One of Utah’s most enjoyable, picturesque, postcard-like golf courses and the pride and joy of Southern Utah has taken a gut punch from Mother Nature over the past half-decade.  Nature and development clashed in a classic showdown of gravity, water flow, government red tape, operator resources and management handoffs to create a perfect desert golf facility burp.

But, you’ll be playing better at Coral Canyon soon.

Almost 20 years ago, developers created Coral Canyon Golf Course in what was a beautiful canyon true to its name, a flood plain sandwiched between Interstate 15 and a residential and business community on one side and future real estate housing on the other. While the initial plan called for runoff water to be absorbed by the golf course and the sandy creeks that wind their way throughout the fairways, once a freeway addition and new houses came along with additional asphalt, cement and roofs collecting and dispersing water en mass, the course design failed to keep up, even when additional diversions were created.

The result was subtle issues at first, but then quickly became a nightmare as water and mud washed over the course, eroding bunkers, fairways and undercutting cart paths.  A pristine golf jewel got slapped, then slapped around again.

“About five years ago, we were doing Band-Aid fixes,” said Mark Whetzel, whose Vanguard Golf Management leases the course from SITLA, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration. Two years ago, runoff practically destroyed bunkers and paths on No. 12. Nearby businesses found runoff water inside its building. It became a major problem that required a myriad of groups to step in and create a plan to fix the issues.  “Doing the same thing to fix it over and over was just insanity,” said Whetzel.

It was time for a more permanent fix. It took a team to meet and come up with a game plan.

Those entities include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who have strict guidelines about what can be done with surface water, bridges and protected wetland areas that surround Coral Canyon.  Another was a real estate company, Cole West Homes, whose investment and sales were, in part, based on having a first-class golf course on the doorsteps of condos and homes.  A main party is the owner of the land, the state school lands. Other parties that need to be consulted are Washington County’s engineers, and the Utah Department of Transportation.

The game plan included creating new diversions for the water to the creek beds, cleaning debris from the creek beds, installing culvert pipes under the cart paths to handle runoff water without overwhelming the terrain and course.  The key was creating diversions which would use existing slopes in the floodplain without damming the water or changing the aesthetics of the land.  It involved grading parts of the property, work done by course designer and Coral Canyon partner Dale Beddo.

The work required coordination with all parties, agreements on what needed to be done and how.   Permits were filed and permissions were sought from Washington City, and state and federal agencies who are in control of what can be done to what. It’s not easy moving sand around, even in a desert.  Somebody has a say in how it gets done and Coral Canyon has plenty of generals with jurisdiction and command control.

“Coral Canyon Golf course is currently managed by Vanguard Golf with the ground being leased from SITLA,” explains Kyle Pasley, deputy assistant director of SITLA in St. George. “Originally the course was developed by SunCor in the early 2000’s and quickly became recognized as one of the best courses in Southern Utah.  After SunCor left the market in 2007, Vanguard stepped in and has managed the course as part of their portfolio ever since.

“Through the years, changes in drainage patterns have led to flooding issues that have had a major impact on several of the course’s greens and fairways.  As resources had to shift over time to take care of those issues other areas of the course became eroded as well.  Currently, SITLA is working with Vanguard to help facilitate major renovations to address the ongoing issues on the course and restore Coral Canyon to its former glory.”

The process will take at least two to three years, with this summer completing the first year of the plan, which included grading, shaping and some bunker work.  A huge wet winter and a week of three days of steady rain gave the group a great test of the first stage.  What they witnessed proved that what they’d done had worked, as drainage issues were significantly better.  For example, the runoff on the slopes near No. 7 were absorbed far more effectively than at any time before the work.

“To have all these improvements done at this time also helps sell,” said Scow. “Coral Canyon is about half built out at this point and so improving the golf course, keeping it looking good improves our property taxes for our existing owners and entices people to move here.  And that is the best thing about the golf course from a development point of view.”   Scow also believes Coral Canyon’s commercial attraction for businesses is yet to be realized.

In other words, the golf course is the Golden Goose that needs to lay the golden eggs.  If it isn’t groomed, fed and nurtured, the rest of the flock suffers. Original designers of the course had no idea what would happen to No. 7’s steep slope when there were homes, streets and driveways above it.

The first and second stages include a redo of some sand bunkers, which have been hit hard by rain and runoff.  The sand which has been used looks like natural red sand, but it is actually red clay – it is tough to maintain.  The plan calls to move some bunkers on No. 12 forward and out of the flood plain area.  Those bunkers on the right and left make approaches more difficult and strategic.  The new sand will be white and will be more manageable, draining far better when rain and runoff hits.

The bunkers will get new drains, liners and sand and many of the deep faces will be taken out to prevent the edges from receding.  That work is going on now.

In the last stage of the work, tee boxes which are near the flood plain will be moved or enhanced.  One hole that will change in this tweak is the signature hole, the short par-3 No. 6.  The middle tee on that hole, is hammered.  It doesn’t get enough growth because it receives high play in winter months and was never designed to handle 38,000 – plus rounds.  By enlarging the tee box complex from the green to the back tee, it will give managers more choices in how to manage traffic and use. With more room to rotate tees on No. 6, it will provide a different look to the hole without losing the current attractive approach.  It will be one continuous tee box from back to front.

“These renovations include re-sculpting many of the drainage areas, enhancement of fairways and tee boxes as well as upgrades in the bunkers. This and other beautification projects and upgrades should go a long way in restoring Coral Canyon to its rightful place as one of the best courses in Utah,” concluded Pasley.

Coral Canyon is one of the most popular courses on the Golf Mesquite Nevada menu. The ongoing enhancement project is being done in a way as to not disrupt play, as much as possible. The greens at Coral Canyon, as always, remain some of the best in Utah and soon all guests will be playing better at throughout the course.

“We, along with our partners, are committed to providing a championship golf course and a better experience,” said Whetzel. “Better fairways, better bunkers, better tee boxes, and better cart paths will lead to a better overall playing experience. In the meantime, pardon our dust, as the saying goes, and soon you will be playing better at Coral Canyon Golf Course.”