Two Flavors of Residential Golf in St. George

By: Steve Habel

The city of St. George, Utah, and its surrounding communities have been one of the nation's fastest growing metropolitan areas during the 25 years prior to the current recession. And it's still growing despite the floundering real estate markets in many areas of the country.

Valderra GC at the Ledges

People were - and are - drawn to the Beehive State's southwestern corner for a number of reasons, including a relatively moderate cost of living and temperatures that never seem to get too hot or too cold for very long. It's a locale that produces take-your-breath-away views of red-rock formations in the foreground and snow-covered mountains close enough to touch.

Once folks decided to move here, developments began to pop up all around, and there is seemingly a neighborhood in St. George for everyone, from the fixed-income retiree to the middle-class workingman to those looking for a second home away from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, Denver or Los Angeles.

Two area golf courses - the city-owned, 27-hole Sunbrook Golf Club and the exclusive (but not too exclusive) Valderra at The Ledges Golf Course - illustrate the different flavors of golf and golf communities that whet the palate in St. George. Both are excellent tracks and staples of the Red Rock Golf Trail's offerings for players looking for great courses at reasonable prices.

After all, if you can get golfers to your town and they like what they see and experience, maybe they'll come back and stay. It's a heck of a concept, right?

Sunbrook Golf Course

Three Times the Fun at Sunbrook

Ted Robinson designed the first two nine-hole sides at Sunbrook (the Pointe and Woodbridge), which opened in 1990, while John Harbottle fashioned the third set of holes (Black Rock) that debuted seven years later.

All three courses run through the neighborhood that shares a name with the golf facility, but the entire community is an example of residential golf done right.

The Pointe plays at 3,397 yards from the back set of four tees and provides the top territorial views at Sunbrook. The venue's name derived from its most famous hole - the downhill 320-yard fifth, which starts with a little dogleg and ends at a putting surface that some of the most far-reaching vistas in St. George. Its green is next to a cliff, and if a player misses the putting surface on the left, the ball will drop down more than 100 feet to the second hole below.

Some of the Views at Sunbrook GC

That fifth is followed by a stern 470-yard par-4, which plays straight and downhill to a green protected along the right by a pond and bunker. Two holes in the middle of the round are also notable at Woodbridge, which stretches 3,482 yards from the tips. The 200-yard, par-3 fourth begins with an elevated tee shot to an island green. Despite the fact that the putting surface is large, it's easy to be intimated here, especially if the wind is swirling.

The par-4, 441-yard sixth uses a beautiful country-style wooden bridge (that's where the nine gets its name) to move players from one side of the large fairway to the other. After teeing off from a bluff overlooking the island from the previous hole, golfers have to hit the ball well enough to make it past the lake. Once on dry land, the approach still asks for precision to reach a well-guarded and elevated green.

The Blackrock nine weaves alongside the Virgin River until reaching the dramatic black lava that gives this course its name. The sixth (a 460-yard par 4), seventh (441-yard par-4) and the eighth (197-yard par-3) comprise the best stretch of holes at the entire course because there is no room to stray off the fairways, which are lined with punishing and ragged lava rock.

Of this trio, No. 7 is the likely the most memorable hole at Blackrock. The tee is surrounded by lava and the approach is played across more volcanic remnants as well as a small lake strategically placed right of the green. Beware: golf balls have a tendency to ricochet long distances when they land on a piece of hard lava rock, and if you venture into these areas for a shot gone astray, the surface can be slick and sharp.

Blackrock (3,384 yards from the tips) has six forced carries on its nine holes, although half are right off the tee. It's the narrow approaches that provide the real test here.

Golf Digest has twice rated Sunbrook as the best golf course in Utah. The biggest draw about the facility is variety. Its three nines provide many different looks and require players to use virtually every club in the bag.

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The 15th Green & Fairway at
Valderra GC at The Ledges

Final Eight Holes make Valderra at the Ledges Memorable

A little north and west of St. George on an isolated plain and rolling river bed some 900 feet above the St. George valley is the 7,145-yard Valderra Golf Club at the Ledges. The layout is the centerpiece of a community with upscale homes and a wonderful clubhouse, spa and resort.

Designed by Matt Dye (Pete's grandson), Valderra is like two courses in one. The first 10 holes cross a mesa that can lull you to sleep with its wide fairways and huge greens. The final eight are hard against the cliffs in Snow Canyon State Park and involve a desert landscape dotted with red rock and daunting low-sided canyons. Here, the course becomes pinched and demanding, with the greens smaller and more undulating.

The fairways on the front side have some wavy landing areas and very large hills in the rough; the final eight holes are definitely tighter. Many of these elevations have been replaced by desert sand or red rock canyons. Miss a fairway on the back and you may never find your ball.

Snow Canyon on Display at Valederra

Despite the dramatic differences in Valderra's front and back sides, Dye's work around the greens is what unites the two nines. The putting surfaces and their surrounds require the golfer to be able to lob, chip, or pitch the ball to spots with spin to get close to the pins.

Even though they take second billing to the final eight holes, there are still some stout challenges on Valderra's first 10 including: the 571-yard par-5 third, which can be further imperiled by winds because of its setting on an exposed plain; the 589-yard par-5 seventh, whose fairway slants right to left on the way up the hill toward Snow Canyon; and the 233-yard par-3 10th, which seems to go on and uphill forever before reaching a green that slopes back to front.

The 531-yard, par-5 11th starts the journey into the rocks. The views of Snow Canyon from the green at the 169-yard par-3 12th might stun golfers for a minute or two. Focus is required to successful play the 419-yar par-4 13th - a hint: everything moves away when you are in the fairway; bet your partner that he can't keep his approach on the green.

The Ledges Clubhouse

The 320-yard, par-4 15th seems like a chance to get greedy, but instead let prudence rule and play into this demanding putting surface with a high-lofted club. The tee shot on the 600-yard, par-5 16th will need to carry trouble; how much the player wants to cut off makes this hole a dandy.

Valderra's 439-yard par-4 closer is back across the road and more like the first 10 holes than the preceding seven. Thanks to water along the left of the hole's entire length and bunkers right of the prime landing area, the 18th must still be played in target-golf fashion.

The Mission-style clubhouse at Valderra acts as the focal point and social center of the neighborhood. The facility features a spa and the Fish Rock Grille as well as a Jack Nicklaus Golf Academy, which includes a short-game area and a trio of climate-controlled teaching bays equipped with video cameras and swing/putting analysis software.

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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.