Black Desert Resort Ready to Shine
By Tom Mackin
When Patrick Manning moved to Utah in 2004 while developing Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club, he was naturally impressed with the breathtaking beauty of the state’s St. George region. But he also recognized a need for a ‘there’ there, too. “With 5-6 million annual visitors to the area visiting the national parks, there wasn’t that spot you come to congregate in, that place of community with shops and restaurants,” he said. “And there certainly was not a destination resort in the area.” Now he’s making sure that’s no longer the case.
Manning, managing partner of Utah-based Reef Capital Partners, is the driving force behind Black Desert Resort, located 30 minutes north of St. George Regional Airport in Ivins. The 580-acre property is home to a stunning golf course, designed by the late Tom Weiskopf and longtime design partner Phil Smith, which opened this past May. It’s already set to host both a PGA and an LPGA tournament in the next two years. But there is much more to come.
LUXURY WITHOUT PRETENSE
Part of the heartbeat for Black Desert Resort will be the Boardwalk, a promenade with cobblestone lanes bordered by shops and restaurants. Nearby will be a Resort Center with 450 hotel rooms, a 24,000-square-foot convention center, four restaurants, a 15,000-square-foot spa, and a 25,000-square-foot golf shop with a restaurant/sports bar called the 20th Hole.
South of the Resort Center will be a Family Village where you will find a waterpark (more extensive than any similar facility on the Las Vegas Strip, according to Manning) with a lazy river, wave pools, and surf simulators.
To the north is the Golf Village, which nestles against an area called The Yard. There you will find an almost two-acre, 36-hole putting green, short game area, and driving range. Food and drink will be available at an open-air restaurant named Club 73 (Black Desert was Weiskopf’s 73rd course design, and he won the Open Championship in 1973). In it, Manning has plans for a life-size bronze statue of Weiskopf, with his forearm leaning against a drink rail while his gaze looks out over his final course creation.
“The Yard is really where we talk about the ethos of Black Desert,” said Manning. “That it’s luxury without pretense. We have a PGA and an LPGA tournament coming to this course (October 3-6, 2024, and May 2025, respectively), yet we will have hot tubs, fire pits, and music playing around the putting course. You can get out of the hot tub barefoot and go putt around. It’s all meant to be very approachable and very fun. There will be no stuffiness at all.”
The Resort Center, Golf Village, and half of the Family Village are currently scheduled to be completed before the inaugural PGA Tour event in 2024. Almost all remaining portions of the property are expected to be ready for the LPGA event in 2025, except for an oval-shaped hotel that will fully encircle a venue for concerts and sports events.
“We’re also putting nearly 250 acres in a conservation easement and donating the land to the cities of Ivins and Santa Clara so that no one can ever build on it,” Manning said. “We’re putting in a nature center, restrooms, and footpaths through the lava so that anybody can come and see the lava up close. It’s beautiful. We’ll build and maintain those facilities ourselves so it’s not a burden on those cities.”
The spectacular golf course that flows through a lava field is currently the headliner, and rightly so, according to Manning. “Every single hole is a majestic wonder,” he said. “At every single hole, people are saying this is the best hole, until they go to the next hole. It’s because of Mother Nature. We are just in a beautiful spot. First-time players find it fairly difficult, but after they play it a few times, they’re like, ‘Ok, it’s more intimidating because of all the lava than it is difficult.’ We have nice, big, wide fairways. They say there’s nothing gimmicky or unfair about it, just visually, it’s hard because you don’t want your ball to go into the lava. The key, like for any golf course, is that people need to be realistic about what tees they’re using.”
Weiskopf made two site visits during the design process, but when construction started in November 2020, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although he returned several times after that, he would not live to see the finished product, passing away in August 2022.
“The course at Black Desert is sort of a culmination of all 24 years of Tom and I working together wrapped up into one place,” said Phil Smith. “I can’t think of a better setting, a better client, a better group of people to work with, including Troon. It was almost like divine intervention. I get a little choked up talking about it. It has so much meaning. And what I’m hearing is that it could become one of the best projects we have ever done. At least, I hope it is.”
The lava bordering every hole provided both beauty and challenge during the design process. “It was probably one of the most difficult, complex sets of plans I ever put together,” said Smith. “I redrew each hole at least five times, re-walked every hole perimeter five or six times, and ensured the plans were exact because all equipment used GPS technology. But it was worth it. That’s what it takes to do a project like this. I made weekly to every 10-day visits from my home in Arizona for the last two-and-a-half years.”
To buffer the ubiquitous lava, Weiskopf and Smith built roomier-than-normal fairways, ranging from 70- to 100-yards wide in spots. “It’s really about setting up the proper angles off the tee shot for approaches,” said Smith. “This course is a second shot course, where we want people to play off the tee. What’s also cool is that the owners used some neat AI technology with Tom’s voice from past interviews, so he walks you through each hole on the golf cart screen.”
The uphill opening hole rises to a green sitting at a high point of the property. “The first green probably has one of the best views on the entire course,” said Smith. “You can see six to eight holes from there, giving you a feel for what you are about to get into. That was a conscious effort. The second is one of the shorter par 4s and shares a double green with the eighth. Then you play some holes where you start to meander down near what will be some housing. On the eighth hole, you’re back on top with essentially pure golf the rest of the way.”
Golfers are already falling in love with the 16th hole, one of the longer par 4s that plays north toward a mesmerizing backdrop of towering red rocks in the distance. And as was his tradition, Weiskopf included two drivable par 4s: the fifth, with tees from 221 yards to 320 yards, and the 14th, which can play from 216 yards to 320 yards.
“The trick to this golf course was to make sure it balances with the environment,” said Smith. “One shouldn’t overpower the other. If it does, then we haven’t done our jobs as architects. We want to keep your eye equally entertained between the golf, the backdrops, and the lava features. That’s what we tried to do at Black Desert.”