It’s 12:45 p.m., and just four hours after leaving LAX, my kids and I are already zooming east down I-80 in our rented red Expedition from the Salt Lake airport on the way to Park City. Maddie, 13, and Andrew, 12, are rocking out on their iPods (she’s wondering if I’ve ever heard of Led Zeppelin!), and I’m taking in the summer scenery on this road I have traversed a dozen times before, always in January en route to the Sundance Film Festival. Memories come flooding back: On my first trip here, in 1994, I landed in a snowstorm and stayed up all night negotiating with novelist/screenwriter Pat Duncan to buy the Courage Under Fire script. As I recall, I was woefully underdressed, sporting penny loafers in a blizzard.
But in July, the scenery is vividly changed. Gray and white snowcapped mountains are now naked peaks blanketed with rich greens and browns. We pass Utah Olympic Park, home of the 2002 Winter Games, where ski jumps marked with the familiar five-ring logo resemble giant miniature-golf holes sloping down the hills.
In short order we arrive at the home of our friends Jordan and Helen Levin, a 110-year-old white two-story brimming with character, just one block behind Main Street. After getting settled, we walk into town for lunch. In Park City they get Small Town America right. There’s not a fast-food joint in sight, and many of the shops are still just that, replete with hand-painted signs and friendly sales people. You just have to love a town where the police station is next door to the liquor store.
A century ago Park City was a mining outpost; today prospectors are hunting down movie deals in January or pars in July. In the Park City area alone, there are at least half a dozen golf courses worth playing, ranging from the well-regarded local muni to Tuhaye, part of the recently completed Talisker development. On this trip I am looking to get behind the gates of two of the more upscale golf communities, Promontory and Glenwild.
On our first night, we meet up with my friend Marc for dinner. Park City may be first and foremost a ski destination, but with fewer tourists around and a variety of activities (fly-fishing, mountain biking, et cetera), you can see why locals love the place in summer. Marc and his wife, Gayle, chose Park City for a second home after looking at Aspen, Vail and even Bend, Oregon. “We came for the winters,” he says, “but we stayed for the summers. I knew we had made the right choice when I woke up one morning last spring and skied Deer Valley in the morning and played eighteen holes at Park Meadows in the afternoon. It was one of the best days of my life.”
Marc and I arrive at the gates of Promontory at 8:30 the next morning inside his blue-steel H-1 Hummer. Apparently it’s the same model they use in combat, although I suspect the soldiers don’t get the fancy paint job and two-tone leather seats. No one seems to bat an eye as we move past the guard gate into what seems to be the ultimate adult summer camp.
A few particulars on Promontory: It’s ten square miles and occupies some seven thousand acres. There are two championship courses, the just-completed Jack Nicklaus Painted Valley Course and the Pete Dye Canyon Course. There’s an equestrian center, an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts and a massive glass-and-stone “mountain modern” clubhouse. (Homeowners also share a private ski lodge at Deer Valley Resort.)
We drive past a maintenance shed that I’d be happy to call home—it looks to be straight from the pages of a Ralph Lauren catalog. Promontory, which bills itself as a “luxury second-home community,” has 1,900 homesites; lots run from $500,000 to $2 million, houses from $1.85 million on up. Golf memberships cost $150,000, and remember, the playing season is only five months. So when we meet up with the community’s director of golf, Steve Hupe, it’s not like he’s wowed by the Hummer. He just wants to know what kind of mileage it gets and if it has a shift-on-the-fly transmission (it does).
The homes are big and the architecture diverse, on a grand scale but not overbearing. Most of the houses are cabin-style, and many employ a wide range of stone, wood and glass, sourced locally. They are well spaced, and though many dot the Canyon Course, they don’t intrude on it. The Dye course opened in 2002, the Nicklaus track last summer, and during our round the staccato of staple guns and jackhammers interplays with the crack of our drivers. In about ten years, when the building pace slows, the trees mature and the courses have had some time to settle, the place will be extraordinary.
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.
This is not the kind of place where you borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor. The huge homes are each architecturally unique, and the nearby Wasatch Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop. Think golf on the Ponderosa. The biggest house I saw belonged to leveraged-buyout titan Barry Baker, who refers to it as his “starter castle.” He won’t tell me the actual square footage, but suffice to say it’s got an eighteen-seat movie theater.
Baker hosts the annual Royal Order of the Christians and Jews tournament, a Ryder Cup format that has been going for about twenty years and in 2006 migrated to Glenwild from Caves Valley in Baltimore. All of the guests stay at houses on the property, and competitors come back year after year. Baker has one rule: No foursome can have more than nine ex-wives in total. “We found the guys would just spend the round complaining about their exes, so we had to set a limit,” says this affable golf fanatic. Beneath his outsize persona lies the heart of a competitor: With a 3.7 index, Baker loves the course, which from the tips plays 7,543 yards.
Glenwild is vintage Fazio. “There is plenty of space to hit the ball,” says Mick Wydra, the membership director and a dead ringer for Phil Mickelson. “The trouble is all on the greens.” Wydra is certainly right about that. Repeatedly, I find myself on the putting surfaces in regulation, but pretty much every time I am above the hole I three-jack for bogey.
To be honest, though, with this kind of beauty around, score becomes less important. The last three holes at Glenwild are as good as any closing trio I’ve played. I have to hit driver, three-wood, seven-iron to get to the back of the challenging sixteenth, and rarely has anyone been on the green in two from the tips. (As at Promontory, the par fives are monsters.) From the elevated tee of the 245-yard seventeenth, I airmail a three-wood over the green. It can be very difficult to judge distances when the altitude (at which the ball travels an extra ten to fifteen yards) and a devilish wind are doing a dangerous dance together.
The eighteenth seems to have it all. In an effort to thwart the powerful combination of thin air and new technology, Fazio has served up a 518-yard par-four to give you something to talk about on the ride home. From the tips, your tee shot has to carry two-hundred-plus yards just to get through the thick stuff. To make matters worse, water hugs the entire left side of the fairway, forcing most of us mortals to turn the hole into a three-shot par four.
Coming off the course, I find myself sort of dumbstruck. How is it possible, I wonder, that a layout this good in such a magnificent setting is not showing up on the Top 100 lists?The answer is that the owners feel no need to market Glenwild except by word of mouth. They have already sold some 250 memberships, and when they hit 325, they will sell no more. “We don’t feel the need to advertise or promote it,” says Wydra. “The course and the setting sell themselves.”
As we head out of town the next morning, I have a whole new perspective on Park City. It’s like we’ve experienced the town with its guard down. The mountain air, so frosty in the winter, is exhilarating to breathe and can stretch my drives toward the three-hundred-yard mark. In the end, because of the short summer and its magnificent slopes, Park City will remain primarily a ski destination. But with world-class courses like those at Glenwild, Promontory and Talisker coming on, the short grass is quietly giving the deep powder a run for its money.
Park City is a forty-five minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport, which offers direct service to most major cities. The air is dry, and summer temperatures are cooler than in the Salt Lake Valley (highs are in the upper seventies). The golf season is short and sweet, beginning in June and ending with Indian summer in October.
Where to Play
Glenwild Golf Club & Spa
(Private) Rated Utah’s best course for the past six years, and for good reason. 7600 Glenwild Drive. Park City. Architect: Tom Fazio, 2002. Yardage: 7,543. Par: 71. Slope: 136. Contact: 435-615-9966, glenwild.com.
Promontory, Painted Valley
(Private) Both Promontory courses are special, but this Nicklaus eighteen is a monster. 8758 North Promontory Ranch Road, Park City. Architect: Jack Nicklaus, 2007. Yardage: 8,098. Par: 72. Slope: 155. Contact: 888-458-6600, promontoryclub.com.
(Private) A naturalistic design in a high desert setting. 8758 North Promontory Ranch Road, Park City. Architect: Pete Dye, 2002. Yardage: 7,690. Par: 72. Slope: 142.
Talisker Club, Tuhaye
(Private) At the Talisker Club at Deer Valley, where a Fazio track is coming soon. 9875 North Tuhaye Park Drive, Tuhaye. Architect: Mark O’Meara, 2004. Yardage: 7,800. Par: 72. Slope: 147. Contact: 435-333-3636, talisker.com.
Homestead Resort Golf Club
(Public) Great views of the Wasatch Range and Heber and Snake Creek Valleys. 700 North Homestead Drive, Midway. Architect: Bruce Summerhays, 1990. Yardage: 7,040. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Green Fees: $35-$65. Contact: 888-327-7220, homesteadresort.com.
Soldier Hollow Golf Course, Gold
(Public) Created from the 2002 Olympic ski trails, it has demanding elevation changes and steep drop-offs around some greens. 1370 West Soldier Hollow Lane, Midway. Architect: Gene Bates, 2004. Yardage: 7,598. Par: 72. Slope: 131. Green Fee: $27. Contact: 435-654-7442, soldierhollow.com.
Wasatch Mountain Golf, Mountain
(Public) Cut from natural contours, it features elevation changes, few flat lies, and the occasional elk and moose. 975 West Golf Course Drive, Midway. Architects: William Neff, 1973 (nine holes), William Neff Jr., 1998 (nine holes). Yardage: 6,459. Par: 72. Slope: 125. Green Fee: $27. Contact: 435-654-0532, stateparks.utah.gov.
Park City Golf Club
(Public) Laced with streams and lakes, it’s pretty, but beware hidden swales and other trickery. Lower Park Avenue, Park City. Architects: William Neff and Perry Maxwell, 1963; William Neff Jr., 2003. Yardage: 6,622. Par: 72. Slope: 124. Green Fees: $26–$43. Contact: 435-615-5800, parkcitygolfclub.org.