ST. GEORGE, Utah -- There's a hiking trail at Red Mountain Spa, just minutes from golf at Entrada at Snow Canyon, where the colors of the Southern Utah desert are born again with every sunrise and sunset.
One can walk through an ancient black lava flow and as the sun lowers or rises, red mountain vistas come alive with a bonus - one mountain is tinted white - that's toward Snow Canyon where Robert Redford and Paul Newman once rode in scenes from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".
St. George is a burgeoning retiree community with a Mormon history - Brigham Young sent settlers here to grow cotton and someone tagged it with a "Dixie" moniker. Snow Canyon, with its volcanic cones, red sand dunes and ochre sandstone cliffs, is actually named for a couple of Mormon pioneers - Erastus and Lorenzo Snow - not because there's a white mountain among red ones.
But most of all St. George is becoming known for year-around golf.
Dimon R. McFerson, retired Chairman and CEO of Nationwide, sponsor of today's developmental PGA Tour, says he and his wife actually first looked at Scottsdale when they were thinking of a retirement home.
"Scottsdale had everything we wanted," he said. "But once we visited St. George we were sold. It has everything Scottsdale has - great golf and scenery - but with less people and it is more affordable."
After a round of golf there's a myriad of things to do, and October through May are bustling months because the weather cools off. The senior world's softball championships were staged here this fall. Guess what the guys did when they weren't on the diamond? They played golf.
St. George celebrates its high desert elevation of 2,800 feet with moderate winters. So the tourist can make those side trips to two National Parks - Zion and Bryce Canyon - any time of the year. Fishermen head for Duck Creek or Panguitch Lake and snow skiers drive to nearby Brian Head and Elk Meadows. And you can hike or bike in awesome red rock scenery.
And the golf? It's getting better and better. This part of Utah is only 613 miles from Denver and 390 from Los Angeles. Here's a look at some of your options.
When you reach Coral Canyon Golf Course's par-3, 122-yard No. 6 you get an appreciation of how Keith Foster uses a natural setting rather than a bulldozer. It's almost like he placed a tee box on one corner of a curving arroyo and then placed the green at another bend on top of a rugged, craggy dry wash. Above the ravine, encircling the green is a natural theater of 20-foot high outcroppings of jagged red rocks.
Coral Canyon's 7,029-yard, par-72 layout, includes some target golf of only 80 acres of turf, two lakes, 55 sand bunkers and countless arroyos. And when you look skyward from this pristine Utah desert you see views of Bryce Canyon National Park, where in winter there might be snow on its pink spires. You are also near to Zion National Park and Pine Valley Mountain.
Coral Canyon G.C. is one fun hole after another. A punchbowl green awaits those who negotiate the par-5, 528-yard No. 16. There's a drivable fairway bunker in sight and the groomed grass is framed by a series of ridges and hills on both sides.
GPS keeps play at a crisp pace, and Colby Cowan, head pro, says management also wants to present great conditioning and service. Coral Canyon is a winner on all three counts. The course is just 10 miles north of St. George.
Johnny Miller and Fred Bliss designed this beauty, where 180 million years ago red Jurassic sandstone and mudstone provided the backdrop for Entrada at Snow Canyon. And just 2,000 years ago black lava coursed down the mountainside from fissures north of Snow Canyon at a temperature of 1,800 degrees.
Whoa. You thought Houston was hot and sweaty.
Entrada (Spanish for "entrance") is much cooler today as it lies near Navajo and Kayenta sandstone cliffs near the mouth of Snow Canyon. The layout, 7,262 yards at par 72, is tough and you better have your "A" game once you reach the back nine, where you actually play through the fields of lava.
"It's hard to find anywhere in the world a more beautiful spot to put a golf course," Miller said. "The black lava is something you expect to see in Hawaii, but not in the Southern Utah desert. The last six holes are influenced by the lava and it's truly a beautiful blend of nature and championship golf course design."
The final holes set among the lava and called "The Devil's Triangle" are penal. There's not much room for wayward shots, so be pinpoint accurate here on your approaches.
Opened in September 1996, Entrada at Snow Canyon is building a brand-new clubhouse and has had the misfortune of coming down with a fungus that attacked its grass. The problem should be solved soon, but call before you make a special trip.
Both Coral Canyon and Entrada are award-winners and must-plays.
Just 33 miles from St. George, don't dare miss the short drive to Mesquite, Nev. for gambling and for golf in paradise. Wolf Creek Golf Club is truly one of the most stunning golf courses in the U.S. Just standing on the tee box at No. 1 and soaking up the panorama might be enough for some nature lovers.
Designed and owned by Denis and Jon Rider, father and son, this beauty is ranked No. 48 in America by Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play. The Wolf measures 7,073 yards with a indescribable 75.4 course rating and a slope of 154 and Golf Digest has it No. 22 on its 2003-2004 America's 100 Greatest Public Courses list.
The pedestal tee box at the heights of No. 2 is 11 stories higher than ground floor. Atop the third green soak up the vista - you can see for 70 miles. Many greens seemed to be tucked into crevices and there's even a drive-through "Wolf Den" snack stop between holes five and 14.
No. 8 might be the most stunning of all. It's straight downhill into a box canyon 248 yards, par 3, from the Challenger tees, but trouble lurks -- Wolf Creek snakes in front of the green and encircles it. Bail-out is a word named "luck".
Wolf Creek is only an hour northeast of Las Vegas and it is a must for any serious travel golfer. Don't let the slope and rating scare you. Played from the right tees you can tame The Wolf if you keep your drives in the fairway and pay attention to the pro tips on the GPS.
October 24, 2003