Clanking coins, spinning wheels and flashing lights are staples of the typical golf vacation in the upper Southwest. If that's your bag, head to Las Vegas (or to Reno or Mesquite, Nevada). But if you're looking to unwind in a more relaxing place in the high desert, the answer lies two hours northeast of Vegas in the red-rock country of St. George, Utah. With more than a dozen courses—a few of them superb—as well as six others across the border in nearby Mesquite, St. George has quietly emerged as a golf destination.
The city, founded in 1861 by the Mormon pioneer Brigham Young and located in the southwest corner of the state, is sometimes called Utah's Dixie because of its unlikely origin as a cotton-growing area (part of Young's desire to have his settlers be self-sufficient). A lack of water rendered the cotton experiment short-lived, and today the encompassing region—which includes Zion and, a bit farther away, Bryce Canyon National Parks—is better known as Color Country, marked as it is with sandstone monoliths bearing a spectrum of earth tones.
The color green, of course, is the reason to bring your clubs here, especially in the spring and fall. Prices for golf and lodging are lowest in summer, when the mercury regularly tops one hundred—but, as they say, it's a dry heat. And speaking of dry, the conservative populace frowns on alcohol use. Although booze is available, some restaurants lack a liquor license (all those recommended below have a full bar), and under state law beer sold in taverns must be no more than 4 percent alcohol by volume (or 3.2 percent by weight). So expect to be intoxicated most of all by the scenery of St. George.
Most travelers fly into Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and then drive about 120 miles down Interstate 15, a stretch of which passes through the canyon walls of the Virgin River Gorge. (In booking a tee time for the day you arrive, keep in mind that Utah observes mountain standard time, one hour ahead of Nevada.) A more direct option is to land at St. George Municipal Airport, served by Delta (SkyWest connects in Salt Lake City) and United (SkyWest, via Los Angeles).
Once you hit town, check into the Inn at Entrada, whose lodging consists of rooms in free-standing casitas in a gated community. Patios overlook the inn's golf course and the mountains beyond. For your first round, however, make the fifteen-minute drive over to The Ledges, a year-old course designed by Matt Dye, nephew of Pete Dye.
With flattish fairways and shallow bunkers, the front nine seems benign, but a closer look reveals strategic hazards and cleverly contoured greens. The Dye family magic fully emerges on the back nine, where the young architect melded his layout with the natural surroundings to yield a dramatic series of holes, highlighted by the risk-reward 320-yard par-four fifteenth, which plays to a green isolated by ravines. The course is the centerpiece of a real estate development, but given its elevation of nearly four thousand feet, many of the sweeping views on the back nine thankfully will never be compromised.
Cap off the day with dinner at Kokopelli Restaurant back at Entrada, with its tables set around a stone fireplace. The corn chowder makes for a hearty first course, but save some room for the grilled rib eye.