There's Golf Gold in the Red Rock of Southwest Utah

By: Steve Habel

The southwest corner of Utah is renowned for its quality of life and low cost of living. The area has also become a golf Mecca because of the variety of its courses, a temperate climate that allows year-round play, and a nice combination of affordable package deals and quality lodging.

The 3rd, 4th & 5th Holes at Dixie Red Hills GC

The city of St. George is the business and cultural hub of the region, which is known as "Utah's Dixie," a moniker that stuck because of the weather and when Mormon pioneers grew cotton in the warm climate.

St. George's trademark is its red bluffs, which make up the northern part of the city with two peaks covered in lava rock at city center. The northeastern edges of the Mojave Desert are visible to the south, Zion National Park can be seen to the east and the Pine Valley Mountains loom to the north and northwest.

The area, located about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas from 1990-2007, with many new residents flocking to buy second homes or just leave the big city and roost in a place where things move slower and the people are friendlier. Given those criteria, it's hardly unexpected that St. George and its surrounds have sprouted a handful of great golf courses, many of which are challenging and surprisingly affordable.

The stunning rocky backdrop dominates two nearby municipal tracks - Dixie Red Hills Golf Course in St. George and Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane. These venues are two of the 10 courses that make up the Red Rock Golf Trail. Once golfers get a taste of the quality courses in and around St. George, many make repeat trips.

Dixie Red Hills' No. 1 Green

A Great Primer

Dixie Red Hills provides a great introduction to what golfers will find in the area. The first course developed by the city of St. George, it was designed by Ernie Schneider. The testy nine-hole track opened in 1965 and, because of its spectacular setting and playability, has been a local favorite ever since.

The 2,733-yard, par-34 layout meanders around the sandstone cliffs on the northwest side of the city. The routing plays up and down through hundreds of mature cottonwood, Mondale pine and mesquite trees, over water and around rocks, both on the perimeter and close to the fairways and putting surfaces.

The round begins with an uphill, 306-yard par-4. Though the fairway seems inviting from the tee, players will find the green blocked left by a large red-rock outcropping. The putting surface is triple-tiered and divided by imposing three-foot inclines. Regardless of pin location, the first hole requires precision and represents one of the course's biggest challenges.

No. 3, a 516-yard par-5, is the only three-shot hole at Dixie Red Hills. If a player could tee off directly toward the green, the hole would be no more than a long par-3, but the entire left side is guarded by tall and imposing sandstone cliffs. The green is large and bi-level, with deep bunkers on each side to narrow the options for a run-up approach.

Red Rock Shelf Fronts Pine Valley
Mountains near St. George

The 143-yard, par-3 sixth is little more than a solid short-iron for most, but the hole is made difficult by a huge pond that must be carried to find the shallow green. Go beyond the putting surface and a tough downhill shot is involved.

Schneider did an excellent job of optimizing these red sandstone surroundings. Because of the terrain, the course is tougher than its distance suggests. Still, most players consider Dixie Red Hills one of the easier courses in the area, especially when compared to the newer tracks on the Red Rock Golf Trail.

With its colorful combination of red rocks, green grasses and blue sky, Dixie Red Hills is a feast for the eyes - and a challenge for even the best players. When played twice, the course carries a rating of 65.9 and a Slope of 119 from the tips.

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The Driving Range & Beyond at Sky Mountain GC

Stunning Views at Sky Mountain

Set atop a ridge surrounded by Zion National Park, Sky Mountain Golf Course might be one of the prettiest municipal tracks in the western U.S. Owned and operated by the city of Hurricane, the 6,383-yard, par-72 layout is much more challenging than its yardage indicates, mostly due to its up-and-down routing and that around every corner or beyond each hill is a vista that alters a player's concentration.

Sky Mountain is a beauty that that can be a beast, and its rating of 70.9 and 131 Slope is exacerbated when the wind howls off the nearby mountains. The course is a favorite of visitors and locals alike, and with its panoramic scenery, excellent playing conditions and fun design, Sky Mountain is a popular choice in the St. George area.

The course opened in 1994 and was designed by Jeff Hardin. It's the centerpiece of a neat - and extremely neatly kept - neighborhood, giving the whole place a country-club feel due mainly to the pride the city parks staff takes in keeping the track in prime shape.

The first thing most people notice when arriving here are the views, which involve numerous rock formations and a massive canyon. From the clubhouse and the driving range atop a hill, many golfers take photographs before starting their rounds. From the driving range, a golfer gets the impression that a good drive could disappear off the face of the Earth. It may be one of the best views from a driving range in the American West.

Sky Mountain Golf Course

Vistas from elevated tees make focusing on the shot at hand crucial. This is especially true on the opener (a downhill 359-yard par-4) and the 383-yard, par-4 fifth, which is backed by the distant Pine Valley Mountains and drops 100 feet from tee to green.

Sky Mountain weaves through the neighborhood on both nines and ends at the edge of a cliff, with the Virgin River just on the other side. The 383-yard, par-4 17th goes down into the river valley before heading back up to the green, a pattern repeated on the closer, a 485-yard par-5 that can be attacked with great shot-making and prudence.

Sky Mountain's rolling and narrow fairways - particularly those that run through the heart of the neighborhood - often result in uneven lies and require precision. Several holes at Sky Mountain require tee shots with fairway woods or long-irons, though some players may be tempted to grip it and rip it for the green on the short par-4s, including the 296-yard third. The well-protected, tabletop putting surfaces here are known for their true rolls and subtle breaks.

Sky Mountain's challenge is found by surviving its tough holes and taking advantage of high-risk, high-reward opportunities. This is a fun course, one that provides a round that stays in the memory banks.

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Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog ( features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another ( his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.