Red Rock Greens – Pars and Parks Highlight Utah’s Greater Zion Region
A two-hour mood-altering drive from the neon-dazzling lights of Las Vegas transports passengers to a canvas of soft-colored hues of red, pink, maroon, yellow, brown, and white blanketing the chromatic landscape sculpted by Mother Nature throughout millions of years surrounding St. George, in the southwestern corner of Utah.
One of the fastest-growing cities in the United States and a destination attracting adventuring globetrotters, St. George serves as a prime gateway for exploring the high-desert region and a National Park jackpot that include Zion National Park (45 miles east), Bryce Canyon National Park (130 miles northeast) and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (146 miles southeast). Not bad for starters.
It gets better for anyone packing hiking boots and golf shoes. A half century ago golf course architects started taking advantage of the eye-candy backdrops in the high desert (2,800 feet elevation) when St. George’s first fairways and greens were christened at Dixie Red Hills GC. The nine-hole layout is now one of 15 remarkable courses sand-wedged within a 20-mile radius in Utah’s Greater Zion region to challenge golfers year-round – though summer temps can be dryer than a James Bond martini – on an expansive playground where dinosaurs once roamed.
Long considered to sit atop Utah’s pyramid of public golf courses, Sand Hollow Golf Resort in Hurricane overwhelmingly validates the hype garnered when it first opened in 2008. This 7,315-yard golf retreat designed by John Fought and associate Andy Staples pops out in stark contrast to the surrounding cavernous cliffs and red rock outcroppings, the Virgin River bed 500 feet below, and the distant Pine Valley Mountains to gift one dramatic postcard view after another. And like most courses around St. George, for golfers not laser focused on scoring the camera becomes the best 15th club in your bag.
“It’s kind of like a national park setting,” said Fought. “The whole site is total sand and everything that was built there was made from native materials including the use of reddish, orange sand in the bunkers. We moved almost no dirt and nothing has been changed on the course since being built 14 years ago.”
The front nine features link-style topography with incredible views of engulfing vistas, natural shrubbery and trees, striking red sand bunkers and wide, immaculate fairways leading to jumbo-size greens. After making the turn and playing the straightforward par 5, 10th and the downhill par 3, 11th showcasing a green flowing off to a panoramic desert backdrop, the shock and awe factor kicks into high gear.
Nos. 12 through 15 comprise one of the most mesmerizing and stunning sequence of golf holes with each hole playing along the canyon rim (left side), red-rock cliffs (right side), and dramatic elevation changes. If, by chance, this stretch of holes induces a slow pace of play, relax and enjoy the visuals.
The tee shot from an elevated 12th tee box sails to (hopefully) an uphill fairway leading to a false front green protected by two deep bunkers on the right side. A short par 4 (320 yards) at the 13th, with zero margin for error along the left, entice long hitters attempting to carry a fairway bunker 70 yards short of an elevated green. Whichever of the five tee boxes are being played at the 230-yard (down to 113 yards), par 3, 15th, golfers will be taunted with an elevated tee shot forced to carry the canyon ridge to a downhill resting green with a small bunker in front for catching balls coming up short.
In a striking shift of topography, architect Fred Bliss and World Golf Hall of Fame member Johnny Miller designed a course superimposed over fiery red dirt and jet-black lava beds at Entrada at Snow Canyon. At first siting, the landscape seems straight out of the Big Island of Hawaii but without the ocean that is replaced by dramatic red and white towering rock cliffs of neighboring Snow Canyon State Park.
When opened in 1996, this exquisite layout helped elevate St. George on the golf getaway map however, throughout the years it earned a reputation of being too difficult by demanding golfers to mirror Miller’s flair for accuracy.
Fast forward to Spring 2022 and the unveiling of a renovated, more player-friendly Entrada crafted from the imagination of architect David McClay Kidd.
“Kidd was very fixated on returning the fun to golf at Entrada,” says, Michael Rushing, General Manager at Entrada at Snow Canyon. “Previously, the layout consisted of narrow challenging ribbons and when you looked at it, it invoked fear instead of joy and that’s been the biggest difference. Kidd managed to create an everyday golf experience by altering the green complexes and creating different angles that don’t necessarily require golfers fly the ball all the way to the putting surface. They can now hit low shots, running shots, bump and run shots, wherever their mind goes to.”
The routing remains intact on the 7,065-yard, par 71 layout with holes one through 14 flowing through the community and Nos. 15-17, known as the “lava triangle,” snaking through the black jagged rock contrasted against a panoramic backdrop straight out of a Hollywood western.
The $8 million project also included the renovation of all bunkers, recontouring fairways, re-grassing tees, fairways and rough, installing new irrigation and drainage systems, a putting course, and a 16-station Toptracer program installed on the driving range. Although a semi-private club, public access is available to guests staying at the Inn at Entrada, a golf and spa community consisting of 57 luxurious suites and studios.
With all the inviting options to stay and play around St. George, a highly anticipated golf resort, Black Desert Resort, has taken front and center stage when Black Desert Resort recently opened its doors to a 150-room hotel and a public-accessible, Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course carved into Utah’s black lava fields.
As is the case at neighboring Entrada at Snow Canyon, playability is a priority with its forgiving fairways offering 70 to 100-yard landing areas for beginners but also plenty risk/reward elements to challenge the most die-hard golfers playing from the back tees. Complimenting the 18 holes is a 36-hole, illuminated putting course.
Whether driving the St. George fairways or navigating the roads to an off-course adventure, the serenity and beauty of the Greater Zion region is a gift that will keep on giving.