SANDY — With the Nationwide Tour making its annual visit to Willow Creek Country Club this week for the Envirocare Utah Classic, the golfers may have a hard time recognizing the place.
Since last year's tournament, Willow Creek has undergone a major renovation that took seven months and $4.5 million to build. Although the course resembled a war zone for many months with dirt and dust everywhere, it is in remarkable shape and ready for the 72-hole tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday.
"It turned out great," said Willow Creek head pro Eric Nielsen. "It's amazing how good it looks. It was such a mess, I thought, 'there's no way this is ever going to be ready.' "
The original plan was to redo the whole irrigation system, for the course that was built in 1959. But the members decided that as long as the course was being torn up, it was time to make some changes to the course, and the remodeling began a week after last year's tournament.
Many of the changes are subtle — a fairway bunker here or a new tee there — and golfers won't notice the new sprinkling system.
However, some of the changes are major, such as new greens at No. 7 and No. 9 and the new lake between 8 and 9 and the larger lake at No. 18.
In all, the course has 25 new bunkers, mostly in the fairways, either to frame a hole better or to make the hole tougher; three new lakes and several new tees.
The most noticeable changes at Willow Creek are at the finishing holes on each nine.
The No. 9 hole, which plays as No. 18 for the members, has a new green that has been moved to the left, and trees behind the green have been removed, giving more room for spectators. The stream leading to a new lake in front of the green winds down the left side of the fairway, and there's also a new bunker in the landing area.
At No. 18, the small lake in front of the green has been extended nearly 100 yards, so tee shots that wander right will get wet. The landing area on the left side of the fairway is narrow enough that few players this week will use anything but an iron off the tee.
Changes on the front nine include new bunkers at 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6, in addition to the new green at 7, which is now smaller and lacking the severe slope from back to front. No. 8 has a new elevated tee on the right side, but pros this week will still play the lower back tee.
On the back nine, No. 11 has a new tee that extends the par-3 to 244 yards. A new tee at No. 12 has added yards to the par-5 and a couple of bunkers have been added. Three fairway bunkers at No. 14 make that hole much tougher and the par-3 15th hole has two new bunkers in front.
The par-5 17th has a new tee 25 yards back and a couple of fairway bunkers have been added to the top of the dogleg as well as one close to the green.
All of the changes make the course sound much tougher, but Nielsen believes the Nationwide players will make the proper adjustments so that the scores won't rise much. He still looks for a score between 15- and 20-under, as it has been in recent years.
"I don't anticipate the scores going up," he said. "They'll have to play it differently and manage it a little better."
CLASSIC NOTES: As usual, several players have withdrawn — most because they got a chance to play in the PGA Tour event in Canada this week — and about a dozen alternates have been added. One of the players who will be playing in Canada instead of Utah is Farmington's Boyd Summerhays . . . St. George's Jay Don Blake, who was given a sponsor's exemption, was on the alternate list and got in the tournament that way. But it was too late for the tournament sponsor to replace him with one of their four exemptions. The other exemptions went to former U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett, Big Break II finalist Don Donatello and Utah Open champion Nick McKinlay . . . World-famous trick shot artist Peter Johncke wowed the crowd at a youth clinic Tuesday afternoon with an array of amazing shots . . . Two corporate pro-ams will be played today at Willow Creek, before the main event starts Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
4 more Utahns qualify for Envirocare Utah Classic
Four more Utah pros joined the field for this week's Envirocare Utah Classic by qualifying Tuesday at Wingpointe Golf Course.
Former Utah State golfers Todd Tanner and Brett Wayment, ex-University of Utah golfer Luke Swilor and West Bountiful's Scott Hailes were among the 14 to survive the qualifying tournament and earn spots in the $450,000 PGA Nationwide Tour event. Tanner shot a 7-under-par 65, while Swilor and Wayment shot 66 and Hailes a 67.
The best scores of the day were turned in by Will Collins and Matthew Zions, who both shot 64. Rich Morris and Ben Portie both carded 65s, while Jeff Overton, Jin Park and Eric Wang shot 66. John Mallinger, Andrew Pratt and Kevin Pom Arleau qualified by shooting 67.