Right about now, St. George is looking awfully good.
The same Utah Jazz who are spending most of December and January in the chilly Midwest and East were wise enough to open the season with training camp for a week in St. George. That gave me a chance to scout the town's five public courses - and look longingly at the one private course - before the winter rush.While I've played golf in Salt Lake City in every month of the year - during one year or another - you can always count on St. George in December, January and February. Besides the golf, a trip to St. George has plenty to offer. The 300 miles make for a comfortable five-hour drive from Salt Lake; the town features clean, inexpensive motels and good restaurants; and St. George Boulevard offers the best fast-food bargains in America.
What's not to like about that place? The green fees - $6 for nine holes at the regulation courses and between $3 and $4 at the par-3 courses - stay the same through the winter season. Tee times are at a premium for the full-length courses in the winter, partly because the playing day is much shorter this time of year. Tee times are taken seven days in advance at most courses.
The condition of the public courses is decent; besides, northern Utah golfers will take anything they can get in the winter. But if connections allow you to play the Bloomington Country Club, do it once.
So here I am in a hotel room in Cleveland, looking at scorecards and remembering that October week in St. George. Is life unfair or what? Then again, by the time you read this, I'll be in Miami.
A rundown of St. George's public courses:
Dixie Red Hills (634-5852) - Red Hills is St. George's original course, and still the most popular. The nine-hole layout is short, playing to only 2,725 yards from the championship tees but requires well-planned shots.
No two holes are alike and strategy - and a little local knowledge - is needed on most holes. The most memorable hole is the 502-yard, par-5 3rd, a sharp dogleg left inviting a risky tee shot that cuts the corner by going over the rock formations. All considered, Red Hills is still a must-play course.
St. George Golf Club (634-5854) - This course, formerly known as Bloomington Hills, is definitely the town's most challenging and is as tough as you like - depending on which of the four tees you play from. The blue tees - the middle of the three men's tees - play to 6,728 yards and a par 73.
Good thing the ball rolls a lot.
The city has taken over this course and has improved the condition; overseeding of the fairways creates real definition between fairways and rough.
The back nine is somewhat plain, with a series of long par-4s, but the front nine is more fun. The best hole is No. 4, a short par-4 with trouble on both sides. Just for fun, try the par-5 6th from the gold tees - 636 yards.
Southgate Golf Course (628-0000) - Visible from the freeway at the south edge of town, this course has been reshaped by commerical development, but the addition of three new holes - Nos. 16, 17 and 18 - has improved the layout considerably.
This course is slightly longer than Red Hills but not as tricky and is more fun than St. George GC for the average player. The par-70 course plays to 5,557 yards from the regular tees, with few hazards.
The most memorable hole is No. 9, a par-5 with a green that's easy to reach in three shots, but difficult in two shots because a river forces a lay-up tee shot and a lake requires the approach shot to carry all the way to the green. Southgate will take tee times on Friday for the following weekend.
Green Valley Golf Course (628-3778) - This par-3 course is scenic, in the middle of the Green Valley development. Most of the holes are quite short and trouble-free; the second half of the course is a little longer and more interesting. Tee times are suggested, but not required.
Twin Lakes Golf Course (673-4441) - This is the course you see on the hillside while approaching St. George on I-15. The more challenging of the two par-3 courses, Twin Lakes's greens are in better shape than Green Valley's, and tee times are easy to get.