Coming Attraction: Utah State Amateurat Soldier Hollow
By Kurt Kragthorpe
Soldier Hollow Golf Course forever will have a distinction in Utah golf history as the first venue to host a United States Golf Association event.
The 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship remains the only USGA tournament held in the state. The State Amateur keeps coming back to Midway. As of 2027, Soldier Hollow will have staged the event eight times over 22 years.
“We just thought it was a great golf course,” said Joe Watts, who was the UGA executive director in 2004 when Soldier Hollow opened. The course staged the State Am in '06 and again in '08, and has remained solidly in the rotation ever since, joining various country clubs.
The UGA has adopted basically an every-four-years approach to booking Soldier Hollow, partly because of a commitment to honoring Utah's fabric of public golf facilities. The 36-hole venue initially inspired the expansion to 288 players, because of the availability of two courses for the stroke-play portion of the event, and that convenience is another selling point of Soldier Hollow, operated by Utah State Parks & Recreation.
“Having two courses (operate) out of one clubhouse is a huge advantage,” said Soldier Hollow head pro Chris Newson.
Soldier Hollow has other factors going for it as well:
The Setting Placed on a shelf of the Heber Valley, Soldier Hollow offers spectacular views in every direction. From the upper holes on the Gold course, the venue unfolds into a giant bowl, with the entire Silver course visible below.
The Public Links used only the Gold course, with the asterisk of one modified hole. The State Am uses each course in stroke play, and the contrasting nature of the Silver course (with its six par-5s and six par-3s) offers considerable variety. Between the two courses, “You have to be able to hit every shot,” said 2015 winner Jordan Rodgers.
The Silver course should produce markedly lower scores in stroke play, although maybe not quite like the 60 that State Am defending champion Preston Summerhays shot in an U.S. Amateur qualifying event last summer.
The Options Once match play begins, the Gold course is built to accommodate its own varying looks. Any match that reaches No. 18 will get really interesting, especially if UGA officials move up the tees to make it a drivable hole. On his way to the 2013 title, Cole Ogden hit one of the most memorable shots in State Am history, hitting a 3-wood shot to within inches of the hole for an eagle that enabled him to close out his quarterfinal match.
No. 18 offers “a million ways to play it,” said UGA Executive Director Jacob Miller. Elsewhere on the Gold course, different tee boxes can dramatically change the angles and distances of several holes and “really mix up the golf course for the players,” Miller said.
Being able to lengthen the setup to about 7,700 yards is among the UGA's options. The huge greens create all kinds of potential hole locations and the fairways can be adjusted to various widths.
Jeff Evans, the 2011 winner and 2013 runner-up at Soldier Hollow, said he hit his driver on only one hole of the Gold course, believing that staying in the fairway was paramount to playing well.
The Operation The UGA's experience in conducting the State Am almost always ensures a good experience for the golfers, and public and private facilities such as 2018 host Oakridge Country Club like taking their turns as a showcase. It's also true that familiarity with hosting the tournament helps, and Newson has been involved so frequently that he cites “State Am withdrawal” in the years when it is played at other sites.
Newson loves the flavor of the State Am, with a new generation of golfers competing against more experienced golfers who always play their way into the match play bracket. “There's always a story; you never know what it's going to be,” Newson said. “And you're part of history; who doesn't want to be part of that?”
Newson jokes that he loves “working from sunup to sundown seven days a week” during the tournament. Nate James' days will start even earlier. As the Soldier Hollow superintendent, James has followed Steve Moulton in that role. His crew will be charged with the course's condition, an element that affects every player.
Soldier Hollow Golf Course's history in the State Amateur starts with a final match between two future PGA Tour members, and the list of winners is a good illustration of the champions that this tournament produces.
Kurt Kragthorpe is a sportswriter for the Salt Lake Tribune and a frequent contributor to Fairways.