Villano: Removing a piece of Utah golf history

By Marco Villano

Stepping into the clubhouse at the U’s executive golf course, I expected nothing more than the worst golf course in Utah. Wow, was I completely wrong. I headed in under that assumption not only because it’s an executive golf course, and before my recent inaugural round I had never played a mediocre-at-best executive golf course, but also because the U is planning to build parking lots and buildings over part of it. I can now say, after playing this fun little nine-hole offering for my first time Monday afternoon, that the destruction of this course is an absolute travesty. The history, the shockingly impressive greens, and the length at only 2,300 yards make this course one of a kind.

I stopped in the pro shop for a moment to get an insider’s point-of-view on how he and other people are reacting to the golf course’s demise. That’s when I ran into Ben Schroeter, a student at the U and long-time employee who feels like they are taking a little piece of him away with the course.

“I’ve worked up here for over a third of my lifetime,” Schroeter said. “I started when I was just barely in high school and now I’m finishing up my last year of college, it’s been a big part of my life. It definitely stings to a lot of people.”

Schroeter went on to tell me the course was built in 1923 as an 18-hole championship course that was called the Fort Douglas Country Club. At 85 years, it is the oldest standing course in Utah and has seen some of golf’s all-time greats. It was sold to the U in the 1970s and was shortened to a 9-hole executive course, but is still reminiscent of the original.

When it was a country club, the U golf course was home to the Western Open, a PGA Tour event. Up until that time it was the only PGA Tour event ever held in Utah. I found out how legendary golfer Ben Hogan walked off of the ninth green in the middle of his round complaining about how the green was unfair. This is coming from a man who won 63 tournaments in his lifetime. To know that a golf course on which Hogan played is going to be covered with pavement makes me sick to my stomach. I may just have to take a piece of that No. 9 putting green and hang it on my wall.

The course also has a junior golf program that ranks among the best in the state. They have over 70 kids sign up weekly for their junior camps in order to get a chance to learn the game of golf. The course has a men’s league that is 140 members strong. It also gives students a chance to play a quick nine between classes with this being one of only four on-campus golf courses in the country. There are so many things that this course has to offer, it’s amazing that they could get rid of it. Somebody needed to step up and start a petition in order to keep this course alive.

“When there was kind of a chance to actually put something in motion to stop them from taking the course over, nobody really spoke up,” Schroeter said. “They had a few public forums but they weren’t very well advertised.”

Before talking with Schroeter, I played the course with a couple of regulars at the U golf course who are also students at the U. Although not being the greatest golfers ever, they were up there with the coolest guys I’ve played with. This is something that this course has to offer over anywhere else, people actually having fun while golfing. Who would have thought that this game was supposed to be fun? I asked them how they felt about this being the last year for the U golf course and they were kind enough to lay it all out on the table.

“I’m pretty devastated, it’s a fun course, it’s affordable for students and it’s easy access,” said U student Kyle Wehmanen. “To make parking lots is kind of lame. I’d rather golf than park.”

The U golf course is a bit of a sanctuary for hack golfers that feel comfortable in this element, the element, of course, being a great combination of flip flops, shanks and beginners. With me being a bit of a golf course connoisseur I absolutely adore courses such as this one because it’s a place for newbies to learn to play.

“It’s a way good course for beginners,” said mass communications student Anders Hanson. “Most everybody sucks here so it’s not really intimidating.”

The U golf course will always be in many people’s hearts, even under a thick layer of pavement. It’s a shame that somebody couldn’t do more to keep it around, but since it has already been decided, there’s several good months of use left.

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