Wingin’ it

Under normal circumstances, golf courses and airports don’t usually mix. But Utah is hardly a normal place, and there is a golf course nestled at the fringes of Salt Lake International Airport that manages to pull off the odd mixture quite nicely.

Wingpointe Golf Course literally sits on the front steps of one of the biggest airports in the western United States, and in 17 years it has managed to become one of the hardest public golf courses in Salt Lake City — and not because of the 800,000-pound distractions overhead.

Wingpointe is a Mike O’Connor creation modeled after some of the first golf courses in the world. While it does not reside on a seaside, and the formation of the course is slightly natural at best, Wingpointe has a distinct link-style feel to it.

The course is basically treeless, and once inside one of the many greenside pot bunkers, golfers can literally get a whiff of what it might feel like to play at the Old Course at St. Andrews or Royal Troon in Scotland.

For what Wingpoint lacks in shots over the shoreline, it makes up for in shots over its numerous ponds. And like most links golf courses, Wingpointe is certainly a course that puts a premium on precise shot making.

The first two holes are not overly daunting in terms of distance, but a keen sense of accuracy definitely comes into play. The greens of the first two holes are nearly reachable for even the most modest long-ball hitter, but each are guarded with dense bunker systems that would challenge even the most gifted amateur hack. And that’s before one even reaches for a putter.

Because Wingpointe is basically built at the bottom of the bowl formed by Salt Lake City’s boarding mountain ranges, the greens roll as true as any in the city. But by no means are they easy. Depending on the daily mood of the grounds crew, each hole has a variety of near-impossible pin-placements to choose from.

To reach those greens in the correct amount of shots, course management has to be observed at all times.

Each hole has an optimal location, and those spots are contrasted by about 50 places that are not so appealing. If the hole doesn’t have water, it has numerous bunkers strategically placed to welcome every shot. Some holes, such as Nos. 6, 8,12 and 16, offer both.

Added to the mix are rolling hills that line many of the holes’ fairways like oversized packages of hot dogs. And if that wasn’t enough, half the holes’ fairways are outlined in a special brand of native grass that is rarely trimmed. This means if you step in the grass, finding your foot — let alone your ball — is like trying to find an unmarried college student in Provo.

Even in the driest part of summer, Wingpointe manages to stay green, lush and beautiful — at least on the front side. The backside offers a little different story.

After the 11th hole, the course moves to a remote area of the course that seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Wingpointe was designed to have two large ponds flank either side of the long par 5 15th. For the last four years, those ponds have made fewer public appearances than Mark McGwire and Boo Radley combined.

These two eyesores detract somewhat from the overall Wingpointe experience because it is possible to play balls off these barren pond beds.

Still, the challenge Wingpointe offers, especially from the black tees, is second to none. If the tees are stretched to their maximum, and the pins are stashed in their trickier locations, the course has the ability to challenge even the best amateur golfer.

Possibly due to its location, Wingpointe is usually an easy place to get onto, even without a tee time. And after the first or second hole, the airplanes become as invisible as your worries. After all, golf is golf, no matter how many times you lose your balls.

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