MIDWAY — Chris Newson is a people person, a PGA professional unafraid of handshakes, small talk, creating relationships and solving problems. That’s why he’s the head pro at Soldier Hollow, helping that state golf course celebrate its 10th birthday this month.
Newson is a great example of a kid’s passion becoming their life. Consider this strange development in Newson’s golf career. When he first took up the game as a 12-year-old at Lakeside in West Bountiful 31 years ago, the head pro who took him under his wing and taught him how to hold a club and make a pendulum swing was Henry White.
In 2013, the Utah Section of the PGA named White its Professional of the Year. The year before, that honor went to Newson.
“I’d never in my life have guessed back then as a teenager I’d receive that honor before Henry,” said Newson.
Now Newson is living his dream, managing one of Utah’s biggest golf properties, a 36-hole, 460-acre public course carved out of the fields and mountainsides near Midway.
It has lived up to the expectations of some and superseded the hopes of others.
It definitely takes advantage of Newson’s skills. And with its older brother, Wasatch State Park, these gems definitely show why the state of Utah should be in the golf business.
Soldier Hollow produced 61,943 nine-hole rounds in 2013, compared to 53,470 in 2006. Golf Week named it the No. 9 municipal course in the country for 2014.
Soldier Hollow was designed to take pressure off another state-owned course, popular Wasatch State Park, another 36-hole gem. It was created to take advantage of acreage used as an Olympic venue and piggyback on the expenses, according to Newson.
“It started in 1998 when I was an assistant at Wasatch State Park. We were at capacity. We were turning corporate events away. It was back when things were booming,” said Newson.
In 2006, Wasatch State Park recorded a whopping 105,247 nine-hole rounds. It did 103,591 in 2013.
“The initial inspiration is that this would be a natural alternative place for the overflow golfers at Wasatch to land. But that isn’t exactly the way it turned out,” Newson said.
First, the course isn’t anything like Wasatch State Park. In fact, the links layout, sprawling fairways and waste areas are nothing like its predecessor. It is radically different, almost the opposite. The shorter, wider fairways of the silver course are a links layout and the longer gold layout with elevation changes and tougher carries off the tee represent a true mountain course, cut out of scrub oak and steep inclines. Neither has the high tree lines and shade of Wasatch.
Second, because it is so different, it caters to a different golfer.
Third, the sprawling, huge double dose of Soldier Hollow’s 18s have become its strength.
“It is different, and it’s something nobody else offered,” said Newson.
A decade after its opening, Soldier Hollow has a sterling reputation for not only its competitive challenge, but its utility and mammoth-size clubhouse.
Its crowning week came in its first decade when it hosted a national championship, the USGA’s Public Links Championship in 2012. The event drew the top nonprivate club amateurs from all corners of the country. For those who witnessed it, Soldier Hollow proved a tremendous physical and emotional test — competitors had to walk the hilly gold layout with a few shuttle cart helps during some walks between tees and greens.
Hosting Utah’s most popular golf events at Soldier Hollow has been the impetus for the Utah Golf Association to expand almost double the participants in the State Amateur. Because the UGA could use both 18s for medal play, more aspirants could be included. The course has hosted that top Utah event in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013 and will do so in 2015 and 2023.
Following the Soldier Hollow model, the State Am will use two 18-hole courses in Ogden in 2014.
In 2004, Soldier Hollow opened with recognition from Golf Digest as the No. 9 Best New Course. In 2014, the magazine touted Soldier Hollow as the No. 2 course to play in Utah behind Sand Hollow in southern Utah.
To celebrate its 10th birthday, green fees will be rolled back to 2005 prices starting July 1, just $34 with a cart, according to Bruce Strom, the manager of Wasatch Mountain State Park.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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