St. George, Utah, about three hundred miles due south of Salt Lake City, located straight down Interstate 15, has morphed from a sleepy little desert town to a golf hotbed in the last couple of decades. There are at least half-a-dozen worthwhile public tracts in the vicinity, many more if a traveler continued farther south on the interstate to Mesquite, Nevada. (And the thirty minute ride from Utah to Nevada includes a sliver of highway that bisects Arizona. Such is the curious topography and seemingly indiscriminate bordering in this unique part of the world.)
Two words stand preeminent in any discussion of golf in St. George. Sand Hollow. This John Fought design would be a day well spent if all eighteen of the holes on the main course (there is also an additional nine holes on property) offered the quality and strategy of the first through the tenth, and concluding trio. However those thirteen holes, solid though they may be, do not draw golfers from all corners. It’s the stupendous drama and otherworldly views offered on the eleventh though fifteenth holes that make this one of the most desirable golf venues in the southwest.
A mixture of stunning par-3s, a drivable par-4, and a long, downhill par-4 masquerading as a par-5, this stretch has one thing in common: They play through orange canyons and magnificent, massive rock outcroppings. Because these holes border the canyon rim in dramatic fashion, (in other words very little in the way of rough or vegetation buffer) any shot egregiously pulled or hooked too far left will plunge several hundred feet to the desert floor below. There’s no ball retriever on earth that will extend half-a-football field to rescue a wayward orb on this unforgettable stretch! The par-3 fifteenth is worth noting for its myriad tee boxes from all different aspects and angles. Some are elevated with direct lines to the green, others are lower down, nestled amid red rocks and built over the steep cliff face where the green is situated. It’s arguably the most unique hole on a one-of-a-kind stretch on one of the most memorable courses in Utah.
It requires a stay at the Inn at Entrada, (one of the best lodging options in the area, by the way) but that’s a small price to pay for access to Entrada CC. This is an otherwise-private Johnny Miller design that offers an unrelenting challenge, excellent conditioning, and a wondrous journey through fields of black lava near round’s end. The fifteenth through seventeenth snake through this vast acreage of black rock, it practically sizzles with heat in the warm weather months, and looks as though it was airlifted from Hawaii’s Big Island. Notwithstanding that memorable finish, the ninth is perhaps the best hole on the course, a 600-yard par-5 that swings hard right, with an angled tee shot over a scrub-filled expanse.
Coral Canyon is the St. George bronze medalist. Here the journey begins, strangely enough, with back-to-back par 5s. The opener is a bit less daunting, its successor offering just a narrow ribbon of fairway between a formidable desert area to the right and mountain foothills on the left. Double-tiered greens confound, players landing their approach on the wrong level will do well to two putt. Pine Mountain makes a spectacular backdrop on several front nine holes. While there are few holes abutting a residential development, most of the course is sequestered among the lovely mountain views, arroyos, and rocky desert terrain. The second nine offers a number of longer holes, a bit more width, where the driver can be used with impunity.
Dining in St. George will remind exactly no one of New Orleans, New York or San Francisco. Options abound, but only if one prefers chains, franchises, strip mall Mexican joints, or the ubiquity of the Chinese buffet. However there are at least two excellent recommendations to make, both high quality, though the town suffers greatly from lack of quantity.
Ancestor Square is, for lack of a better descriptive, the Times Square or Faneui Hall of St. George. In this small city of broad boulevards, strip centers and traffic signals, it’s the only ‘downtown’ area with a smattering of shops, services, eateries, etc, that is walker-friendly. It is within this ambulatory oasis that one will find the Painted Pony, the best restaurant in town. It’s a cozy space, different rooms emanating from the central corridor, lots of equine artwork (OK–painted ponies) decorating the walls. Bacon-wrapped duck , bone-in pork chop and New Zealand lamb are popular entrees, and despite the land-locked locale, many patrons swear by the seared ahi tuna. They offer an extensive wine list, but for those who prefer their sugar delivered by knife and fork, don’t miss their Oozy Gooey Chocolate Cake, or the White Chocolate Cheesecake Tower.
Ivins, Utah is little more than a wide spot in the road, and Aragosta is just a tiny bistro tucked into a commonplace strip mall. But Chef Imi (also the owner) concocts some wonderful dishes from this pedestrian (but not pedestrian-friendly) location. The Caesar Salad and French Onion soup are variations on the classics everyone enjoys. The lobster ravioli and risotto with prawns will sabotage any diet, and the Osso Buco and Hungarian Goulash are as hearty and delicious as they sound.