Nestled in the uppermost pocket of northern Utah's Cache Valley are two rare golfing gems. Growing up here, I have been very lucky to have these two courses as my home courses, and after every golfing trip to other courses elsewhere around the state, I am reminded of how lucky I am to come back to these two courses. Cache Valley is not a place that many travel to. It's smaller, slower and much more conventional than the other valleys around it. However, for us golfers, it is a place that can't be passed up.
Driving into Cache Valley, the first thought is of a land sheltered and protected by the mountain ranges around it, enclosed by these giants into a true, inclusive valley in every sense of the word. It feels unassuming, with the only real structures standing out being the Logan Temple and the A tower on the highest part of Utah State University's campus. Just a quiet college town.
However, burrowed into the south end of Logan is the Logan River Golf Course. Built into the wetlands, the course layout is determined by the land around it, making it beautiful as well as challenging. Along with the wetlands is a wide variety of wildlife, such as deer, chipmunks, geese, fish and frogs. A large driving range and putting green provide nice practice facilities.
It is not a long course, measuring 6,502 yards from the tips (pro tees), which are marked in black. The average golfer will play closer tees than this, making it fall anywhere from 5,500 to 5,900 yards. Nonetheless, what it lacks in distance it makes up for in tightness. Water is in play on every hole, as well as trees, and unforgiving undulations and out-of-bounds areas keep this course very demanding and difficult.
If tee shots are not placed in the fairway, and sometimes even if they are placed in the fairway, a game can result in penalties, difficult lies and trouble. Even if tee shots are placed in the proper area, approach shots are the key to this course and require great distance control as well as accuracy.
The greens rise and fall with the natural layout of the land, making them very sloped and unrelenting. Much like the fairways, approach shots not placed in the proper place will result in merciless kicks away from the pin, leaving a very tough putt or chip, with the break being very great and difficult to gauge with the proper speed.
In tournaments around Cache Valley, as well as tournaments hosted by the local high schools, Logan River remains the toughest course stroke-wise, always being a little higher than its counterpart in the valley, Birch Creek, of which I will discuss shortly.
Logan River is kept in very good condition, with the land never drying out thanks to the wetlands around it, keeping it a perfect softness for every kind of shot. The layout is fairly flat, though there are several swells on the course, with most of them in inopportune areas. There is not a completely open hole on the course, with water or trees covering both sides of the fairway, again making sharpness of shots a must.
This course will reward the accurate player and the good iron player, as well as those with great green reading skills and recovery ability. Still, if you are not on your "A" game, be careful, as trouble is all around you, and the majority of the time, it won't be nice.
Fifteen minutes north of the Logan River, in the small city of Smithfield, is the Birch Creek Golf Course. Vastly different than Logan River, Birch Creek is a bomber's paradise with 6,768 yards, wide fairways and an open-course design. Still, the elevation throughout the course makes the layout challenging, and the course plays longer than is listed.
The greens are big and collective, but like Logan River, be careful as the natural slopes are unforgiving for inaccurate approach shots, and nearly everything breaks toward the valley, even when it's difficult to see. Though there is only water in play on a few holes, there are gulleys and dips in the land that trap the ball and can result in penalties, and many are very demanding to clear.
The greens run very fast, especially when the sun has been on them for quite a while, and the slopes are very dangerous and quick. Up high in the foothills north of Logan, this course provides a beautiful lookout to the valley below, and the scenery is gorgeous, making the early morning or late evening absolutely stunning times to challenge this public paradise. Deer are often seen, and the land is kept lush and green, letting the trees, colors and landscape do the talking.
Great practice facilities are also included here, with a full driving range, a big practice green and a separate practice bunker.
The long hitter will be rewarded here, however accuracy is a very important key on the approach shots because even though the greens are big, a poorly placed approach will result in a very long, fast, sloping putt. It's a great test of both finesse and skillfulness.
If you love golf and love a challenge, then these two courses are ones that you cannot pass up. The shorter Logan River will test your accuracy, focus and course management like few others and require your shots to be pure or you'll pay the price. Birch Creek will allow you some wiggle room in the accuracy department, but don't be fooled by the friendly, wide open feel. This course is a monster of its own and will require a deft touch.