Gladstan Golf Course in Payson got a significant face-lift this year.

These days it's tough for a city-owned course to make such enhancements because the way real estate prices are, politicians can gobble up such land for a quick buck and leave a course ravaged down to a putt-putt carnival facility.

Look no further than what's up at Provo's East Bay for the second time, and you'll understand how city economics can cannibalize a course. ... That didn't happen here on the foothills of Mount Nebo where deer and elk regularly feed along the fairways and housing tracts have steadily crept higher and higher.

In the past 24 months, Payson has sold off two of Gladstan's goofiest golf holes and used the money to build two picturesque canyon holes. They've rerouted and tweaked other holes. No easy task.

But it worked.

At the ribbon cutting for the new 575-yard par-5 No. 14, Payson Mayor Burtis Bills recited a long history of golf in Payson before proclaiming the new Gladstan one of the best golf courses in Utah.

From a beauty standpoint, he is correct.

From a challenge standpoint, he is also correct.

From a "favorites" list of municipal courses, it would fall in the Top 10 of somebody's list, certainly mine.

Somewhere behind leaders Hobble Creek, Coral Canyon and Wasatch State Park's Lake Course.

There are easier courses. There are longer layouts. But there are fewer courses around that offer such diversity.

Thanks to some excellent greens and today's new holes, Jack Lamento's fantasy come true is absolutely that good.

In an attempt to describe the step forward for this municipal layout, head professional Tracy Zobell found himself speechless last week when facing dignitaries, including the City Council and Mayor Bills.

You see, Gladstan opened in 1988 and replaced an older course in the flatlands. Lamento, the then head golf professional and only the third guy to hold that title in Payson history, dreamed that one day an additional two holes up the canyon would replace two weak holes on the front nine (holes 7 and 8). Then Payson could brag about being a true championship course.

Zobell was just 16 back in 1988 when Lamento made him one of the first golf cart boys, a start to his career as a professional golfer and member of the Utah PGA. Standing there, with Four Bay Canyon behind him and a vista of Utah Valley in front of his face, Zobell felt like he'd been hit with a ton of bricks. He was there and Lamento, semi-retired in Las Vegas, was not.

I asked Zobell to defend the mayor's statement about Gladstan's place among Utah courses as one of the best — a declaration he also repeated during ceremonies.

"It's a beautiful piece of land, and it certainly has the scenery to back it up," said Zobell, who was the "mule" on Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham's foursome Monday at The Country Club for the annual Kidney Foundation fundraising scramble.

"This is a course (Gladstan) where you have to hit the ball in the right place to have a chance. You have to place your ball on favorable spots on the greens to have a chance. The changes in elevation make it challenging, and there are enough holes that really requires the most talented players to shape their shots right or left and forces them to choose a driver over an iron.

"From the tips, this will now give golfers of all levels all they can handle," said Zobell.

His challenge proved right this past weekend during the Gladstan Open, which was won by Riverside's Chris Moody, a former Utah State golfer who won the National Assistant Professional championship in Florida this past fall.

In two days and 36 holes Moody finished the 6,981-yard layout with rounds of 71-70 141 for a three-under par performance.

I've played with Moody, and he not only knocks the cover off the ball but his wedge play and putting is superb.

While he conquered par at Gladstan, he didn't exactly spank it or bring it to its knees.

"It's a great feeling to see an idea like this take root, see all the work done, and then be around to witness it come to be," said Zobell.

City courses that deliver are a tough breed to find. In today's improved course, Payson has struck gold.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com