Alan Ashton co-founded the word processing application Wordperfect in 1979 and then sold the multi-million dollar business to another software company in 1994, allowing his wife Karen and himself to establish Thanksgiving Point shortly after the sale was completed.
Located in Lehi, to the south of Salt Lake City, this garden and museum complex – featuring the Museum of Natural Curiosity and the Museum of Ancient Life – includes a Johnny Miller-designed course which weaves its way around several of the attractions on the property.
Measuring 7,714 yards from the back tees and occupying an area of two hundred acres, the course at Thanksgiving Point comprises the largest public golf facility in the state of Utah, with fairways laid out on either side of the Jordan River as it flows towards Great Salt Lake.
Highlight holes include the 495-yard 6th, where the fairway is flanked by gated gardens to the left and the river on the right; the 678-yard 11th, requiring an intimidating long carry over water off the tee; and the 250-yard 17th, where a tight bend in the river forms a peninsula green site for this par three.
If I could describe Thanksgiving Point in one word, that would be this: Hard. It is has the highest difficulty rating of any public course in Utah, and it delivers that challenge in spades. This isn't really a course with any particularly great views, just a raw challenge with some great craftsmanship to go with. There's a reason it's been used to host pro events. Playing your recommended tees for your skill level is highly recommended on this course, as overconfident players will quickly regret it otherwise, and I speak from experience.
The course's front 9 is best viewed as a warmup. Starting with a some rather short holes that do a good job easing a player into the course. Then the real challenge starts to kick in with the longer par 5 on hole 5, but still nothing too punishing so long as you hit accurately.
The back 9 starts innocently enough with a moderately long par 4. But from then on, the kiddie gloves are off starting with one of the longest par 5s in Utah. These holes will crush the overconfident player teeing too far back, and still pose a serious challenge even if they aren't. Accuracy is an especially high premium here.
-3rd: A driveable par 4, it also boasts the bizarre spectacle of a drive-through bunker, the only part you can drive a cart on this hole. Stay away from the big bunker on the left and a good score can be achieved.
-4th (pictured): A downhill par 3, use a club less than the yardage suggests. Getting a par becomes a serious challenge if missing the green to the left.
-14th: A tight dogleg left par 5, it provides a solid risk-reward proposition to the long-hitter. Try to cut off a big chunk of the dogleg for a potential chance to reach the green in 2? Or play it safe and go for it in 3? Just be sure to stay out of the water, or else you're in for a very bad time on this hole.
-17th: The longest par 3 of the course, downhill, and covered with water on both sides. Pick your club wisely, because this hole gives a lot room to hook or slice, but very little for hitting short or long.
Thanksgiving Point isn't for everyone, those looking for a nice, easy, and forgiving round won't find one here. This is for the players who want, or can at least accept, a good challenge. If that's what you're looking for, then Thanksgiving Point won't disappoint. Whether a player comes out humbled or plays the round of their life, it's a great taste of the kind of challenging layout that is the day job of the professional golfer.
When I first played the course just a year or two following its opening -- one could not play on Sundays because of the Mormon connection with the ownership. That has since changed.
The Johnny Miller design starts out rather tamely but matters intensify once you reach the midway point of the outward side. If the prevailing wind is blowing from the southwest -- you can expect the par-5 5th at 617 yards to play very long. The same can be said of the remaining four holes on the front side.
The inward side is even longer than the front and it takes a quality tee game in order to have an opportunity in scoring. Be sure to choose your tee location wisely.
The main drawback with the course is that the holes follow a south / north and north / south direction. There's also very little in terms of finesses holes that would really add to the mixture of the holes. The quality short par-4 3rd just comes too soon into the round and is quickly in one's rear view mirror.
Wind velocities can also wreak havoc as there's no real trees to block whatever breeze is blowing that day. The greens are a good mixture but it would have been a real plus to see a richer depth of contours calling upon one's approach play to be a bit more precise.
As mentioned earlier, Thanksgiving Point requires a quality game and the holes are very good on the whole. The missing element comes from having a gifted architect at a slightly higher level providing the remaining design elements with a better mixture of holes and design details that showcase the putting surfaces beyond being more than rudimentary end points for one's approaches. Nonetheless, for those who venture to Salt Lake City it's well worth scheduling a visit and seeing firsthand.
M. James Ward