Great courses, great value, great weather and stunning scenery – what’s not to like? Welcome to the best golf destination you’ve probably never heard about.
When golf Hall of Famer Tom Weiskopf passed away in August, he left behind a legacy that went far beyond his 16 PGA Tour wins and the Claret Jug at the 1973 (British) Open Championship. His biggest impact on the game comes in the form of experiences and memories to be cherished by golfers for decades to come, via more than 40 courses he designed, co-designed or renovated worldwide, including such notable as Troon North in Scottsdale, Scotland’s Loch Lomond, and his highest ranked work, the superb Forest Dunes in Michigan, which I just wrote about here at Forbes.
But Weiskopf had one last parting shot up his sleeve, and it’s a doozy: Black Desert Resort in St. George, Utah (I wrote about all the wonderful attractions and adventures that this region, known as Greater Zion for its signature attraction, America’s third most popular National Park, offers visitors here at Forbes earlier this year). The course will anchor an entirely new resort in this hotspot of natural beauty and outdoor recreation The first nine holes open for limited play in November, with the full routing scheduled for March 2023, to be followed by the lodging and other resort facilities. These include spa, pool, yoga and fitness, a new steakhouse, and tons of hiking and mountain biking with direct access to spectacular Snow Canyon State Park, a true marvel of Utah nature.
The developers chose Weiskopf because of his experience working in the similar terrain of Hawaii’s lava fields, and this 7,200-yard gem is a study in visual contrasts, with lush green grass and gleaming white bunkers carved through black lava and red rock canyons. There’s something to wow the eye everywhere you look, and the course is managed by Troon Golf, an industry leader renowned for its customer excellence.
But Black Desert is not the only notable new golf option in St. George by a world-famous designer. The renewed Entrada at Snow Canyon opened earlier this year after a year and a half closure and $7 million in renovations. Entrada was an existing high-end private membership club (also managed by Troon Golf) with a stunning clubhouse, wonderful homes and a course originally designed by Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss. The club decided it was time to elevate the golf quality, and hired one of the world’s most sought-after architects, David McLay Kidd, the designer of the original and wildly acclaimed Bandon Dunes, a course that changed the very nature of golf. In addition, Kidd has racked up many more highly rated and exclusive courses, from South Africa to Nicaragua, including Top 100s Mammoth Dunes (read more here) and Gamble Sands, along with the over-the-top luxury of Fiji’s Laucala Island and Hawaii’s posh Nanea. Kidd was chosen by the Links Trust to do the only modern addition to the Birthplace of Golf, the Castle Course at St. Andrews, as prestigious a design honor as there is.
He once again delivered here with a renovation so extensive that is more of a rebuild, with eighteen completely new and different greens, new tee locations, reshaped fairways, and everything from drainage to irrigation to bunkers shiny, new and improved. Kidd’s concept was to bring links-style shot making to a desert course, favoring running shots and chipping over flying pitches into the green, a more fun, less penal and more traditional way to play. All of this is framed by the stunning red rock cliffs, desert sands and exposed rock at every turn. It is simply gorgeous.
While Entrada is still an exclusive private club, it contains a boutique resort that is St. George’s best kept luxury lodging secret – and a loophole to playing the course – the Inn at Entrada. This hotel within the club features 57 suites and studios and a true “member for the day” experience, including access to the clubhouse and its excellent restaurant, The Grille at Entrada. I’ve been and frankly there is no reason to leave this property to eat out. The Inn also gives guests access to the club’s spa, indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, tennis, pickleball and lots of hiking and biking trails. It’s the top lodging in the region and most importantly, the only way you can play Entrada.
Entrada and Black Desert immediately become the top two courses you can play in St. George, and will undoubtedly raise the region’s profile, but they join a well-established group of options that already made this one of the country’s great underrated and overlooked golf destinations. It is also a very good value in the increasingly overpriced world of golf travel – I just did a big Las Vegas golf roundup and courses here cost about half as much as courses around Sin City – mostly courses that are not as good. Mediocre resort courses in Florida also command much higher prices, especially in fall and winter, while lodging and food are also much better deals here. Greater Zion offers great weather much of the year and incredible scenery every single day, and it is easy to access, centrally located and an easy trip from most of the country. St. George has its own very user-friendly small airport 15 minutes away served by all the big carriers, with one stop (or non-stop) service from just about any major city in the U.S. It also an easy under two-hour drive from Las Vegas, which usually features inexpensive non-stops from all over world, and can be combined into a fun two-for-one trip. Take in an A-list concert or Raiders game and hit the nightclubs one night, play world class golf and hike the next.
There are more than a dozen courses closely scattered around St. George, almost all of them showcasing the stunning red rock views. Value propositions and weather are excellent, and among the more established courses, the standout is the Sand Hollow Golf Course. Designed by well-respected architect John Fought, Sand Hollow has been the Number One rated public course in Utah for years, and is worthy of the title. I found it both gorgeous eye candy and strategic, just a ton of fun to play. As someone who knows a lot about the way golf course ratings work, I am 100% confident that Sand Hollow is better than several courses on the U.S. Top 100 list that are there because of bonus points for hosting tournaments or having sexy architects behind them. The bottom line is that Sand Hollow would be a standout course almost anywhere and is a must-play here. It is part of resort that is heavy on ATV rentals, and there is value-oriented lodging alongside the course, but it is not up to the standards of the fast-growing tourism region.
I’d stay at the Inn at Entrada or the relatively new Advenire Hotel, in the heart of downtown St. George. It’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, comprised of upscale boutique hotels with independent, non-chain aesthetics that don’t fit the cookie cutter brands. It has comfortable rooms, friendly service and a very impressive restaurant, and best of all, is within walking distance of lots of other options. This is where TV producers from mountain bike spectacle Red Bull Rampage and other events stay, and it is part of Bonvoy, the world’s largest hotel loyalty program. Red Mountain Resort at Snow Canyon state park is another top choice that skews luxury, but is best known as a destination health and fitness retreat. Otherwise, St. George has lots of chain options including Hyatt Place, Wyndham Trademark Collection, Hilton Garden Inn, and many others. The area tourist board website has more lodging info, as well as golf and activity details.
Before Entrada and Black Desert, two-year old Copper Rock was the hot new kid on the St. George block, and hosts an event on the LPGA Epson Tour. Copper Rock is another visual stunner that showcases the natural beauty, though the routing is a bit confused and the whole operation lacks a sense of charm and welcome. I’d still make sure to play it if you come here on a golf trip.
To round out a trip I’d add The Ledges, a semi-public course that Golf Advisor (part of NBC’s digital Golf Channel empire) rates in the Top 10 in Utah. Like other area courses, the Ledges takes advantage of the gorgeous surrounding scenery but even more so, with dramatic elevation changes on and around what GolfNow (also part of Golf Channel)) calls “the magnificent grandeur of one of the most dramatic high desert outcroppings in the world.” Sky Mountain, also rated in Utah’s Top 10, would add yet another exquisite stroll through the red rock scenery of Greater Zion – scenery that never gets old.