My favorite course of the year? This Utah stunner is an easy winner

Black Desert Resort

A gorgeous aerial view of Black Desert in Ivins, Utah.

Brian Oar/Courtesy of Black Desert Resort

At, travel — and playing golf — is a part of the gig. Here, as we count down the final days of 2023, is a look at some of the favorite courses our staffers played over the past 12 months.


The demands of life with young kids make regular rounds of golf a difficult prospect, which is why I’m extra appreciative whenever I get the chance to tee it up. So when an opportunity to cross state lines to play a newly opened course came calling, I jumped at the chance to play back-to-back rounds for the first time in months.

The course: Black Desert, just outside of St. George, Utah in Ivins — a place I’d never been, despite the easy, less-than-an-hour flight time from my home in Phoenix.

Black Desert opened in May to glowing reviews. The 7,417-yard course winds through desert landscape covered in black lava against a backdrop of ancient red rock formations. There’s really no way to describe it other than completely stunning.

Black lava abounds at the aptly-named Black Desert. Brian Oar/Courtesy of Black Desert Resort

The course is part of a mega-resort complex that is still under construction. The whole project encompasses 630 acres and will eventually boast several thousand rooms and condos, in addition to a multitude of retail, restaurant and entertainment spaces, as well as a convention center and spa. Until construction is complete, though, visitors can stay in the nearby Red Mountain Resort.

The course was designed by Tom Weiskopf — his last design credit before his death last year — and Phil Smith, who accompanied my group for a round. The unique landscape, which Smith dubbed “Sedona meets Kona” — is the perfect marriage of red rocks and lava, a combo I’ve never seen anywhere else. Weiskopf’s voice can still be heard on a recorded intro (in which he narrates the challenges of each hole) that plays as your cart approaches each tee box.

Stunning colors at Black Desert. Brian Oar/Courtesy of Black Desert Resort

Black Desert’s greens fees are currently all-inclusive: a $250 non-resort-guest-fee rate includes both golf and food and beverage for the round, excluding alcohol. (A food truck in the parking lot churns out outstanding fare. The birria taco was one of the best I’ve ever had.)

Creating a high-end, member-like experience is the goal at Black Desert. Tee times are generously spaced at 15 minutes apart — nearly double the gap some courses offer — and you could spend hours at the beautifully appointed practice range, which is adjacent to a 36-hole putting course.

Black Desert’s 2nd and 8th holes share a green. Brian Oar/Courtesy of Black Desert Resort

And did I mention the views? (See photos above!)

From the very first hole, you’re treated to panoramic vistas of incredible red-rock scenery. I remarked more than once during my round that the views from the green looking back toward the tee often rivaled the ones you were treated to at the start of each hole.

It’s hard to pick a favorite hole at Black Desert, but here’s a list of my personal highlights:

-The teebox on the 2nd features lava galore, a 50-foot drop off the tee, and a fun approach to the green, which is shared with the par-3 8th.

-Hole No. 3 features a Riviera-like bunker in the middle of the green. Tougher than it looks!

-Hole No. 6 requires you to avoid water on both sides of the fairway, but is framed by an incredible red-rock backdrop.

-No. 9 is a showstopping halfway finisher, with a view of Snow Canyon in the distance.

-No. 11 has an ultra-fun, downhill approach to the green.

-No. 13’s elevated tee box presents a fun challenge off the tee, with water down the left and cutting across the middle of the fairway too.

-The second of two drivable par 4s on the course is No. 14. Play the right tees and it’s indeed feasible!

Even though it’s brand new, Black Desert is already set to make a big star turn in 2024, when the Black Desert Championship makes its debut as a part of the PGA Tour’s FedExCup Fall. The course will also host an LPGA tournament in 2025.

With views and amenities like the ones I experienced, it’s easy to see why.

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