In the Beehive State, a Place to Chase Birdies—Not Bees—All Year Long
Ledges and links.
- Written byShaun Tolson
The sage- and juniper-covered hills of northcentral Utah’s Heber Valley are gradually coated white as fat and fluffy snowflakes drift to earth. It’s the end of November, and in this early winter snow globe scene in the high, arid West, I watch as my golf ball—a high-arching shot hit with a seven iron—travels over the driving range and temporarily disappears in the flurry of snow.
As I prepare to hit another ball, I can focus exclusively on my technique—avoiding any distractions brought on by the imposing winter weather—because I’m neither cold nor covered in snow. Instead I’m comfortably warm inside one of the two enclosed, heated hitting bays at the Jim McLean Golf School Learning Center at Red Ledges, a private residential club about a 20-mile drive south of Park City.
The hitting bays at the Red Ledges Golf School are equipped with the industry’s cutting-edge technology: TrackMan launch monitors; motion-capture analysis via JC Video Systems; and BodiTrak force plates, which measure where and how a golfer exerts pressure on the ground and how that pressure changes during the swing. The bays also feature HD Golf simulators, which come in handy when the retractable doors that open to the driving range must be kept closed once serious winter storms roll in—covering the valley and the surrounding Wasatch Mountain Range in a foot or more of fresh powder.
On the topic of fresh powder, the all-season capabilities of the McLean Learning Center create an ideal environment for avid skiers who harbor just as much passion for golf. “You can learn a lot, and you can get a lot of work done in a snowstorm,” says Jon Paupore, Red Ledges’ director of golf and the Golf School’s director of instruction.
He references one of the club’s golfing members who, during the winter, often hits the slopes in the morning at the nearby ski resorts: Deer Valley, Sundance, Alta or Solitude. The member then spends a few hours in the afternoon hitting balls and fine-tuning his swing with the help of that aforementioned technology. “He’s an awesome skier, and he’s working on becoming an awesome golfer,” Jon says. “That’s the draw of Red Ledges: You can do both here.”
While the McLean Learning Center is open to the public year-round, the club’s additional golfing facilities—namely the 7,500-yard Jack Nicklaus Signature Course and the 12-hole Golf Park, a mixed-use area also designed by Nicklaus for “relaxed family fun”—are exclusive privileges that come with a golfing membership. To see them in full bloom during the golf season is often all that’s needed to convince a prospective member that entry into the club, which requires a $75,000 deposit and $9,250 annual dues, is worth the investment. (Residential offerings start
The Golf Park is unique: It’s the first of its kind to be designed by Nicklaus, and it presents an ideal atmosphere for newcomers to learn the game and for avid and seasoned golfers to enjoy fun, casual rounds with their friends. For some—like Mitchel Burns, the club’s COO—the golf park also provides a great opportunity to squeeze in a few holes at the end of the day while walking his dog.
Despite the appeal of the Golf Park, Red Ledges’ championship course remains the club’s crown jewel. It’s also distinct for having bentgrass fairways at such a high altitude, but that fairway turf is paramount to the exceptional playing experiences the course provides.
“Bentgrass creates that perfect lie,” explains Pat Christoffer, the club’s superintendent. “It creates the opportunity to hit different shots. You can hit balls high, you can hit them low, you can hit running shots, and it gives you ultimate control of your club. It’s the finest turf you can have.”
Beyond its turf, the course is seductive for its varied terrain, the prominent changes in elevation, the dramatic vistas and, ultimately, its difficulty.
“It’s one of the highest slope-rated golf courses in the state, but that only adds to the challenge and benefit of playing here,” Jon says. “If you can play this golf course well every day, you’re going to be a better golfer. You can go to any other golf course in this area and feel like it’s a piece of cake because you’re regularly playing on the very best.”