On the rocks: St. George golf as visually stunning as it is thrilling

Sand Hollow Resort in Utah.

The Championship Course at Sand Hollow Resort in Hurricane, Utah, is one of several show-stoppers in the region.

Andrew Penner

Straight. Neat. On the rocks. What’s your preference? Personally, when it comes to a good single-malt Scotch (I’m a fan of the Islay region), I’ll take my dram on the rocks. And on a recent trip to St. George, Utah, I discovered that you can have your golf the same way. Plus, just like a wee pour of peaty perfection, their “on the rocks” version of the game goes down awfully smooth.

Located just 90 minutes north of Las Vegas in the far southwest corner of Utah, the spectacular rocky-and-rugged terrain in and around St. George is, arguably, the biggest selling point for the region. True, the affordability, warm climate (year-round golf), family-friendly vibe (this is Mormon country) and riveting red rock hikes (nearby Zion National Park and Snow Canyon State Park are the prime places to go) are other key reasons why St. George is surging.

And, make no mistake, it is surging. St. George, which lies in the northernmost part of the Mojave Desert, has been ranked, multiple times now, as the fastest growing metro region in the United States by the U.S. Census. So, yes, people like it there. Especially golfers.

Unquestionably, the eye-popping rock formations and one-of-a-kind geography (think Red Navajo sandstone, pink coral dunes and ancient jet black lava fields) provide showstopping scenes at every golf course in the region. Just look up after you’ve drained your dirty double-breaker for bogey and, presto, an otherworldly view of chiselled rock columns, majestic mesas and dry-as-a-bone canyons will greet you.

Tough to beat, right? We thought so too.

Black Desert Resort in Utah.
Black Desert Resort Golf Course in Ivins, Utah. Andrew Penner

Black Desert Resort Golf Course

While there are at least a half-dozen layouts that belong on your playlist, it’s the new kid on the block, Black Desert, that, rightfully, has everyone talking. And Tom Weiskopf’s final design (sadly, he passed away from pancreatic cancer shortly before the course opened) will exceed your expectations. The entire layout charges through a black lava field and the visuals are simply off the charts. The multi-layered, sun-baked mountains that frame the course and the striking brush of colors consisting of lush-green turf, black lava, red rock and baby-blue sky are phenomenal.

But the holes themselves are picture-perfect puzzles that require both sound strategy and sound council from your mandatory forecaddie. A dusting of blind shots and hidden hazards mean your first round, especially, is going to be somewhat intimidating. However, with holes exquisitely channelled through the lava, this is a riveting test from start to finish. Stand-out holes include the par-4 11th, which plunges down a slope to a pond-protected green, and the par-4 16th, which shoots toward the mountains through a lava-lined chute. True, you may lose a ball (or two) in the jumbled black-rock sea, but, take heart, at least the lava has cooled.

Sand Hollow Resort in Utah.
The Championship Course at Sand Hollow Resort in Hurricane, Utah. Andrew Penner

Sand Hollow Resort Championship Course

Located just east of St. George in a ragged desert salted with sage and sand dunes, Sand Hollow features, arguably, the most breathtaking back nine in the entire southwest. That stellar run of holes (11 through 15) parades along an aerie bluff rimmed with beautiful iron-red Navajo sandstone. The incredible 12th, which shoots through a natural shelf terraced on the rim, is perhaps the best golf hole in the region — a poster child for what golf “on the rocks” is all about.

However, as good as that back nine is, the front side on this John Fought/Andy Staples design is solid desert-style golf that’s routed around beautiful rock outcroppings. And if you’ve got time for more swinging, the 9-hole Links Course at Sand Hollow is a better-than-you-think test that – thanks to its hand-built stone walls, pot bunkers and rumpled terrain – truly reflects the old world game.

Copper Rock Golf Course in utah
Copper Rock Golf Course in Hurricane, Utah. Andrew Penner

Copper Rock Golf Course

Now that we’ve got black rock and red rock covered, may as well throw in some copper rock! Copper Rock, which opened in 2020, has quickly become a favorite in the St. George area. While the front nine occupies relatively flat terrain on the valley floor (it’s far from boring), the back nine dips and dives on the arid benchlands that encase this fast-growing golf course community.

The short-and-sweet par-3 17th – it features a perched tee and a green surrounded by sand and sagebrush – could certainly make a strong case as the “signature” hole. But I’d say the spacious pond-centered amphitheater that houses both the 9th and 18th is the best feature of the course and a terrific setting to conclude both nines.

The Ledges Golf Course in Utah
The Ledges Golf Course in St. George, Utah. Andrew Penner

The Ledges Golf Course

Similar to Copper Rock, The Ledges, which was designed by Pete Dye’s nephew, the late Matt Dye, is a tale of two nines. The front nine is relatively open links-like golf with plenty of holes to let ‘er loose with the driver. Things tighten up on the back nine where, you guessed it, plenty of stunning red rock scenes provide the backdrop.

The drivable 15th, with its green sitting snug against a black-lava wall and guarded by a ball-hungry creek, is a gambler’s dream. (But, remember, you’re in Utah, so good luck finding a card table. You can go to nearby Mesquite for that.)

Coral Canyon Golf Course in Utah.
Coral Canyon Golf Course in Washington, Utah. Andrew Penner

Coral Canyon Golf Course

Conveniently located just east of Interstate 15 and within minutes of downtown St. George, the recently refurbished Coral Canyon GC also affords non-stop views of “Color Country,” which is certainly an apt nickname for this part of the world. The contemporary Keith Foster design features bold shaping and bunkering and some challenging carries over desert washes, canyons and arroyos.

The most-photographed hole on the course is the par-3 6th, which features a perched green encircled by ragged rock and sand. Although the course has struggled in recent years with conditioning, the new ownership group is turning things around. Turf conditions here have improved significantly over the past few years.

Best of the rest

For more magic moments to gaze at majestic monoliths and red-rock spires, Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane serves up sublime views throughout. From a value perspective ($88) this might be the best bang for your buck in the region. Sunbrook Golf Course, St. George Golf Club, SunRiver Golf Club and the Dixie Red Hills Golf Course, which has to be in the running for one of the most scenic 9-holers in the country, are other places that merit play.

In terms of places to stay, there are many options in and around St. George. While the 800 hotel rooms and modern luxuries of the Black Desert Resort are currently in construction (set to open in fall 2024), Red Mountain Resort (a two-minute drive from Black Desert) offers luxurious rooms, excellent dining and all of the amenities you’ll need.

Regardless of where you stay, the unique “golf on the rocks” theme in St. George is well worth experiencing. The region is a great alternative to the more expensive and “sinful” city to the south. Have a dram and think about it.

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. You can follow him on Instagram here: @andrewpennerphotography.

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