Located in Heber City, twenty-five miles to the
southeast of Salt Lake City, the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature layout at Red
Ledges became the 200th Nicklaus Design golf course to open in the United
States when first unveiled in 2009.
Offering stunning views of the Rocky Mountains from every hole, the Red Ledges course is carpeted in a variety of bent grass playing surfaces on all its tees, fairways and greens, with rough areas around the holes consisting of a mixture of rye grass, blue grass and fescue.
The course is far from flat; indeed, there’s more than seven hundred feet of elevation change across the property, ensuring that golfers will use every club in their bag when playing holes laid out across such a challenging landscape.
In 2016, Red Ledges collaborated with the Golden Bear to design and build the first-ever Jack Nicklaus Signature 12-hole Golf Park, a short, par-3 layout with forgiving greens to encourage more family-friendly play.
This new layout also features several innovative aspects, including multiple cups on the putting surfaces – a traditional 4¼” and a larger 8” – and new, single-rider skateboard-style machines.
I have been a keen follower of various Jack Nicklaus designed courses. My total count is just under 80 globally. I have seen the earliest works which included a certain formulaic process -- favoring a disproportional share of holes calling for a left-to-right ball flight -- the trajectory Nicklaus used to great success during his playing career. Over the course of time the Golden Bear evolved his thinking -- knowing earlier elements he had eschewed previously would be needed for both the developer / owner and those playing his courses.
Red Ledges faced bad timing when opening in 2009 -- coming forward right after the start of The Great Recession. Things were so tenuous owners were even offering a Mercedes for prospective buyers of real estate at the development.
Much of the design at Red Ledges shows a clear inclusion of different design elements Nicklaus incorporated in recent times. Some of those influences came from the joint effort Nicklaus did with Tom Doak when creating the Long Island gem Sebonack in 2006. Nicklaus clearly benefited from the collaboration in seeing the complex and testing greensites Doak and his talented associates created. Nicklaus had often times used length, excessive bunkering and water to bolster many of his designs.
Red Ledges is located about 45 minutes by car from Salt Lake City -- the State's largest city. In recent years -- the development of golf in the Wasatch mountain range area has seen a big time push -- often times linked with ski facilities looking to generate additional revenue during the warmer months -- most especially in the Park City vicinity.
Red Ledges is just south of that area -- situated on rolling terrain and provides quite an appealing scene. The contrast between the native red rocks and the finely cut verdant green grass is truly striking. The course is spread on a massive site with little clutter between the holes as home sites have been wisely located without being an annoying distraction.
Right off the bat -- keep this firmly in mind. Red Ledges is a testing round of golf. Choose your tees carefully because liked the famed Romulans from Star Trek fame -- no prisoners will be taken. There's plenty of width but anyone who overly assesses their ability will receive a rude awakening when playing.
The opening hole is a grand start to the round. The tee is placed high above the 427-yard hole -- in the background you'll see mountains looming. The hole turns right ever so slightly -- a solitary bunker pinches in from the right and the gap between it and the left rough narrows considerably. You have to decide how aggressive you wish to play. The green is particularly well done -- running on a diagonal with the left side thoroughly protected. If the pin is placed in the extreme back left you'll have to play a first rate approach to both land and stay there.
Two successive long par-4's follow -- the 2nd going uphill and the 3rd going downhill. Both are solid for what the player is required to do. The par-3 4th is well done -- a narrow landing area with falloffs provided.
The course then heads back in the opposite direction with a par-5 that's functional. The par-4 6th is especially memorable. The hole turns left in the drive zone -- two bunkers guard that area like a junkyard dog and need to be avoided. Once again -- Nicklaus employs a bottleneck concept -- the deeper the tee shot the greater the demand for pinpoint accuracy. A pond protects the right side with a single bunker on the left. the key with the 6th is being much aware of what you can reasonably produce with your game because failure is swiftly adjudicated with a verdict not be favorable to the player.
The 7th that follows is another functional par-5 hole in which players can attempt to get back a dropped shot. At the 8th you play another long two-shot hole -- going slightly uphill and turning ever so gently to the right -- again with a fairway that tapers considerably. The green is another well done site -- angled from left to right and protected by a key bunker on the right side.
The concluding hole for the outward nine is an unusual hole but one clearly special. The par-3 plays 203 yards and is assisted by trees which block a view of much of the right side of the green. The putting surface is fiendish -- narrow in the front and rear areas with fall-offs. The prudent play is hit towards the center of the hole and go from there.
The inward half commences with three challenging par-4's -- each different in terms of topography and shot requirements. The 10th sports another narrow green which can be nearly impossible to hit and hold if one lands in the rough. The 11th is less rigorous off the tee but again the greensite is quite finicky on what kind of approach shot will succeed to this angled green from left to right. The par-4 12th is one of those holes that the word "stunning" is often overused but fits aptly here. The scenery is mesmerizing -- just don't allow your mind to wander. If you can clear the lone right hand bunker the approach angle is far more receptive.
At the 218-yard par-3 13th the green is again angled on a left-to-right basis. The most successful shot will be one in which the ball flight favor a left-to-right movement and running the ball on is an option. Nicklaus does provide an opportunity to finish strong as two par-5's make up the final five holes. The 14th is reachable in two for stronger players and the 16th is also a birdie possibility when played well. On the flip side the Golden Bear does not ease up -- the 15th is a longish par-3 that maxes out to 263 yards -- like the 13th -- one can use the terrain to feed the ball into the large putting surface.
The 17th and 18th are both quality par-4 holes. The former plays 472 yards and favors a right-to-left ball movement off the tee. As before -- the fairway bottlenecks as the tee shot goes longer. The concluding par-4 at 422 yards often plays back into the prevailing wind and can easily include an additional 1-2 clubs more on the approach to another first rate greensite.
Much is mentioned about the total length of the course -- Red Ledges stretches to nearly 7,700 yards from the tips. But, it's important to point out that the elevation in the Heber City allows for considerable yardage gains because of the altitude. Just realize this -- you don't get the yardage gain without hitting the ball squarely and correctly. And, as I mentioned at the outset, it pays to realize that selecting the correct tees can make all the difference between enjoyment and outright torture.
Red Ledges is not a walkable course and power carts are mandatory. For purists that may serve as a turn-off but often times real estate developments of this type are based on maximizing real estate needs to close proximity to the course.
The development recently added a 12-hole par-3 course also done by Nicklaus and it clearly will add a "fun" dimension for members and guests.
The Utah countryside was never really in the mix for golf development until recent years and the State has clearly garnered a justifiable reputation in the ski and snowboard arenas given its recent hosting of the 2002 Winter Games. The golf side has been pushing forward and Red Ledges is clearly moving ahead on a range of fronts given the positive momentum generated. I personally like the course a great deal -- because just when you think you're playing well -- you can head there and find out if your viewpoint is fact or fiction. In a very short time you'll know your answer.
by M. James Ward