The golf is already world-class. The Canyon Course is vintage risk-reward Dye, surrounded by multicolored sagebrush. It’s elegant desert golf, on a course you could play for years without ever tiring of it. The front nine is fair but punishing in subtle ways. It’s more of a “meadowy” track, in the words of Hupe, our host, than the back nine, which is composed of valleys funneling in toward the center. The course commands my attention on the par-five third. It plays a whopping 720 yards—no, that’s not a typo—from the tips. Talk about your three-shot par-five. We play it from the more benign 620-yard blue tees. After hitting driver, seven-wood, six-iron to reach the back of the green, let’s just say it feels good to finally have the flatstick in my hands.
But my favorite hole is the par-five seventh. My son, Andrew, hits driver, fairway wood, nine-iron to a kick-in birdie four. I once had a boss who was always asking, “When are you really happy?” Watching your son tap in for birdie on a course he’s never seen before—that’s one suitable definition of happy.
Even better than the Dye course is the Nicklaus track. The theme of Painted Valley is “a river runs through it,” and water embellishes fifteen holes. Playing the back nine (the front had not yet opened) is enough to see that this will likely join the must-play ranks. With white-sugar bunkers and throwback teak-and-brass flagsticks, this is a lovable course. The twelfth is a treacherous par five spanning 673 yards from the black tees. Standing on the green, I stare out at the broad vista of a spectacular valley below, humbled by the sheer magnitude and majesty of the surroundings. Later, on the tee of the par-three sixteenth, I can see the slopes of Deer Valley to the west; to the east stretches a wide expanse of purple and tawny desert sage. Cutting through it all is a man-made river that looks as if it’s been there forever. It occurs to me that only in the movies, where we manufacture landscapes using special visual effects, had I ever witnessed scenes of such delightful incongruity.
The next day we take a break from golf to check out the local scenery. After the kids consume a nutritious breakfast of Cocoa Puffs and Pop-Tarts, the three of us get a behind-the-scenes mountain-bike tour of Park City, offered by the top-notch White Pine Touring. This is my kind of ride: mostly downhill. We start at Upper Deer Valley and make our way three or four miles into town. Along the way we stop and take in beautiful vistas of Park City. The town is a study in contrasts: Many of the original structures used by the early silver miners are still there, often sandwiched between refurbished homes and condominiums that sell for millions. Park Avenue, once known as the “highway to heaven,” is dotted with at least a half-dozen former churches that are now private homes and B&Bs. One of them still has stained glass in a few windows.
Like so many quaint Western outposts, Park City’s old town (population less than ten thousand) is in a tug-of-war between the slow-growth advocates who want to keep things the way they are, and new-home buyers and commercial developers who see it as a second-home nirvana for the wealthy. Those larger developments, with “log cabins” of ten thousand square feet and more, risk diminishing the old-fashioned character of Park City. Big money from big-city dwellers has been coming in for years. The place is popular among Angelenos partly because there are some dozen daily ninety-minute flights from LAX (Aspen is much harder to get to). “There has always been a California contingent,” points out Linda Karz, our cycling guide from White Pine Touring. “But after the 2002 Olympics were held here, we were discovered by everyone.”
So the secret has long been out, and big-money players tend to attract more of the same. A St. Regis Hotel is under construction, and the locals are circulating a rumor about a certain CEO who has already purchased the hotel’s entire top floor to be his Park City residence. The result is that, though they must contend with the surge in traffic and construction noise, a fair number of owners have homes they might not be able to afford had they not settled here years ago. It’s all in the balance, and for now the two camps seem to be keeping a respectful eye on one another.
What do you get when you import six thousand blue spruce trees, two thousand aspens and a couple hundred very wealthy homeowners?Sometimes you’re left with a tricked-up course more memorable for its sous-chef than its fairways. At Glenwild, you get a Tom Fazio masterpiece, rated the best golf course in Utah for the last six years.
From the moment my son and I walk into the elegant 39,000-square-foot stone-and-wood clubhouse, we know we have come upon something very special. “Dad,” Andrew whispers to me on the way in, “this looks like the kind of place I better tuck in my shirt.” As we wander out to the indoor-outdoor dining room, we find ourselves staring down the barrel of the 633-yard par-five sixteenth. There is a giant fire pit to congregate around at sunset and wheat-colored rockers to sit in while reliving the day’s rounds.