At first glance, you wonder how they could possibly fit 18 holes onto that sloped piece of land near the southeast bend of I-215, where a dusty gravel pit used to sit.

Once you play the Old Mill Golf Course, however, you discover there's plenty of room for the delightful, scenic new layout that is sure to become one of the most popular golf courses in Utah.After nearly a decade in the making, the Old Mill Golf Course will finally open to the public Friday morning.

The golf course is a long-awaited addition to the Salt Lake County golf system, especially by residents on the east side of the county. Of the other four county-run courses, three are west of the I-15 freeway, and the other, Mick Riley, is between 400 and 900 East. There has never been a public course on the east side of Salt Lake County outside of Salt Lake City.

Old Mill is situated between the I-215 freeway and Wasatch Boulevard, north of 6200 South. A residential area borders the north, and a several houses dot the mountain just above the course.

Plans for the course were first announced way back in 1989, but several obstacles - including the purchase of the final 25 acres - delayed the groundbreaking until October 1995. The cost mushroomed from $5 million to $12 million, including the beautiful clubhouse designed to host an array of events.

The course was designed by Gene Bates of Palm Beach, Fla., who also designed the Green Spring Golf Course in St. George and the Riverbend course in Riverton. Old Mill isn't nearly as challenging as Green Spring, one of the toughest in the entire state, nor quite as difficult as Riverbend.

But it's refreshing in a day when many golf course designers try to outdo each other with fancy layouts to find a course geared toward all levels of golfers.

"It's a very player-friendly course," said director of golf Devin Dehlin. "We can make it tough if we want with pin placements, but the average golfer will be able to play here and enjoy it. It's fun to play."

Old Mill was originally scheduled to open May 1, but the start was pushed back because of poor weather earlier in the year. Dehlin credits superintendent Curt Hirase with getting the course ready as soon as he has, despite obstacles.

The layout seems to have three different personalities.

The front nine is wide open, with just a few newly planted trees. The next five holes are the water holes, with two large lakes that come into play on four of them. The final four holes are tucked up on the southeast corner of the course amid the oakbrush, with a small creek that comes into play.

The best holes are on the back side. The uphill, par-4 No. 11 requires a drive over a lake, and good position off the tee is essential. That's because the green is surrounded on three sides by water, and golfers who hit short drives won't be able to see the green or the water on the upslope of the fairway. The smart play is to keep it to the right and avoid the water altogether.

No. 12 is the shortest hole on the course, just 104 yards from the middle tees, but a lake between tee and green will scare a lot of golfers despite its lack of length.

If there is a signature hole, 15 would be the one. The uphill par-5 is a dogleg right with a stream meandering through the fairway about 50 yards in front of the green. It leaves golfers with a dilemma on their second and third shots, deciding whether to go over the water or lay up. The hole also narrows considerably near the green, which is slightly elevated.

No. 16 is another fine hole, another dogleg right, though considerably shorter. This is one of those risk/reward holes, with some golfers opting to fly the trees on the right and drive the green, and others playing down the middle with an iron to get in position for a wedge shot to the green.

The 17th hole has already been reworked and may need even more work. From the back two tees, drives must clear a gully to a landing area that's hard to discern from the tee. The fairway leans right and a lot of shots will end up in the woods here. The middle and front tees are on the other side of the gully, but it is almost too far up and many golfers will end up hitting into the oakbrush on either side of the narrow fairway near the green.

The final hole is also quite narrow and a small stream that bisects the fairway 180-200 yards from the tees will catch a lot of drives and ruin a few rounds.

Most of the greens are fairly large, and while none are classic two-level greens, many are sloped with several undulations. Bunkers are sprinkled throughout the course, with five on the No. 9 hole.

The course is basically walkable, with one glaring exception. From the No. 8 tee, the path winds up a steep hill and, once on top, continues for about the length of a par 5 before the No. 9 tee. If you're walking, the group in a cart behind you will surely drive pass you before you get to the ninth tee.

One the back nine, the biggest problem with walking are the final four holes, which are uphill. According to Dehlin, carts aren't required but are strongly recommended.

Even though he is excited about the new course, Dehlin was a bit wary of the reception it would receive this week as media, dignitaries and corporate sponsors have toured the layout. But the response so far has been positive.

"People have been much more complimentary than I thought," he said.

"Residents have waited decades for this course," said S.L. County Commissioner Brent Overson. "We are very happy with the transformation that has taken place on this land."

The price is slightly more than other courses in Salt Lake Valley at $32 with a cart and $22 without. Once golfers try it out, they are likely to return and turn the Old Mill into one of the busiest courses in the state.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Old Mill Golf Course

Hole Par Yards* Hole Par Yards*

1 4 417 10 4 403

2 4 320 11 4 343

3 3 163 12 3 104

4 4 383 13 5 533

5 5 473 14 3 133

6 4 383 15 5 476

7 3 160 16 4 303

8 4 343 17 4 360

9 4 300 18 4 387

Out 35 2,942 In 36 3,042

TOTAL 71 5,984 *Yardage from middle tees

Location: 6080 S. Wasatch Blvd.

Head Professional: Devin Dehlin

Course Designer, Year Opened: Gene Bates, 1998

Cost: $22, $32 with cart

Reservations: 424-1302; Mon for Tue-Wed, Wed for Thu-Fri, Thu for Sat-Sun-Mon

Easiest time to get on: Late aftenoons

Course record: None established

Difficulty: 3

Layout/scenery: 4

Enjoyabilyt index: 4

(5=highest, 0=lowest)