One is the oldest golf course in Utah, while the other is the oldest municipal golf course in the state. While neither course is ever likely to receive awards for their fancy layouts or amenities, they are both enjoyable golf courses to play with loyal clienteles.
We’re talking about the Forest Dale and Nibley Park golf courses, which are both located on the southern edge of the Salt Lake City boundaries, less than a mile apart. Regulars have nicknamed them “the Sugarhouse 18.”
Forest Dale and Nibley don’t receive the attention afforded other Salt Lake City courses, such as Bonneville or Mountain Dell, or even Glendale and Rose Park, each of which are 18-hole layouts. Both are 9-hole courses situated on relatively flat ground. Nibley is bounded by 5th East and 7th East, south of 27th South, while Forest Dale is located east of 9th East and south of the 1-80 freeway.
Longtime Salt Lake City professional Steve Elliott oversees both courses as the head professional, following in the footsteps of iconic Salt Lake City professionals Tom McHugh, Alex McCafferty and Tom Sorensen at Nibley and Jerry Henderson and Don Dorton at Forest Dale. Several other longtime Utah golf professionals have spent time at the two courses including Jeff Waters, Mack Christensen and Lynn Landgren.
Elliott splits his time each week between the two courses often opening one course in the morning and working at the other in the afternoon. The fact that they are about a 4-minute drive makes it easy for him to keep his eye on both.
“There’s a lot of history at these two courses,” said Elliott, who remembers watching the City Parks Open at Forest Dale with his parents and playing in the Utah Junior Open at Nibley Park in the early 1960s when it was about the only junior tournament going.
Forest Dale was built in 1906 and is the oldest existing course in the state. The original clubhouse, which was designed by Fredrick Albert Hale, is still standing, although it has been renovated on the inside and currently houses the Salt Lake City golf offices besides the golf shop and restaurant.
In its early days, Forest Dale hosted several prominent people including President William Howard Taft in 1909. Back then it was the Salt Lake Country Club until it was sold to Salt Lake City. It hosted the City Parks Open for a couple of decades beginning in 1943 and by 1956 was touted as “the world’s largest golf tournament” with nearly 750 contestants.
In 1958, the course was sold to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had plans to turn the course into a junior college campus. However, those plans never materialized and 12 years later the course was sold back to the city.
By the early 1980s, there were plans to turn the property into an 18-hole executive course with a driving range, which the course has never had, but the plan didn’t come about. Instead the course underwent renovations with a new irrigation system, a large lake, new tee areas, numerous berms and mounds and re-opened in July of 1987.
The greens at Forest Dale are small and many are the original greens. The best holes on the course may be the final three. No 7 is a par-5 that doglegs right, around a lake, No. 8 is a short-par three with a lake to the back and sides, while No. 9 is a 449-yard par-4 the doglegs left and runs parallel to 9th East.
Nibley Park opened in the spring of 1922 and like Forest Dale, still has several of the original greens. The layout has changed a few times, most recently in 1982 when the current clubhouse was built, moving from the corner of 27th South and 7th East.
The land where the golf course sits, was originally an open-air amusement park that was built in 1864, just 17 years after the first pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley. Called Calder’s Park Resort, it attracted folks from all over the valley for swimming, fishing, and boating, bicycling, horse racing and also included a dance hall.
In 1902, the land was sold to the LDS Granite Stake and became Wandamere Park. Then in 1921, railroad magnate Charles W. Nibley bought the property and bequeathed it to Salt Lake City for its first municipal golf course. In the deed, he stipulated that it could never be sold, subdivided or desecrated. Six months later LDS Church President Heber J. Grant dedicated the course, hitting the first ball of No. 1 tee.
Perhaps the most memorable hole for golfers at Nibley is the par-3 9th, which was formerly No. 4. The tee shot is all carry over a lake to a wide green with a bunker in front.
Elliott had taken over for Waters at Nibley in 1992 before moving on to Rose Park and later to Bonneville. He had the opportunity to return to Nibley two years ago when Salt Lake City rotated its golf professionals and enjoys seeing a lot of the same clientele, which includes a lot of couples, seniors and beginners.
He said Forest Dale gets a little more play with just over 40,000 rounds played last year, while Nibley was closer to 30,000. Both courses have men’s and women’s leagues, but Elliott said golfers can usually walk up and get on to either course around the middle of the day during the spring and summer months.
Mike Sorensen is a sportswriter for the Deseret News and a frequent contributor to Fairways.