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Park City, Utah: Budget-friendly golf awaits after the ski lifts close

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,
Homestead golf course - Hole 17
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Missing the green with your approach to the 559-yard par-5 17th at the Homestead will mean battling the fescue. (Courtesy Brian Oar, Utahfairways.com)

Park City, Utah, has an expensive reputation: The rich flock here for winter sports and the Sundance Film Festival. But check out Park City in the "off season" (now) and find the best of Utah golf: great golf courses that won't wreck your budget - making this mountain playground an affordable golf destination.

In and around Park City, Utah, skiing can be prohibitively expensive. That's what happens when your reputation is built on an abundance of super-light snow, and then cemented with the 2002 Winter Olympics. But in the warm-weather months, public-access golf can be quite the bargain. The prices, like the weather, are excellent. And so are the quality and variety of the courses.

Park City Golf Course lies at the foot of the Park City Mountain Resort, some 30 miles east of Salt Lake. Launching tee shots that hang against the mountain backdrop before coming to rest on bent-grass fairways is much of the appeal. At sea level a 6,700 yard course would offer a respectable test, but at 6,000 feet of elevation, Park City's town course requires thoughtful consideration on the tee box. Driver can be used with some regularity, but often for little gain. Fairway woods and even long irons are the smart play on a course with insidious creeks, semi-hidden grassy swales, and all sorts of subtle difficulties.

"The Crater" is the signature attraction of Homestead Resort in Midway, about 30 minutes east of Park City. The waters of this natural hot spring have been soothing visitors for generations. But it's only been in the last 15 years that the Bruce Summerhays-designed golf course at Homestead Resort has been agitating players in the first place. Playing 7000 yards from the tips and 6500 yards from the middle markers, the front nine plays uphill towards the mountains and then down to the valley once again. The inward nine has less in the way of elevation change, but more water in play and the occasional out-of-bounds designation to contend with.

Even by Utah's affordable standard, the bargain green fees at Wasatch Mountain State Park are notable, in the $20--$30 range. Not only that, but there are two separate 18 hole courses to choose from, the Mountain and the Lake. The Mountain offers more drama, with serious elevation changes, a liberal dose of tricky side-hill lies, and beautiful views of the nearby Heber Valley. As the name implies, the Lake Course has eight different lakes influencing the line of play, generally narrow fairways and medium sized greens. Better players are usually drawn to the Mountain 18, although an argument can be made that the Lake offers more shot-making challenges.

The newcomers to the area are the Gold course and Silver course at nearby Soldier Hollow, designed by Gene Bates. The Gold course might well be called the gold standard. This is the championship venue, the course that will likely hold statewide or professional competitions in the future.

"This is the more challenging course," says Bates. "To get to the premium position on the fairway, a player must produce a bold tee shot that will carry over the fairway bunkers. This is a good second shot golf course, particularly on some of the longer par-4s. The greens are well bunkered, although there are openings in front to allow the less skilled player the opportunity to run the ball onto the putting surface."

The Gold course was built at a higher elevation, with ravines and steep drop-offs surrounding certain putting surfaces. The Silver Course was built on lower ground, and offers larger putting surfaces than the Gold.

"The Silver course was built in the alfalfa fields, on a lower part of the property. We've incorporated some huge differences in contour here. There are big grass bunkers and some serious mounding. Here we have sweeping mountain views, including views of Mount Timpanogos, and in keeping with the larger scope of the property, we've incorporated big tees, big fairways, big bunkers and big greens," Bates says.

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Soldier Hollow Gold Course

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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