Dick Harmon: Popular Utah golf professional healing after terrible crash

Published: Saturday, June 1 2013 8:53 p.m. MDT

ALPINE — Don’t take the simple things in life for granted.

That’s the lesson learned by one of Utah’s most popular golf professionals, who is nursing injuries after a car accident nearly took his life eight weeks ago. It remains to be seen if Rick Roberts of Fox Hollow Golf Course in American Fork will ever enjoy the power and timing of his picture-perfect golf swing again.

But first things first.

Roberts’ professional life is golf and people. He’s a man’s man; a guy who one could easily envision hanging out with Brad Pitt or Kevin Sorbo. He even looks a little like actor Kevin Spacey when he smiles.

Roberts remembers the day of his best round as if it was hours ago instead of a dozen years ago. It was a 62, the standing course record at Fox Hollow, where he is director of golf. That day he chipped in three times and made a pair of eagles. “I was thinking of a 59,” he admits, reflecting on that sun-drenched Saturday morning his friends begged him to join them in a friendly practice round.

“It was amazing,” he says with pride, his eyes twinkling like lights on a Christmas tree.

That was then. Forward to the day that rocked his world.

On April 5, Roberts had just welcomed back his first assistant Jaxon Taylor from BYU-Hawaii, where he’d tried to fit in on the golf team. Roberts had taken Taylor and his second assistant, young Riley Bunker, to dinner and they’d talked about summer plans and work schedules at Fox Hollow.

It had been a long day, and Roberts suddenly got a feeling he should return home to his wife, so he urged the group to leave the restaurant. When they got to the car, he had a feeling to tell Taylor to hop in the back and he’d ride shotgun as Bunker drove.

They were chatting in the car traveling about 55 miles an hour on Alpine Highway en route to Roberts’ house when a car went right through a red light and collided with their car. Bunker’s air bag failed to deploy and he crashed his head into the windshield, knocking him unconscious and shattering his knee. Taylor broke his sternum. But Roberts had the worst injuries, breaking his tibia on his left leg, tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus and breaking the transverse process off a vertebra in his back.

In five seconds, Fox Hollow nearly lost its key workforce and leader. Bunker says he can’t remember the accident. Roberts can.

“It was surreal,” said Roberts. “It was like everything went to slow motion.”

His doctor said Roberts may play golf again, but it would be a miracle to play at the same level, especially because the pain in his back is an X-factor. “I’m 45 and I’m no spring chicken,” he says.

While golf is ramping up for the year, Roberts finds himself in a wheelchair and using a walker. He went to his daughter’s high school graduation last Thursday and made it to the course to help with a charity tournament Friday, but it sucked the energy out of him Saturday — the busiest day of the week.

And not being at work nearly did him in.

“It’s brutal. Golf and people are my life. Just the social aspect of being with people at the course is what I love. I’m not a guy who can stay cooped up. I have to see those 300 or 400 people a day, see what’s going on in their lives and tease them. That reality’s been tougher to miss than dealing with this injury.”

Roberts played basketball, baseball and football at Murray High. He gave up football in the 10th grade and took up golf. At the time, his friends teased him. Now they come and hold tournaments at his course and wish they were him. He worked his way from the bottom to the top at Fox Hollow, which used to be Tri City Golf Course.

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