It's been four decades since Johnny Miller's college days when the Hall of Famer played at Riverside Country Club, the site of this weekend's 46th Cougar Classic. It's not the same course Miller used to play.

Indeed, after several facelifts, Riverside is getting another big one that's already under way with a massive reduction in trees, added bunkers and tee boxes.

The record 62 shot by Utah State's Jay Don Blake decades ago will need an asterisk and a new measuring stick when this construction is said and done.

In a day and age when many community golf courses are suffering financial challenges — and Utah County leads the list with added layouts jostling for a piece of the money pie — it is amazing how much improvement is being done this year to golf in this part of the state.

John Fought, a former All-American back in the day with Jimmy Blair, Mike Reid and Jim Nelford, is now one of the top golf course designers in the country, and he's re-doing Riverside.

This course has always been lined by trees and thickets alongside the route of the Provo River. Fought suggested the course should actually be set up to show off more views of the river. He'll also add more than 15 bunkers and make or expand tee boxes on hole Nos. 2, 9, 12, 14, 15 and 16.

At the former Tri City course in American Fork, now called Fox Hollow, there's a brand new clubhouse and irrigation system to the tune of more than $5 million. Rick Roberts says the gas carts will soon be replaced with electric rides.

At 2-year-old Sleepy Ridge, west of I-15 in Orem, operators working with the city will add a 40,000-square-foot, $5 million clubhouse and office space combo building.

Both Fox Hollow and Sleepy Ridge will rent out their clubhouses for receptions and banquets.

At Gladstan Golf Course in Payson, the city sold land where a couple of goofy holes were located by a dangerous busy street, rerouted some holes and spent $2 million to add a pair of picturesque holes, a par-5 and par-4 further up the canyon beyond No. 13.

Cedar Hills, a course that's tried to chip away at a $7 million debt, has sold land on the back-nine near the bench for 22 homes and shortened a nondescript par-5 No. 15 to a par-3 from a new elevated tee. The two strokes lost by changes on No. 15 are regained by extending and making Nos. 9 and 18 par-5s.

At East Bay, city fathers are selling off holes along the westside of the city course to developers of what may be a Target store.

They'll lose two of the most scoreable par-5s in the county, have to redo the driving range, lose the executive course and find seven additional holes, three of which will be added south of the old Kuhni property by the current No. 5. A new signature hole, an island green par-3 layout, will emerge.

At Spanish Oaks, the city found a way to do what Hobble Creek did a few years ago with a little sweat equity work from the community in creating eye-catching, railroad-tie elevated tee boxes — at no cost to taxpayers. The digs at Spanish Oaks now have a refurbished clubhouse and pro shop separated by an intricate stone archway. The work was done by Giles Drywall and Bleggco Masonry, with electrical work by Justin Jensen and new paint by Steve Bird and Jerry Emerick.

All of these projects are either completely finished or on the cusp of breaking ground. And most were creatively traded out to avoid debt. The smart trades have been real estate for better golf holes. The biggest risk to quality golf may be what Provo City is trying to do on the cheap, at around $2 million.

At Riverside, the only private course mentioned here, play will ultimately be tougher due to the work. A similar step has been taken in Salt Lake County at The Country Club. Both these private layouts host key collegiate events and UGA and PGA tournaments, as well as fundraisers in those communities. So there are ways to experience those private courses if you are so inclined.

No question, golf is expensive and these places are battling to make a profit. Many just break even or are losing money.

But at least in Utah County, it appears the golfers are the big winners this year — they've got better courses and facilities to attack than a year ago.


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