PROVO — Handyman Mike Bate headed for his black Ford 150 pickup truck at 8 a.m. to go home. He’d been at the golf course all night sawing pieces of railroad ties for tee box markers.
This simple act by a guy with a sawzall tool and his all-nighter a week ago is symbolic of the work put into creating a new face and name at the old East Bay Golf Club. The course has endured the brunt of developmental hacks, scraps and scars since its inception in 1923, even before there was a Yankee Stadium in Gotham.
Provo golfers have been pulled like a yo-yo. Bounced like a pinball.
From now on, it will be known by its historical name, Timpanogos Golf Club, and the facility is now a state-of-the art golf billboard reflecting the most dominating geographical feature in Utah Valley. It also provides a full serving of community golf.
On Wednesday, the city revealed a breaking-edge golf complex. Nothing in Utah compares. It features a redesigned 18-hole championship course, a nine-hole lighted night-golf-capable executive course, and a beginner’s seven-hole course that uses tennis balls and special kid clubs to play the layout.
“This is a generational addition to recreation in the city,” said Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.
“There is nothing like it in Utah,” said Kean Ridd, former head pro at East Bay and the old Timpanogos course for 38 years.
Provo City Parks and Recreation director Scott Henderson called it a renaissance that will be a model for future golf courses in cities nationally.
“This new concept of golf course services will revolutionize the golf industry in taking the sport to everyone,” said Henderson. “Many times I told (golf manager/professional) Brett Watson that this project is a ‘big swing,’ but he and (course superintendent) Craig O’Farrell have delivered the best for Provo.”
“This new course is still new and grass is still growing, but long after the timing of the project is forgotten we will have the facility that changed the golf industry,” said Henderson.
Years after Provo scraped three holes to the west off the East Bay Golf Course to make way for a medical school, the facelift is complete, including a name change to Timpanogos Golf Club announced in a ceremony Wednesday at the new No. 15 par-3 island green.
What you have now is what was once a controversial move, flipped into a monumental shift in the city’s recreation offerings with positive vibes. All parties that were once in heated debate — the city, the medical school and golfers — are now soaking in the change.
“We’ve never had better neighbors than the people at the medical school,” said Watson, who has poured his life into the course the past few years in a redesign that included hauling in 100,000 cubic feet of sand, most of it for the No. 15 island green.
Once called the First Ward Pasture Cattle Company in the early 1900s, Union Pacific Railroad helped create the old Timpanogos Golf Course. That layout was moved to the current place in East Bay in 1986, part of which was created out of the city landfill.
“The new course and name reflect a lot of study and research with the designer to capture the long and storied history of the Timpanogos Golf Course. Both No. 9 and 18 feature a view of Mount Timpanogos, as do other holes and there is a man-made hill that backs No. 14 that is a replica of the mountain,” said Watson, who began his golf career with the city as a cart boy 23 years ago.
The redesign features three newly configured par-5 holes on the front nine that force golfers to make shot decisions unique to the feel of the course. The lakes that line the course have been sloped and will be banked with grass and fescue grass, which has yet to fill in with a full growing season.
It also features waste bunkers, an exclusive golf course addition to the scene in Utah but popular at such national treasures as TPC Sawgrass in Florida. It’s an area that does not have sand, but is a traffic area without grass that golfers can hit out of without penalty.
“A lot of people don’t understand what a waste bunker is, but it is a design feature,” said Ridd. “What this course now has is a lot of definition that it didn’t have before.”
At first glance, the redesign needs growth. The tee boxes and eight new greens — some sodded and some grown from seed — are ready to go. But the in-between areas will require fall and spring growth to reach the desired impact to the eye.
Said Watson, “The change-up in scenery and landscapes will be evident to golfers. This is not the same course. The use of railroad ties in places all over the course gives it a different look and feel, but reflects the history of the tie-in with the railroad and the roots of this land, which has been used for golf for almost a hundred years, the second oldest course in Utah.”
The proposed medical school agreed to finance three new holes on the eastern boundaries of the property near the old Kuhni’s meat processing plant, which is now located between Nephi and Scipio. Provo City then came up with an additional $4 million to make redesigns of the exciting layout, including bridges, new fairways, tee boxes, greens and bunkers.
In the bigger state golf scene, courses across Utah have experienced an increase of as much as 20% revenue during COVID-19 as golfers flooded tee sheets, many of them in Utah County siphoning off golfers that called the old East Bay course home. Provo City’s pause on golf play cost revenue in 2020 but Henderson and Kaufusi said the course has been self-sufficient when up and running — a fact many municipal courses would love to have.
Timpanogos is back. It’s a “big swing,” as Henderson explains.