Moving day took on new meaning at one of Utah’s best golf courses this past weekend.
Due to significant snow accumulations in the nearby mountains, a large group of elk had taken up residence on Salt Lake Country Club, which comes in at No. 3 on Golfweek’s Best private courses in the Beehive State.
The well-manicured track, which sits just east of town along I-80 before the highway starts to climb through the mountains toward Park City, provided a respite during a winter that’s produced a deeper-than-normal snowpack.
While it’s common for elk, deer, and even moose to seek refuge in lower elevations during the winter months when food becomes scarce in the snow-covered mountains, Scott Root of the Utah Division of Wildlife said it’s the first time he’s seen elk in that area in his 32 years on the job.
“You know it’s a bad winter when you see this,” Root said. “They don’t usually cross Foothill Boulevard or I-80 and they almost never come down into the country club. But they were looking for food and they were hungry so that’s why they did it.”
On Sunday, a number of agencies came together to stop traffic on the busy interstate and push the 100-or-so elk off the country club and back up into the mountains. With helicopters hovering and cameras focused, the operation was a success.
“We finally got some good weather, and even though it’s going to be raining and snowing for the next few days, we just said, let’s push them up. We got highway patrol, the Department of Transportation, a number of groups together and we had like an hour to do it,” Root said. “Everything just worked out pretty much perfectly, better than I would have expected. If things would have gone south this would have been really embarrassing to us but everything worked out really well.
“We even had a Utah highway patrol helicopter come in and nudge the elk even higher up on the mountain.”
Root, who admitted that nerves didn’t allow him to sleep the night before the operation, is no stranger to the country club. As a teen, he worked part-time in the restaurant at the prestigious course, which moved to its current location in 1920 and was designed by William Watson (of Interlachen and Olympic Club fame) along with partner Harold Lamb. The complex hosted the PGA Tour’s Western Open in 1947, an event won by Johnny Palmer.
“I didn’t work there for the money,” Root told Golfweek. “I worked there for the free golf on Mondays. It’s a great place.”
Root added that he didn’t hear that the course sustained much damage, although he’s certain with the large animals roaming the fairways and greens that he doesn’t expect everything to come out unscathed.
“I have not been told that there was any major damage, but I’m sure there’s going to have to be some — at least they had some of their trees trimmed up and they have beautifully manicured grass out there.
“What a perfect place to go if you’re an elk. So we haven’t heard too much from the country club, but I’m sure they were more than ready to have them off there.”