Revitalized Course Elevates Entrada In Utah
Words: Tom Mackin | Photos Brian Oar
Give golf course architect David McLay Kidd a blank canvas and he’ll fill it with a memorable course, like the first layout at Bandon Dunes, Mammoth Dunes at Sand Valley in Wisconsin, and Machrihanish Dunes in his native Scotland, among others. Renovating an existing course is a bit trickier, especially when the goal is to make things more “playable
yet still challenging for better golfers.” But his recent renovation work at Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club in St. George, Utah, more than measures up to the club’s high standards.
“This project hit it just right for our club at the right time,” said General Manager Michael Rushing. “It has been a tremendous positive in several ways: the club now has a three-year wait list; our initiation fee has more than doubled and is attracting more affluent members; and a new forward tee of 4,800 yards will extend play for our aging golf members. It’s truly a reset for the club with expectations of product and service.”
BEYOND NIGHT AND DAY CHANGE
Jim Behnke, a club member since 2014, says the transformation goes beyond a night and day change: “He took a golf course that was extremely penal, as demonstrated by me finding over 21,000 lost golf balls in one year, and made it a very enjoyable course for our members.”
According to Kidd, there wasn’t a single piece of the course that his team did not touch during the 11-month project, which also included the installation of a 16-station Toptracer program on the driving range, a putting course, and range targets that also serve as a nine-hole course.
“It’s like a house remodel times 100,” he said. “You’re taking their golf course that some members have been playing for 20 years and you’re absolutely tearing it to pieces in front of their eyes while you’re asking them to pay dues. It’s a painful process to go through. It takes a certain degree of common sense, maturity, and patience from the leadership and the membership to get through the end of it. Entrada were really, really good, especially given the complications caused by the pandemic.”
The routing remains the same: holes one through 14 flow through the community, holes 15-17 unfold in a stark lava field, and the closer plays from an elevated tee to a valley below. It was that middle trio of holes that stood out for Kidd, who previously dealt with the distinctive lava while building a course in Hawaii.
“Those three were probably the most iconic holes Entrada had, but I also think it’s fair to say they were the most difficult holes for the membership,” he said. “They were extremely unforgiving, and a lot of members got to the 15th tee and basically tore their scorecard up as they went double, double, double. We wanted to make sure those holes weren’t dreaded by the membership, that they could actually feel some level of confidence and enjoy the different landscape.”
He did that by adding more grass, creating some strategy off the tee, and reshaping the greens. The 15th was transformed from a short par 4 that wasn’t really driveable into a par 3, while the par 5 16th now features a punchbowl green set down below the fairway.
“When we got to the green on the 16th, I was thinking let’s excavate and dig the green down so I can create some shapes,” said Kidd. “We stuck an excavator bucket in there and hit rock 18 inches under the ground. The lava rock is very expensive to move and it was almost the last hole we did. I couldn’t put it up in the air because no one could run the ball in, and I can’t dig it down. So how do I make a par 5 interesting and give the slower swing speed golfer a chance to get there in 2 shots?
It was already surrounded on three sides by lava, so I just had to surround the front and make a punchbowl fit there. Maybe a member gets an eagle putt on par 5 they wouldn’t have gotten if I lifted that green up in the air and surrounded it with bunkers. That was the logic on that hole.”
COME ON COURSE
Benhke’s unofficial name for the layout now is the “Come on Course.” “My definition of fun when it comes to golf is, does the course make you want to watch your ball longer?” he said. “With our course now being a ground game (featuring ‘kicker mounds’ placed throughout by McLay Kidd), you hear it all the time when someone is watching their ball: ‘Come on, come on, come on.’ When the ball moves just that little bit more to give you a positive result, it makes the game so much more fun.”
The renovation revealed inspired architecture and a huge dose of fun for both members and for those staying in the comfortable casitas that make up The Inn at Entrada on-site, where guests can book tee times on the private course. But the more than $8 million project has also had a major impact on sustainability issues.
“The selection of Bentgrass will have a lower water consumption than most any other type of turf would have,” said Rushing. “Also, with the introduction of a new pump house and new irrigation system, it’s easily made us 30 percent more efficient in total water usage. It’s early into it, but the patterns we’re seeing are very good.”
“THERE’S WAY TOO MUCH CHATTER ABOUT THE RESISTANCE TO SCORING, DEFENSE OF PAR, AND MARGIN OF ERROR. IF I CAN BUILD SOMETHING THE AVERAGE GUY OR GAL IS HAVING FUN ON, THERE’S A VERY GOOD CHANCE THAT THE BETTER PLAYERS WILL STILL HAVE FUN BECAUSE THEY ARE PLAYING A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT GAME.”
The removal of an invasive vegetation known as tamarisk is also expected to save approximately 30 to 40 million gallons of water a year. Besides restoring views on the course, that removal has spurred the return of native vegetation and enhanced the overall ecosystem.
“The club spent significant amounts of money taking out the tamarisk,” said Kidd. “That opened up the washes to allow water to pass through freely, allow native plants to thrive, and even let lizards, rodents, and other wildlife do what they do, all of which the tamarisk was not allowing.”
The overall reaction to the renovation has been overwhelmingly positive according to Rushing and Behnke, with Kidd capably fulfilling his own goal of injecting more fun into the course.
“I think what gets forgotten in the end is that the objective is to provide respite and entertainment to the golfer,” said the architect. “And that is the only point. There’s way too much chatter about the resistance to scoring, defense of par, and margin of error. If I can build something the average guy or gal is having fun on, there’s a very good chance that the better players will still have fun because they are playing a completely different game.”
Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club
St. George, Utah