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Thanks to Doug Bybee's State Amateur victory last weekend, playing the University of Utah Golf Course is suddenly acceptable.

I wonder, is that the good news or the bad news?I was always torn between promoting the U. course and preserving the secret of the underrrated, accessible nine-hole track. Then Bybee wins the State Am and newspaper reports advertise the U. as his home course and practice headquarters, and who knows what will happen next? Playing the short, par-34 course might even become trendy.

Even before last weekend, Bybee's presence always gave playing the U. course a certain credibility. When other golfers would seem unimpressed when I'd tell them where I usually play, I'd quickly add, "It's not a bad little course . . . and Doug Bybee plays there."

In fact, Bybee has hung around the U. course for most of 12 years, ever since he arrived from Brigham City to play for the Ute golf team. After turning professional, he even worked for awhile in the tiny shack that serves as the course's clubhouse.

Since giving up pro golf and taking a full-time job as a food broker, Bybee spends plenty of evenings at the course almost year round, hitting balls and playing a few holes before dark. He even hung out at the course during the year-plus when only seven holes were open, during the construction of the Primary Children's Medical Center.

Two modern-design holes are now open and the course is back to nine holes, but it's still not your average, regulation links. Students cut right across the fairways on their way to class; others treat the course like a park, walking their dogs and playing frisbee.

And there's always some construction project under way. The latest is digging around the seventh green, creating a hazard roughly the size of the Grand Canyon.

None of which ever kept me away - and at least until the next State Am, playing at the U. will be cool. Hey, if it's good enough for the State Amateur champion . . . . It's just that other people might find out now, too.

Even though Bybee plays country-club golf with his customers, enters all kinds of tournaments and wins golf vacations around the world through business incentives, most of his golf activity is decidedly less glamorous. You'll usually find him in shorts, tennis shoes and no shirt, hitting iron shots on the field between the tennis courts and the Alumni House.

Mr. State Am blends right in with the other U. of U. Regulars: Bob, the tall, scruffy guy who plays with his two German shepherds trailing him; Ellen, the retired professor and who pushes a cart in front of her and plays three balls on every hole; and Amber, the 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati lookalike who's Vinnie McGuire's latest project.

Like Bybee, they all play at the U. because they've become attached to McGuire, himself a legendary character. Standing only about a clubhead taller than 5 feet with brightly-colored golf pants riding low on his hips, Vinnie holds court in the shack/clubhouse all day. The seventy-something pro - he just looks older - tells stories about how Snead, Hogan and the rest played there in the old days when the course belonged to the Fort Douglas Country Club and was a PGA Tour stop. That was before the University took over and started shrinking the course in favor of classrooms and other luxury buildings.

Occasionally, Vinnie emerges to give a lesson or playfully criticize a practicing Regular. "Hey, what's this?" he'll yell, mimicking a swing flaw.

He treats Bybee just the same as the other Regulars - the relationship that led to Bybee's dedicating last weekend's victory to McGuire started with just such an insult.

Even before Bybee's win and the accompanying publicity, the Regulars hardly had the course to themselves this summer. The U.'s golf traffic has increased considerably in the last few years.

Same for the unofficial, hit-'em-and-pick-'em-up driving range. Last week, Vinnie had to post "no practice" signs just to keep an area open for his lessons.

Still, the course is probably the only one around where a foursome can show up in mid-afternoon and have decent hopes of going immediately to the first tee.

Or was, anyway. Thanks a lot, Doug.