HURRICANE — John Fought takes chunks of land and changes them with his personal palette. He designs golf courses all over the country.

When Fought saw the piece of land next to the dunes of Sand Hollow State Park that developers wanted to turn into a resort and world-class golf course, he got excited. He'd been to southern Utah but never really got his boots in the dirt or pawed the rare resources nature dumped here.

"It reminded me of something my college coach, Karl Tucker, used to say. 'I felt like a mosquito in a nudist colony,'" Fought said. "I couldn't wait to start work."

The result is a work of art, revealed this week, that many predict will be one of Utah's finest golf courses, immediately pushing popular Coral Canyon in Dixieland.

With spectacular views on the back nine and giant fairways and greens, the playability level is high. But from the tips and with pesky pin placements, this new course can also test the best.

"It will be a big hit and become very popular," predicted southern Utah native son and PGA veteran Jay Don Blake. "It's a course for everyone, yet can be challenging."

Managed by the same folks who direct Thanksgiving Point, Mark Whetzel and Vanguard Golf Management, the 7,315-yard Sand Hollow layout officially opens on Friday.

Fought, a former BYU All-American and 1977 U.S. Amateur champion, is credited with some of the country's most attractive golf course designs, including the South Course at Gallery Golf Club near Tucson, Ariz., site of the PGA Tour's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

"This is easily the most beautiful property I've ever worked with," Fought said.

Sand Hollow instantly gives Hurricane bragging rights to two of the most picturesque courses in Utah, with the popular Coral Canyon and its attackable par fives. Having these two courses in Hurricane, along with Sky Mountain, gives Mayor Tom Hirschi a bully pulpit — and the outspoken politician doesn't miss a beat.

At a VIP and media open house earlier this week, he warned everyone who'd listen that they'd better not refer at any time, place or form to Sand Hollow being in St. George but Hurricane.

"Nothing against St. George," Hirschi said. "Any direction you look, you have a vista, a picture."

And he's right. This is a gorgeous project right at the foot of Zion National Park.

Sand Hollow could easily take on any of those Arizona desert courses from Scottsdale to Tucson and earn blue-ribbon praise.

The sight lines and beauty of ridge cliffs and stone outcroppings are like the Ledges' back nine, only more of it. The par-4 No. 12 is eye candy, with a spectacular stretch of fairway along a drop-off cliff on the left that leads uphill to a green carved alongside a sheer red rock wall.

The fairway and green-side bunkers feature natural red sand and are cut and fingered along beautiful green borders. They're postcards on steroids.

The fairway bunkers are testy and really penalize the errant shot, a trade-off for the wide, forgiving fairways, perhaps as a Band-Aid for the famous Hurricane winds that can move pebbles.

Where most course developers bring out heavy earth-moving equipment, Fought brilliantly used the natural slopes and rich sandy dirt to shape this course. He used small equipment and had workers pick and paint. He delicately plucked out sagebrush and gently shaped the fairways, leaving much of the natural contour of the desert plateaus and its cover.

The result is a look of green wavy grass in huge forgiving fairways that do not always yield a flat lie.

Fought said he moved just 5 percent of the ground to build Sand Hollow, something unheard of. Fought loves the course so much, he did something he rarely does; he invested in the project with his own money.

"It's in my top five right now," said Bobby Casper, host of Real Golf Radio and TV. "Glenwild (Park City) would be at the top, but this is a great layout. I love the holes on the back along the ridge. This is a course for everybody."

After months of hiding the course, not rushing an opening to allow the grass and greens to sink roots deep and fill out, Sand Hollow is now open for the taking, starting Friday.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com