If you're a golfer who has played a few rounds in Utah, the chances are you've played a Bill Neff golf course. That's because the majority of golf courses along the Wasatch Front have been designed, engineered or remodeled by Bill Neff.
But which Bill Neff? The two most prominent golf course architects in Utah during the past three decades both happened to be named Bill Neff - really. Better yet, both are named William H. Neff.Though separated by 28 years in age, William Henrichsen Neff and William Howard Neff are not father and son. In fact, they're not even remotely related.
William Henrichsen Neff is a Utah native, who still lives on the same property in Holladay his parents settled nearly 100 years ago. Nearby Neff's Canyon was named after his ancestors.
He turns 93 later this year and is still going strong enough to play golf every Saturday with his friends. He has been involved in the construction of several dozen Utah courses, including many of the most popular layouts, such as Wasatch Mountain State Park, Davis Park, Bountiful Ridge, Hobble Creek and Park City Municipal.
Then there is William Howard Neff, a Colorado native who moved to Utah to attend college to become an architect and ended up making a name for himself in golf circles as a golf architect.
He's designed numerous local courses, including several in recent years, including East Bay in Provo, Westridge in West Valley, the new nine at Wasatch Mountain State Park and the brand-new Glen Eagle course in Syracuse.
At age 64, he has no plans to retire and his golf course design business is as strong as ever with several out-of-state projects to go along with his steady Utah work.
You'd think with such a small market for new golf courses that the two Neffs would be fiercely competitive and perhaps even a bit resentful of sharing the same profession, let alone, the same name. However, they have nothing but praise for each other and in fact they even worked together for nearly 15 years.
"They used to call us old Bill Neff and young Bill Neff, but now we're both old," says the younger Neff with a laugh. As for sharing names, he says "It doesn't disturb me at all. He brought me along and was like a mentor to me. I owe him a great deal."
"I helped train him for 14 years," said the older Neff. "He's doing a good job now with his courses. He's a good architect, an excellent draftsman."
While the younger Neff was trained as a draftsman, the older Neff was trained as a landscape architect and didn't get involved in the golf designing business until he was nearly in his 50s when he was asked to help in the redesign at the Salt Lake Country Club in the 1950s.
He worked closely with California architect William Bell, who is responsible for several Utah courses, and learned the business of building golf courses from Bell and Ralph Plummer.
After growing up in Denver, the younger Neff moved to Utah to get his degree in architecture from the University of Utah and was working for the Salt Lake County Planning Commission. A pretty good golfer, he used to get his name in the paper for high finishes in local tournaments.
That got the attention of the older Neff, who would field calls from friends congratulating him for his fine golf play even though it wasn't him. When he found out the younger Neff was on the planning commission, he asked for his help in a matter and soon after invited him to work with him on golf courses.
"I learned from the ground up," said the younger Neff. "I did surveying, drafting, yardage charts . . . it was the best training I could have ever had."
Among the first courses, the older Neff designed were Oakridge Country Club and Alpine Country Club and he supervised the construction of William Bell courses at Mountain Dell, Hobble Creek and Bonneville (9 holes).
During their time together in the late 1960s and 1970s, the two Neffs worked together on such courses as Mountain View, Glenmoor, Bountiful Ridge, Bear Lake, Hidden Valley (9 holes) and Yampa Valley in Colorado.
In 1981 the younger Neff decided to go out on his own and formed his own company. One of his first projects was taking over the Mt. Ogden course that Billy Casper was supposed to design. Later in the 1980s, he did the remodel at Forest Dale, as well as East Bay, Westridge, Eagle Mountain in Brigham City and Gladstan in Payson.
"My philosophy is that you should build a course that can stand alone without trees because sometimes it takes a long time for trees to grow," said the younger Neff. "Usually the land dictates what I do. If it's flat, you need to manufacture contour. If it's hilly, you build it so there are flat areas. I like to build user-friendly courses. I'm not building U.S. Open courses."
He said he is most proud of Westridge, because "it was so hard to do," making a plush golf course out of a gravel pit. He also likes the new Glen Eagle course up in Syracuse, again because he was able to do a lot with little. The elder Neff, who still golfs every Saturday morning at the Salt Lake Country Club, lists Oakridge and Wasatch as two of his personal favorites.
He said always had the average golfer in mind and believes courses "should blend with the land," similar to the more natural courses found in Europe.
He maintains strong opnions about some modern golf courses, calling mounds "absolutely ridiculous" and railroad ties "terrible." He also doesn't like the idea of certain famous golfers taking credit for a course when they have little to do with the actual design.
The younger Neff, also an excellent golfer in his prime, once finished as the fifth low amateur in the Utah Open. However, these days with all his work he doesn't get much chance to play golf and carries a 13 handicap.
He currently has several projects going, including ones in Tooele, Sandy, South Salt Lake and St. George. And though he's pushing 65, he has no plans to retire any time soon. And why should he? "I'm having too much fun," he said.
Courses designed by William Henrichsen Neff
D Alpine Country Club
D Cascade (Orem)
D Cottonwood Club
D Davis Park (9 only)
D Fore Lakes
D Glenmoor (9 only)
R Hobble Creek
R Mountain Dell
D Mountain View
D Oakridge Country Club
D Park City Municipal (9 only)
R Riverside Country Club
R Rose Park
D Stansbury Park
R Salt Lake Country Club
R Willow Creek CC
D Bloomington Country Club (St. George)
Courses designed or remodeled by William Howard Neff
R Davis Park
R Forest Dale
D Eagle Mountain (Brigham City)
D East Bay (Provo)
D Gladstan (Payson)
D Glen Eagle (Syracuse)
D Mountain Dell (new 18)
D Mt. Ogden
R Ogden Country Club
R Park City Municipal
R University of Utah
D Wasatch Mountain (9 only)
D West Bountiful (9 only)
R Willow Creek Country Club
R St. George Golf Club
R Southgate (St. George)
Courses designed by both Neffs
D Bountiful Ridge
D Hidden Valley (9 only)
D Bear Lake
Key: D =designed; R =redesigned