Short Course Blitz: Southern Utah

With so much golf around St. George, it’s a bit surprising that the area really doesn’t have that many short courses. And, two of them are actually at the same facility! And, one of those barely counts as a golf course!

The good news is that a lack in quantity does not mean a lack in quality. In fact, two of the three I played are easily among the better short courses I’ve played all year.

Anyway, let’s dive into this Short Course Blitz. I had already played three full 18-hole rounds on Thursday (the first day) of my trip, but the day was barely halfway over and I just had to keep going…

Dixie Red Hills Golf Course • St. George, UT • 8/2/18

I was originally thinking of playing here Thursday morning right after The Ledges and before my afternoon round at Entrada at Snow Canyon. Geographically it made sense with all three courses being in a similar part of town. However, Dixie Red Hills had their women’s club playing that morning. It ended up working out better for me since I had enough time to squeeze in a full 18 over at St. George GC during that time in between my main rounds.

Still, Dixie Red Hills was one of the priority course for this trip and I was going to make sure and play it at the earliest opportunity. I’ve always heard good things about this course as a local favorite, so I was determined to check it out on this trip.

I pulled into the parking lot around 3:15 and it was pretty empty out here. I saw a few people out on the course, but most seemed to be close to finishing up their nine holes. The price was $20 with a cart. I teed off a few minutes after arriving, didn’t run into anyone and was finished less than an hour later.

Dixie Red Hills is one of the older courses in the area having been built in 1965. It’s a distant second behind St. George GC, which actually dates back to 1935. This is a 9-hole course that plays to a total par of 34 for the men (35 for the women). It puts it right on that borderline between regulation-length and executive. I have to call it an executive because if you double up and play 18, it will be a par-68, which would be considered executive just about anywhere. For the ladies, I suppose it’s still a regulation course, so that’s mildly interesting.

The length of this course is not what matters, however. What will captivate you is the setting. It is right in the middle of town, but set away from civilization (for the most part) in a beautiful little red rock canyon. It’s just a cool place to have a little old golf course. The layout is rather quirky and the facilities are very simplistic. Yet, it’s one of those charming old short courses that will just put a smile on your face because it has so much character.

The first half of the course is really where it shines as you play right along the red rock canyon walls. There are also plenty of trees throughout this course, giving it more of a lush parkland feel than any other course in town. Most everything else around here would be categorized as “desert” golf. It’s somewhat hilly and there are a couple of very severe doglegs, including the 1st hole (a par-4) and the 3rd hole, which is the only par-5 on the course that boomerangs way around the rock wall and overhanging boulders. The 5th, 7th and 9th are also pretty sharp dogleg holes. It would be easy to call much of this layout “funky,” but I didn’t really care because I was having fun and enjoying the setting so much.

The conditions were pretty solid and fairly comparable to most of the mid-level courses I played on this trip. It was looking pretty lush and green, but a little spotty the closer up you get. I’d say mostly good with some weak spots here and there. The greens were in nice shape and rolling well at medium speeds. I wasn’t in any bunkers and there really aren’t that many on the course to begin with.

If you are visiting the St. George area for golf or any other reasons, and you have time for an extra nine holes of golf, do yourself a favor and look up Dixie Red Hills. Anyone should be able to have a blast on this neat little course.

Some pictures from Dixie Red Hills Golf Course (8/2/18):

(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)

 

After whistling through Dixie, I still had plenty of time (and just enough energy) to keep the day rolling along. I wasn’t looking at any 18-hole courses, but I decided to at least drive out to Hurricane and scope out the other two short courses on my list…

Sand Hollow Resort (Links Course) • Hurricane, UT • 8/2/18

I played the Championship Course at Sand Hollow back in 2012 at the tail end of a massive multi-state road trip. I heavily considered playing the 9-hole Links Course that day before heading home, but decided not to for various reasons. Since then, I’ve been wanting to go back and check it out.

By the time I arrived out in Hurricane (about 20 minutes from St. George), the weather had shifted. I actually did get a brief rain shower while at Dixie Red Hills, but the clouds overhead never seemed that menacing. Nothing looked too sketchy when I got to Sand Hollow, but the bright blue skies from earlier in the day were definitely long gone and things only got worse after that.

As long as it wasn’t crowded (of course it wasn’t), my plan was to play both the Links Course and the newer Wee Course at Sand Hollow. I checked in and they charged me $50 plus tax for the pair ($35 for Links, $15 for Wee, if you want to break it down). That’s definitely a lot for a couple short courses, especially considering 18 holes on the Championship Course would have only cost me $42 that day (or maybe even less considering it was twilight). Oh well, sometimes I do what I have to do. All the courses are much, much more expensive in season, so I guess I did get at least get the summer rates.

They asked me to start on the Links Course so I could turn my cart back in afterward. Wee is walking only. However, the cart guys said I was welcome to hold onto the cart in order to park it on the Wee 1st tee while I played it. Just to give you an idea, the driving range is across the parking lot and a bit of a walk if you don’t have a cart. The Links Course is even further out that way and the Wee Course is situated right in between the range and Links. So, them letting me hold onto the cart was a very nice gesture to save a lot of walking back and forth.

The Links Course is a 9-hole regulation-length layout that was built at the same time as the Championship Course. Sand Hollow Resort opened in 2008. Both designs are credited to John Fought along with Andy Staples. A good portion of the Championship Course is mildly links inspired, playing relatively wide open. However, they decided to use another piece of the property to create an even more links style course.

Obviously, the naysayers will tell you that it can’t really be a links course in the middle of the desert. Links refers to the type of land, yada yada yada… However, if it is possible to build a links course in the middle of the rugged Southern Utah desert, I think the Sand Hollow folks did a pretty darn good job of it.

They do have hickory clubs and gutta percha replica balls available for rent if you want a true links experience. I didn’t learn this until after I was finished, but I wouldn’t have done it anyway. The Links Course is actually rather long and would be a beast with the old-timey clubs and balls. It is a full par-36 and stretches out to 3,687 yards from the back tees. The blues are 3,455. I played the whites at 3,206, and it still played fairly long for me because it was super windy out. I have to say I got some real linksy weather with gray skies and strong winds, even though the temperatures were still quite high.

The Links Course is purposely a little rough around the edges as it is cut out of a fairly open part of the property that is pretty much just all scrub brush. The course has a lot of subtle undulation and a gentle overall slope from one end of the course to the other. The first tee is kind of the highest point as you work your way down and then back up for the nine holes.

The greens are very big and undulated, but what stood out to me was the bunkering. There are a lot of native desert areas in play along the edges of the holes, and then there are the bunkers (if you can even call them that). Some are fairly normal-looking while others are extra rugged. They are basically just carved out of the desert. They are filled with soft red sand (very powdery texture) like on the main course. They have long grass and bushes growing around the edges. Basically, they are cool to look at, but you want to avoid them at all costs. I imagine a lot of unplayable lies are taken in these things.

The 5th hole is Sand Hollow’s tribute to the Road Hole at St. Andrews. It is a dogleg right with a rock wall along the corner and then a dirt path/road just right of the green. The greenside bunker on this hole doesn’t resemble the famous “Hell Bunker” at all, but it still looks pretty hellish in its own way.

The next hole is kind of a neat par-3 that plays over the desert brush and sand, which creates a forced carry wasteland that spans all the way from tee to green. It’s actually kind of a semi-blind shot as you can barely see the green on the other side.

The Links Course was in pretty nice shape from tee to green. The tee boxes and fairways were rather good and the rough was pretty solid. The greens were soft and receptive, though a bit fluffy and also some sizable thin/burnt spots here and there. They were rolling a tad bumpy at medium/slow speeds.

I’m not sure I can call the Links Course at Sand Hollow a “must play” for this area because it’s kind of an expensive 9-hole round depending on when you play, but it is worth checking out if you have the time before or after your main round at Sand Hollow. The Championship Course is a must play for sure. If you are going to be out here spending your money anyway, playing all 27 isn’t a bad call.

Some pictures from Sand Hollow Resort (Links Course) (8/2/18):

 

I briefly mentioned the weather earlier. Well, as I was playing the Links Course, it got uglier and uglier. The clouds god darker and lightning started striking the mountains in the distance. The marshal came by to warn me it was coming our way and I picked up my pace of play. I basically sprinted through the final few holes of the Links Course and then went back to the clubhouse to take shelter.

I waited it out for almost an hour, but the rain and lightning only got worse. There was no way I was going to get killed on the stupid Wee Course that evening. I know how crazy desert monsoon storms can get. Thankfully, I was already going to be back out in Hurricane on Friday morning to play Sky Mountain. They gave me a rain check and I called it a day. The nasty weather continued well into the night, so I really got out of there just in time.

With that in mind, let’s fast forward to the next morning…

Sand Hollow Resort (Wee Course) • Hurricane, UT • 8/3/18

As you’ll find out in my next article, my morning round at Sky Mountain also went super quickly. I was able to get back over to Sand Hollow before the heat got too unbearable. I cashed in my rain check for the Wee Course. I was the only one playing it, so I breezed around without much delay.

I knew this was just a “pitch and putt” course, but I think I did expect a little more from it. “Wee” is a very apt name. I don’t know how long it’s been open. I’m pretty sure it’s rather new, though, and it was definitely not here when I first visited Sand Hollow in 2012. There is no official scorecard or listed yardage on the course. You won’t need more than one wedge and a putter to play it. I think one hole is maybe around 50-60 yards, while most are truly a short pitch or bump and run shot of about 30-40 yards max. This is a very tiny little 9-hole course!

Some of the greens do have some severe undulations and most of them are very small. The tee boxes are at least all grass and the tee boxes are marked off clearly. I think it’s designed to be able to play in multiple different routings/directions, or if it’s not crowded you could easily make up your own course. It’s all pretty tightly compacted in one small piece of the property.

As a silly little pitch and putt, the Wee Course is pretty fun. It would be great for kids (especially families staying at the resort looking for an extra activity) and I could easily see a group of drunk dudes out there in the late evening laying down some CTP and skins bets after they had played the Championship Course earlier.

On one hand, I liked the Wee Course for what it is. However, I found myself more angry knowing that they charge so much money to play this tiny thing that most would barely even consider a “golf course.” I think it’s as much as $25 in season, and I mentioned it cost me $15 in the summer. Remember, I played the far superior Dixie Red Hills for $20 (with a cart)! I have to doubt it gets much play and I’m sure the price has a lot to do with that.

At most, they should have a donation box on the first tee. Either they charge just a few bucks (I’m talking $3-5) or make it a “suggested donation” to keep up maintenance, much like the Shorty’s course up at Bandon Dunes—though that’s a legit 9-hole par-3 course and not a miniature pitch and putt.

In all honesty, Wee shouldn’t even be an extra cost. It should really just be an extension of the practice area—basically a place to practice your wedges and your putts in a unique and fun way. Charging resort-level green fees for it when you are already paying a lot to play the other courses or stay at the resort is overkill in my opinion.

Some pictures from Sand Hollow Resort (Wee Course) (8/3/18):

 

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