MESQUITE, Nev. – Arguably the best course in the marketing cooperative known as Golf Mesquite isn’t even in Nevada. It isn’t even in neighboring Arizona.
But Coral Canyon, located in the small town of Washington, Utah, just northeast of St. George, is more than worth the three-state traverse it takes to get there.
Actually, it’s less than an hour away, via I-15, but you do spend 25 minutes or so of the trip cutting across the extreme northwest corner of Arizona. Thus the explanation of the “three-state traverse.”
Coral Canyon is one of nine courses on the Golf Mesquite menu. As has happened in many areas of the country--not unlike the Carolinas’ Grand Strand and Sand Hills regions, the Biloxi-Gulfport “Golfcoast” and the entire state
of Alabama through its Robert Trent Jones Trail--golf course owners, hoteliers and, since this is Nevada, casino operators have banded together to market Mesquite as a golf destination, not just another spot to pump coins into a slot machine, like Las Vegas, just an hour away to the southwest.
The effort got a shot in the arm when the ReMax World Long Drive Championship adopted Mesquite as its permanent home and the Golf Channel selected Mesquite as a location for its “Big Break” reality show in 2007.
To promote the area, Golf Mesquite stepped in to host what had been called the Scottsdale Media Golf Classic, an event that had drawn golf writers and broadcasters from across the nation and beyond to the Arizona desert in early December for the past nine years. But when the Arizona hosts said they no longer wanted to fund the event, the folks in Mesquite were happy to step in and step up.
In 2011, after nearly a decade of congregating in Scottsdale, writers from as far away as Canada, Europe and even Iceland, spent most of the first full week of December sampling nearly half of Mesquite’s golf offerings, while calling the Casa Blanca Resort and Casino home.
From the hotel, it was little more than 45 minutes to Coral Canyon, a Keith Foster design that is more than worth the drive. And that’s even if the drive were boring, which it is anything but. In fact, the drive itself would be worth the time, even if there weren’t a really good golf course waiting at the other end.
Less than 30 miles of I-15, an interstate highway that runs from San Diego to the Canadian border just south of Calgary, is in Arizona. But that short stretch of pavement takes you through what is called the Virgin River Gorge. It’s a drive that can only be described as spectacular. Though the rock formations are different – more sedimentary reds and beiges than the igneous blue-grey granite of Colorado – it’s not unlike the portion of I-70 that plunges deep into Colorado’s Glenwood Canyon.
With one exciting drive behind you, you are ready to challenge Coral Canyon, a 7,000-plus-yard layout stretched out over a broad valley floor and framed by mountain ridges in every direction. Foster has given the golfer plenty of room to play here, with generous fairways leading to generally large greens. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a premium on driving.
On the contrary, Coral Creek is a course that presents numerous risk-reward challenges that make this one of the most strategically interesting desert courses we have ever reviewed in Metrolina Golf Magazine.
The par-4 fifth hole is a perfect example. It’s just 365 yards from the blue or back tees and only 343 from the whites. But the hole plays dramatically downhill, and the overall elevation of southeast Utah further shortens the effective yardage even more. But before you automatically reach for your driver, notice how the once ample fairway squeezes through an hourglass opening some 75 yards short of the green. Turn a high draw through or over the wasp-waisted gap and you’re rewarded with a short pitch or maybe even an eagle putt. Of course, you could always hit a long iron or rescue club off the tee, but where’s the fun in that?
As The Eagles musically advised, “Take another shot of courage” and go with the driver. All you’re risking is a lost ball … and a double bogey.
The next hole is a gem of a par 3 set flush against a deep, rocky ravine to the left and more rocks and desert to the right. It’s just 110 yards from the back, but before you dismiss this as “pitch and putt,” let me remind you that the seventh at Pebble Beach is just 107 from the tips, and many of the game’s best players think it’s one of the best par-3s in the world.
But let’s get back to driving strategy. And to do that, we only have to advance one hole. That’s because the 432-yard seventh might just might require your best drive of the day, if you want to set up the best approach, that is. Sure, you can take a three-wood and play safely out to the right of the first bunker down the left side. But you’ll face a long approach. If you want to challenge the hole, you must fit a driver between two more bunkers that pinch the landing area to less than 20 yards near the 150 mark. With mountains to the right and another deep desert wash area left, this is a drive that demands your full attention, not to mention precise execution.
That’s the story of Coral Canyon in microcosm. This is a course that, if you choose to play safe, you’ll always find plenty of room for your shots. But to score really well here, you’ll need to cash in on some of the rewards the architect is offering the risk-taking golfer.
Regardless of your decision, plan to play Coral Canyon early enough to finish by mid-afternoon. That way, you’ll have time to take the short drive up into Utah’s Zion National Park, which is just minutes away. There, you can enjoy some of the most awesome scenery – not to mention sunsets – our National Park Service has to offer before you make the short and scenic drive back to Mesquite.