During my interviews for a Fairways story last year about the “Utah Golf Reround Show,” Utah Section PGA Executive Director Devin Dehlin made an interesting observation. He said the show's creation stemmed partly from the void left by newspaper sports sections.
That observation hit home, and made a lot of sense. And that's why Fairways has become so important to me as a way to remain more fully involved in the Utah golf community.
I continue to work for The Salt Lake Tribune, and proudly so, and there's a theory that Fairways is a competing publication. Historically, that probably was true. Yet as is the case with many newspapers around the country, even in golf-centric markets, The Tribune's golf coverage has been reduced significantly due to shrinking staffs and other factors.
As Dehlin pointed out, a weekly golf page formerly was a staple of The Tribune and other newspapers, focusing on local developments in the game and highlighting courses and PGA professionals. That presence is greatly diminished now in traditional publications, making Fairways (digitally and in print) and innovations such as the “Reround” show increasingly vital.
So many people in the Utah golf community have stories that need to be told, and I hope to deliver that material in this column. This phrase often comes to my mind: I don't love golf, as much as I love golfers. Utah golfers, especially. I have so much admiration and appreciation for people who play and administer the game at every level and create the fabric of golf in our state.
Being around golfers is so enjoyable for me that I don't even have to play to have fun. For example, I like to practice at Forest Dale Golf Course in the area between the Nos. 5 and 7 fairways, hitting and pickup balls and watching golfers play those holes and the par-3 No. 6 behind the practice tee. I study their swings and watch them interact with the others in their group, and think about how golf brings people together.
So I hope to tell their stories, from the PGA Tour players to the municipal course foursomes, like the characters who used to inhabit the nine-hole University Golf Course, where I once played upwards of 1,000 holes every year. (That makes me a prime example of the effects of closing a course, but that's a story for another day.)
While promising to look for the stories of “real people,” I acknowledge that nothing is more satisfying than following the Utahns who pursue professional golf as a career, whether or not they make it to the PGA Tour. They're representing the state and playing for us. I'll always remember a Tribune profile of former Gov. Mike Leavitt that mentioned how he liked to check his computer for the scores of Utahns on the PGA Tour. That's what we all do every week, right?
That's part of membership in the Utah golf community. I'm spoiled; I know that. I was walking the back nine at Augusta National Golf Club last April when Tony Finau started making a bunch of birdies on Sunday, nearly adding his seventh in a row at No. 18 as he concluded his first Masters with a top-10 finish. Similarly, it was rewarding the previous year to watch Daniel Summerhays play in his first Masters, as the first member of a remarkable Utah golf family to compete in the event.
Finau's rise in the game has been phenomenal, especially because his arrival on the PGA Tour came at a time when two other Utahn natives, Summerhays and Zac Blair, were playing at that level. That four-year convergence was remarkable, almost mathematically impossible, when you think about 125 exempt members of the PGA Tour, juxtaposed against Utah's climate and population.
Having that threesome play together on the tour defied all probability. And maybe it can happen again, as Summerhays and Blair try to play their way back via the Web.com Tour, or other young golfers rise to that level.
And then there's longtime Utah resident Mike Weir, playing the Web.com Tour this season as preparation for his PGA Tour Champions debut in May 2020. Weir represents his own generation of senior golfers from Utah, after the likes of Bruce Summerhays, Bob Betley, Mike Reid, Dan Forsman and Jay Don Blake have provided a lot of material in their 50s and 60s.
At the other end of the age scale, the Utah Junior Golf Association keeps nurturing and producing golfers to watch. The UJGA is helping to stock the men's and women's college golf programs in the state and eventually will have more alumni on the pro tours.
One of my favorite events of the year is the Utah Jr. Amateur. The past two summers, I've walked all 18 holes to watch Max Brenchley vs. Blake Tomlinson and Cole Ponich vs. Preston Summerhays in the boys' final matches at Oakridge Country Club, marveling at their ability. That's why I was not all that surprised the following week, when Summerhays won the State Amateur at Oakridge last June.
The kids just keep coming in Utah golf, and I'll enjoy watching them play, wherever the game takes them.
Kurt Kragthorpe is a Salt Lake Tribune sportswriter and frequent contributor to Fairways.