There are few destinations where in one day you can play golf in the shadow of a glacier, fly-fish next to grizzlies (don't share your granola bars), then visit a few art gallaries before savoring a lean buffalo steak dinner-and sneak in another nine holes after all that. In northwest Montana's Flathead Valley, the sun doesn't set until 10 p.m. in early summer, and though you won't find any trophy courses here, there are plenty of quality, low-fee tracks that offer the kind of inspirational views that make artists want to paint and poets get, well, all poetic.
Big Mountain Golf Club, Kalispell
7,015 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $25-$51; 800-255-5641, golfmt.com
Why it's worth it: Schizophrenia can be fun -- at least it is at Big Mountain, which sports a wide open, meadow-like links on the front nine, complete with massive wheatgrass-covered mounds separating the fairways, and a hillier back nine that darts through trees and wetlands. The best holes are 13 through 16, which play above the Stillwater River, though 17 and 18 are the most memorable thanks to the glacier ridge backdrop. Don't miss the 19th hole deli, which serves up belly-warming paninis.
Whitefish Lake Golf Club, Whitefish
North Course: 6,604 yards, par 72
South Course:6,563 yards, par 71;
Greens fee: $36-$44
Why it's worth it: It's the epicenter of golf in the Flathead Valley. The smooth greens on the more popular North Course are a putter's paradise, and a handful of holes serve up views of snow-capped Big Mountain. The 355-yard 13th is the showstopper, with its crested fairway overlooking Whitefish Lake. The South Course is roomier, but houses spoil the views. The $25 twilight rate can't be beaten.
Eagle Bend Golf Course, Bigfork
6,711 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $75
Why it's worth it: Nearly half the holes on this Jack Nicklaus/William Hull collaboration have views of Flathead Lake. The Nicklaus holes (2, 3 and 10-16) offer the best shotmaking options, most notably the wetlands-tinged 211-yard par-3 16th that plays to a boomerang-shaped green. But the most exhilarating one-shotter is the 166-yard sixth, which plunges downhill to a diagonally set green sandwiched between bunkers.
Buffalo Hill Golf Course, Kalispell
6,584 yards, par 72;
Greens fee: $46,
Why it's worth it: This everyman's club offers the simple joy of teeing it up in the tall timber without much fuss. Holes climb up and down severe slopes, often doglegging at odd angles, but this track is really all about the ambiance.
Where to eat
- [LIST "Cajun and Creole food in Montana? Your order is ready at Tupelo Grille, which is owned by a transplanted Louisianan. Try the shrimp and grits. 406-862-6136, tupelogrille.com."] [LIST " Stone fireplaces and animal heads lend a hunting-lodge feel to the Grill at Grouse Mountain Lodge, which is appropriate because this is the only menu in Whitefish on which you'll find buffalo or elk. 406-863-4700."]
Where to Stay
- [LIST "The Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish is the Valley's premier place to bunk. Rates start at $199. 877-862-1505, grousemountainlodge.com."]
What to do
- [LIST "Outdoorsmen will love Glacier National Park. For a less rigorous thrill, take your car for a whirl on the park's vertigo-inducing, 52-mile-long Going to the Sun Road. 406-888-7800; nps.gov"] [LIST "The Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish has half-and full-day horseback riding tours. 866-828-2900; thebarw.com"]