best Places to Play” review. 

The Lake was designed by Neff the elder in 1972. Occupying gentle terrain, the par-72 layout, which plays 6,910 yards, is often considered the easier of the two. As its name implies, the course has eight different lakes impeding play, along with generally narrow fairways and mid-sized greens. 

It has several shorter par-5s (the 517-yard first, 489-yard ninth and 516-yard 17th), that require accurate drives to avoid well-placed stands of mature trees along the fairways. Its pastoral beauty offers just the right setting for about every level of player.

Conversely, its counterpart (opened in 1990) is a classic mountain-style layout, carved from natural, rocky contours. The front nine was designed by both Neffs, while the back side is credited to Neff the younger. 

The outward nine holes travel two miles up the mountain while the inward set returns to the clubhouse. Along the way players experience dramatic rises and falls and expansive vistas of the Heber Valley, often catching glimpses of deer, elk, wild turkeys, moose and other wildlife. 

The 6,459-yard Mountain course is a rollercoaster ride with up- and downhill holes involving tee shots that seemingly hang in the thin mountain air forever. It’s a nice collection of holes, letting players hit all the clubs in their bag. 

There are few forced carries at Mountain, which is a good test for better golfers thanks to its off-kilter downhill, uphill and sidehill lies.

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