St. George, Utah: Land of Canyons, Lava Rock and Year-round Golf

By Michael Hunsinger, Contributor

In the southwestern corner of Utah is a land of incredible beauty and natural wonders. This area is surrounded by national and state parks, canyons, deserts, and endless possibilities for outdoor activities. In recent years, St. George has become one of the most popular resort and retirement communities in the West.

The golf courses in St. George are known for their challenging designs, well-maintained fairways and greens, and the spectacular scenery surrounding them. This is a year round golf community with nine courses within a half-hour drive of each other. For travelers to St. George, about 2,500 motel rooms and 50 plus restaurants await your arrival.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a golf weekend in St. George, in which I enjoyed the 70+ degree weather of late March. Our weekend of golf started off at Twin Lakes, a 9-hole, par 3 course. To be an honest course reviewer, I must say the best part of this experience was knowing I only paid six dollars for nine holes. This course has recently had management troubles (lack of attention) and the greens were brown dirt with patches of grass. When we arrived I noticed green fairways and rough - but brown greens. The owner and now superintendent, Mr. Jim Haslem, informed us that his past manager had gone a full hot summer without watering the greens. Mr. Haslem is dedicated to bringing his course back to the standards for St. George Golf. The course is a fun way to work on your short game and get a feel for your short irons. Mr. Haslem has many future plans for the course and the golf complex. Twin Lakes will be over seeding on the greens in early April. The course should be back in playing shape by early summer with the proper care and attention.

After our morning nine-hole warm-up, we were ready to experience the beauty of the Johnny Miller designed course, Entrada. Built in 1996, this 18-hole bent grass course is nestled at the mouth of Snow Canyon between the Navajo and Kayenta Sandstone Cliffs. As we drive up to the course, the scenery of black lava rock, red sandstone cliffs, and lush green fairways had our golfing expectations running wild. Believe me, Entrada's staff, including golf professional, Steve Sharp, and the course itself met all expectations from start to finish.

Before you start playing, I suggest purchasing an Entrada yardage booklet. I found this particular booklet to be one of the best designed and most helpful books I have ever seen. The daily pin placements and yardages off the tees really help when playing the course. The greens fee was $75 for out-of-state and $60 for in-state players which was well worth the money for this world class course. Follow the advise of head pro, Steve Sharp, keep the ball below the hole because the greens are fast and challenging for the amateur player.

The Pro Shop provides plenty of items for your shopping pleasure and a snackbar type 19th hole is available for food and drink. Range balls were included in the price along with a mandatory cart. The driving range was nicely laid out with plenty of room for all who warmed up on the facility.

Hole #1 is a downhill par 5 with an excellent clearance to start off well. Right away you can see the great job done by the superintendent and his crew in maintaining beautiful fairways and true rolling greens. Hole #2 is a tricky par 4 with water on your first and second shot. If you are like me, I found it both times. Enjoy the scenery, take your golf lumps, and keep on smiling. Every hole had its' own distinct features and really kept you thinking while on the course. I found #'s 8 and 9 to be great finishes to the first nine. #8 is a downhill 216-yard par 3, over a small dry creek bed and well-placed bunkers. #9 is a 600-yard par 5 which takes some real smarts on club selection and ball placement. The approach plays downhill to a large, but tree-lined green. You have to pick your spots and not be too aggressive on this course or big numbers will come.

On the back nine #10 is a downhill par 4 with a beautiful view of the course below. Holes 11-14 are all great golf holes with opportunities for great scores. With the more difficult lava rock holes 15, 16 and 17 coming up, a few pars and birdies through these early back nine holes is recommended. Hole #15 is called Mercy, which I wondered where the mercy was. It is a short 310-yard par 4 but the right club is the most important decision on this hole. The lava rock is very unforgiving unless you get a lucky bounce, so hit them straight. #16 and #17 are incredible lava rock holes with spectacular scenery. My Kodak moments were along any stretch of these three lava rock holes. The contrasting landscape at this point of the course was like no other place, truly painted by an artist. #18 is a 407-yard par 4 with a downhill tee shot over a large canyon and onto an uphill approach to the green.

Entrada, coming from the Spanish word meaning "entrance", is a unique golfing experience. I felt as an amateur, I had played a course even the pros would praise effusively.

The next day our golfing experience took us to the 27-hole Sunbrook Golf Club. The only knowledge we had of the course was that it was run by the City of St. George. We had no idea how great a city-run course could be. Designer Ted Robinson built Sunbrook's original 18 holes in 1990 and a new nine called Black Rock was added in 1998. All three nine-hole courses have their own distinct features with many signature holes. On this day we played Black Rock and Woodbridge nines.

Sunbrook Golf Club has a nice Pro Shop with many opportunities for shopping. Unlike many Pro Shops, Sunbrook's seemed to have fair prices and many choices. The staff was very helpful and courteous in all our golfing needs.

I have learned that you can tell a lot about a course by the way the practice facilities are maintained. When warming up on Sunbrook's practice greens and range, I knew we were in for a great day of golf. The 19th hole food and beverage facility offers plenty of choices for the golfers pleasure. The driving range is short on yardage so no woods are allowed. Carts are not mandatory and we found our two nines to be a moderate, non-stressful walk. I do appreciate the opportunity of choice when it comes to walking. The greens fee was $36 for us walkers, which was a great deal, even before we found out how wonderful the course was to be.

Starting on #1 at the Black Rock course, we quickly learned of the three cuts of rough. Fairways were perfect with a first and clearly cut of second rough. The rough was lush and gobbled up the errant shot. The morning dew on the grass was beautiful to the eye, but the deep wet rough made me yearn for the fairway green. #2 was a short 469-yard par 5 with a difficult and imposing approach shot. With tree-lined fairway and an open area of brush and plants, shot-making and net distance is the key to this hole. #4 is an uphill par 5 that plays long with a slightly blind approach shot. Walk ahead and take a look at the green to help in placement of your approach. The left side is lined by a deep creek bed with instant trouble. #5 is a short par 4 with scoring potential, which you should take advantage of before heading onto the black lava rock holes, 6-9. #6 is a 428-yard par 4 lined by lava rock on both sides. This hole and the next two are 1, 2, 3 handicap holes on this nine. Play bogey golf through these three and a good score should be on your way. #7's approach shot is to a semi-island green surrounded by water, black rock, and rough. Place your tee shot in the fairway, choose the proper club, and don't leave it short or right. #8 is a 168-yard par 3 over black lava rock the whole way to the green. It is an imposing shot with lots of trouble. There is some room to be a little short but not much room for error left or right. #9 is a 391-yard par 4 downhill which is a good scoring hole. Finish out strong and the Black Rock nine will be another notch on your proverbial golfer belt.

The Woodbridge course was the next nine on our golfing adventure. #1 is a 518-yard par 5 downhill with trees on many sides and a premium on staying in the fairway. I must say the greens are all in great shape and offer a true roll of the ball. They are fairly quick and offer a good test for the average golfer. #2's approach shot plays across a creek with trees on all sides. Putting your tee shot in the fairway of the proper distance is needed. #3 is an uphill 437-yard par 5 reachable in with good shots. There is a large 3 tiered green, so keep that in mind when placing your approach shot. #3 putt is very possible on this large, well-sloped green. #4 is the signature hole for this nine. 187-yard par 3 island green with a large elevation drop, makes for great views and an incredible tee shot. If you are like me and there is nobody behind you, take another shot at it. Two in the water, oh well, there is a drop zone down by the green. #5 tees off from on a beautiful hilltop to an open landing area. Your approach is across a pond to a well-bunkered green. This is the #1 handicap hole on this nine, so choose your weapons wisely. Hole #6 takes you back up by the clubhouse and holes 7 through 9 play across the street in a lovely valley of their own. #9's approach shot plays over a beautiful cascading waterfall to the green. Excellent photo opportunity to finish this nine of elevation changes, water holes, and tree lined fairways.

We did not get to play "the point" nine holes, but I am sure they are as wonderful as the holes we played. Sunbrook was an excellent example of how a city course should be run and how well it can be maintained. The different cuts of rough, the putting greens, and overall quality of this course was outstanding. The courteous and knowledgeable staff at Sunbrook was a pleasure to visit with on our day of golf.

I look forward to someday playing all the courses in the St. George area. This golfing mecca is a great place to play, stay, and enjoy the game of golf.

Michael Hunsinger, Contributor

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