Ticket to the Masters lies at Soldier Hollow
For all of its lush greens, red-rock settings and wide-ranging versatility, golf in Utah has never hosted a national golf championship tournament.
Until this month.
Starting July 9, the Wasatch Back will be the center of the United States Golf Association (USGA) universe as the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship comes to the Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway.
The 87th tournament, one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, has a storied history dating back to 1922. The tournament will welcome 156 of the nation’s top amateur golfers as well as six international players.
For Chris Newson, the PGA professional at Soldier Hollow since its inception in 2004, the tournament is an opportunity to showcase one of the top public golf courses in the country, tucked comfortably in the shadow of Mount Timpanogos and less than a mile from Deer Creek Reservoir.
"This is an once-in-a-lifetime thing, obviously," he said. "This has never been done before in the entire state."
Newson said the last week has involved last-minute touch-ups around the course, but added that he’s trying to find time to soak it all in before the competitors converge on Soldier Hollow on Monday.
Newson and Soldier Hollow filed a formal application with the USGA to host the championship back in 2008. Following the application, Newson visited the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Norman, Okla., to get a feel for what the atmosphere was like. The course continued the application process in 2009 and was awarded the tournament in 2010.
"It’s something I’ve been carrying around with me since 2008," he said. "The fact that it’s actually happening is mind-boggling. It’s hard work, but it’s hard work you knew was coming."
In the last four years, Newson, along with various subcommittees and department chairs have helped Soldier Hollow break the Beehive State record of never having hosted a national championship golf tournament.
"A tight-knit group of people made this happen, and that part is exciting," Newson said. "Now, there is the pay off. I’ve always been big on symbolism; we have the USGA flag at the golf course and have USGA tee markers and are going to have flags for each of the holes."
That symbolism continues with the 44-foot scoreboard constructed for the week-long tournament. He said it will be identical to the scoreboard that was featured at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., two weeks ago during the 2012 U.S. Open.
"We’re now in that category of facilities that have hosted a USGA event," he said.
Asked if he ever thought this would one day happen, Newson pointed to 1999, when the course was under construction. He said that, after numerous feasibility studies, they concluded that if they built two courses — which would become the gold and silver courses — one would have to be significantly more difficult in order to host a national championship tournament.
The layout for next week’s event will be a hybrid of both courses, Newson said. It will incorporate 17 holes from the gold course and one from the silver. Championship hole No. 11 will be unique in that it will be played down the fairway toward the No. 2 hole on the gold course and go over to the fairway of the No. 11 hole on the silver course.
There will be a 545-yard par-four hole that Newson said is most likely the longest par four in U.S. amateur public links history.
"The USGA phrase used is they want their championship to identify the best player in the field, but the course needs to be a stern test to do that," he said. "We’ve hosted the Utah State Amateur Tournament three times and we’re known for wind up here, but every time the state am comes, the wind goes away. So we’re kind of hoping that there’s wind for the USGA, so they can experience the course on a regular difficult day."
And if there wasn’t enough on the line already for the field of players, the winner of the five-day tournament will qualify for a spot at the 2013 Masters.
"That’s the big ticket," Newson said.
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