The fate of a proposed 18-hole golf course at Dimple Dell Park will apparently be decided in court, following a failed attempt by Salt Lake County officials to work a compromise between groups that disagree over the project.

Golf course opponents are vowing to do everything possible to block development, and county officials admit the course - at one time a top county recreation priority - can't be developed for at least several years, the length of time a legal challenge is expected to take.Glen Lu, director of the county's Parks and Recreation division, said the proponents and opponents of golf course development at the 645-acre park southeast of Sandy are hopelessly deadlocked on the issue, despite six weeks of discussions of all possible alternatives.

"We tried everything to bring the two sides together, but unfortunately they can't compromise," Lu told the county's recreation board Wednesday.

The Dimple Dell battle pits the city of Sandy, which favors development of the 18-hole course on about 150 acres, against a group calling itself Citizens for the Preservation of Dimple Dell Park, which claims such a course would have a major negative impact on the park environment.

"An 18-hole course just won't fit without major degradation of the area," said John Shakula, chairman of the citizens group. "We've looked at all possible layout plans, including those that require the purchase of additional property that's available adjacent to the park."

The preservation group argues that Dimple Dell was purchased by the county, partially with federal funds, to preserve the natural area. The group agrees that multiple use of the park is appropriate.

But Shakula said golf course proponents want "dual use, not multiple use - they want to develop a golf course and have whatever is left over for other uses." The group would not oppose development of a well-designed nine-hole course, if environmental concerns are addressed, he said.

"We'd prefer not to fight," Shakula said. "But there doesn't seem to be an alternative."

However, four members of the Sandy City County and Planning Commission, in a letter to Lu, said they had been willing to discuss a nine-hole course even though "the facts clearly show that it would not be financially feasible and that it would not be the quality facility . . . residents in the southeast quadrant of the county deserve."

Sandy strongly supports "a quality 18-hole golf course," and the city is committed to making the course layout environmentally sensitive, the letter states.

The city officials call the preservation group unreasonable. Shakula responds that city officials are obstinate.

Meanwhile, after the lapse of a 90-day moratorium called to allow time to craft a compromise, the county will proceed with predevelopment preparations for an 18-hole course, Lu said. Among the first steps is an application to the federal Land and Water Conservation Agency, asking for approval to develop the golf course on land bought with federal money to be a nature preserve.

The preservation group, with aid from environmentalist organizations, will file a protest to that application, Shakula said.

But county officials say they've already had some preliminary contact with the federal agency, and the county is expecting no trouble in getting approval to use the area for a golf course, a use considered compatible with nature preserves.

Lu acknowledges, however, that a similar case in Arizona has been in dispute for three years, and Dimple Dell development could be tied up for at least that long, especially if the courts become the final arbiter.