Landscape Transformations: Golf Courses and Visual Resource Management
story and photos by Karen L. Monsen
People are master landscape transformers–farming, mining, damming rivers, building roads, and erecting structures. Deserving recognition, golf course designers and visual resource managers often strive to minimize human disturbances, preserve natural topography, and disguise man-made attributes.
Entrada and Coral Canyon are among Southern Utah’s scenic golf courses that incorporate natural landscape features. Entrada opened in St. George in 1996. By 1997, Golf Digest ranked it in the top 10 North American courses and by 1999 the second best golf course in Utah. In 2015, CNN News listed Entrada among its “Epic Golf Courses You Have To Play Before You Die.”
Entrada Golf Course was designed by Las Vegas landscape architect Pravin Bakrania, Hank Isaksen (Entrada Realty), and Johnny Miller (world-famous golfer and golf course designer). Isaksen tells how professional golfer Mike Reid, who worked with Miller on the course design, described Entrada as a symphony with three movements, “The first movement meanders down Snow Canyon Wash, offering beautiful terrain for 11 holes of the course. The second movement offers four holes set against towering red cliffs. The third movement challenges with three ‘target’ holes carved out of an ancient lava flow.”
Isaksen, a BYU geology major, loved natural landscapes and endorsed “…the mantra of all the Entrada partners not to move a rock or cut down a tree or bush that didn’t have to be removed. That concept was adhered to throughout the development of the golf course and all of the custom home lots.” The Entrada course was designed to look “like it had always been there.” In 2015, this black lava and Navajo sandstone course with desert sage, rocky washes, Cottonwood and Mesquite trees hosted 22,000 golf rounds and 20 weddings and private parties.
Coral Canyon’s website likewise boasts, “50 percent of the land is preserved as natural open space to protect views and trails.” Additionally, a paved walking path winds along the course with Pine Valley Mountain towering on the horizon. Coral Canyon opened in 2001. By 2016, Golf Magazine ranked it in the top 10 Best Courses You Can Play in the U.S.; Golf Digest ranked it in the top five courses; and Golf Week Magazine ranked it fourth in Utah public golf courses.
Visual Resource Management (VRM)
Whereas golf courses highlight natural landscapes, VRM conceals human-made elements. The BLM website states, “Visual resource management is a system for minimizing the visual impacts of surface-disturbing activities and maintaining scenic values for the future.”
At the St. George Field Office, Outdoor Recreation Planner David Kiel leads VRM efforts with recreational land use, energy development, livestock grazing, utility rights-of-ways, and wildlife habitat management. Kiel, an 18-year BLM veteran explains, “Every surface-disturbing project that is proposed for public lands must first be screened for its potential impacts to the environment. This includes impacts to visual resources.”
The Recreation/Wilderness/VRM program is staffed with five full time employees and three interns. It serves Washington County and is partially funded by fees collected for mountain biking, trail running, motorcycle races, ATV and 4WD group events, guided hunting, rock-climbing, and canyoneering. VRM becomes an issue, according to Kiel, “…if the proposed project on public lands conflicts with the Visual Resource Management Class that has been assigned to the particular tract of land.”
Kiel elaborates, “Take for instance pump houses for water wells. Even if a small structure like this fits within a VRM Class, that doesn’t mean its visual impact can’t or shouldn’t be camouflaged. The most obvious thing we do is to assign a color for the structure to be painted. This is a very underrated part of the process. Dark colors fade into the background. Light colors pop out.”
Kiel encourages public participation, “Pay attention when large projects are proposed and carefully read the VRM sections of environmental analyses. Provide comments regardless whether you agree or disagree with the findings. More public input equals better projects.”
Throughout history, writers and artists have expressed joy, awe, and reverence derived from viewing natural landscapes. In his book Home Ground, local writer and Zion Natural History Association Executive Director Lyman Hafen recalls taking Arnold Palmer to inspect a proposed golf course site near Highway 18 in what was called Paradise Canyon. Hafen wrote Palmer uttered words like, “spectacular,” “magnificent,” and “awesome.” Although Palmer never built his golf course following that 1984 visit, other courses and subdivisions have transformed local landscapes to varying degrees.
Hafen lamented, “We have succeeded in making the desert blossom; now we are faced with finding ways to sustain a quality of life far beyond what the pioneers ever envisioned.” Hafen cautions, “…there are spaces which should not be filled with homes. And there is ground, such as this, which should always remain sacred.”
While development is unstoppable and humans orchestrate massive land transformations, we’ll count on golf course landscape architects and VRM professionals to preserve some spectacular natural vistas.
Entrada: (435) 986-2200, Coral Canyon: (435) 688-1700
“Got a lot of love between us
Hang on, hang on, hang on
To what we’ve got.”
∼ Frankie Valli song Let’s Hang On