A Big West Golf Road Trip

A Big West Golf Road Trip

Never thought you’d win a long-drive contest? Now you can with a golf-trip drive of more than 1,500 miles. Head west, but bypass the crowded courses in Arizona, Nevada and California. Make your way to Salt Lake City, then head north on Interstate 15 and keep going. And going. The drives out here are measured in miles, not yards, and they take you to some of the most beautiful places — and courses — in the country.

Keep going until you reach such cities as Sun Valley, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Butte, Montana. While ski

runs outnumber golf holes here, and national parks get most of the summer visitors, you’ll find a handful of high-altitude layouts surrounded by dramatic landscapes that you won’t encounter anywhere else.

Visiting all three cities in one trip — a journey that would require a full day of driving between stops — means one of three things: You have plenty of time on your hands; you have a coffee maker in your car; or you’re a golf writer being paid to rack up some serious miles.

Whatever your category, each city offers so many diversions that a little golf can provide a break from your tourist itinerary. Late summer through late autumn, before the first snowfall, is prime for three- and four-day jaunts to any one of these destinations. Just plan your route and count on pulling into a few rest stops.

If you’re flying out to these parts, odds are you’ll be routed through Salt Lake City. You can hop a small plane from there to regional airports in the Sun Valley, Jackson Hole and Butte areas. Do it that way though, and you’ll miss some terrific views of eye-popping scenery and plenty of wildlife. Instead, hit the road.

Salt Lake to Anaconda

The drive north between Salt Lake City and Butte gives you plenty of time to contemplate swing changes. The trip clocks in at six and a half hours, with the midpoint coming at Idaho Falls, where you can grab some lunch and check out the famed waterfalls of the Snake River.

Cross into Montana and you’ll weave through the Beaverhead and Deer Lodge National Forests before taking Interstate 90 west to Anaconda, home to the only U.S. course that sits atop an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Cleanup site. The copper

mines and smelters that made Anaconda famous are long gone, but on the site of an 1885 smelter stands one of the most unique reclamation projects ever conceived — Old Works Golf Course. Jack Nicklaus was hired to transform the blighted wasteland more than a mile above sea level into a golfer’s Eden. His efforts brought the town a singular distinction: Old Works was a GOLF MAGAZINE Top 10 You Can Play choice in 1998.

The Golden Bear preserved the history of the old smelter by building the front nine around Anaconda’s old Upper Works — the original ore-smelting facility — and the second nine on land that housed the Lower Works. Brick flues, slurry chutes and granite slabs from the old mill still stand, as do remnants of the Upper Works, which sit adjacent to the 3rd fairway. A historic preservation trail that takes tourists to the Upper Works passes behind the 4th tee.

The course stretches 7,705 yards from the tips, but a more manageable 6,776 yards from the middle tees. Old Works has also grabbed attention for using black slag, a byproduct of the copper-smelting process, in bunkers rather than traditional white sand. The slag, more dense than typical bunker sand, lends a surreal look to the course, but there’s a benefit: You’ll seldom get a buried lie.

Despite the site’s industrial history, Nicklaus turned it into a natural-looking layout, with four manmade ponds and Warm Springs Creek to keep you honest, along with 75 bunkers and two giant slag plateaus. A massive practice area that includes the “Little Bear” three-hole warm-up course and a 2,400-square-foot clubhouse contribute to the full-service appeal of Old Works, which deserves a star on your road map 23 miles west of Butte, between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

Ask Old Works regulars for their favorite hole, and they can’t name only one. The 7th, which plays to 238 yards from the back tees, is a prime example of how Nicklaus blended natural terrain into his high-altitude masterpiece. Every tee sits atop a natural plateau with breathtaking views of the Anaconda Pintler Mountains. A vast system of interconnected bunkers and natural-grass waste areas surrounds the green, which sits 50 feet below the tees.

When Old Works opened six years ago, it was hailed as a breakthrough for Anaconda and the surrounding community. But the small, rustic mining town still struggles to succeed as a golf destination, largely due to its lack of accommodations. A 30-room lodge being built at Old Works, with an expected opening in spring 2004, will help rectify that problem.

Currently, a few small motels in Anaconda are about all there is, with the newly remodeled Trade Wind only $59 per night and the Vagabond Motel just a 5-iron or two from Old Works. You can also arrange golf packages with lodging in Butte.

Play Old Works twice, then check out Anaconda’s saloons, theaters, abandoned mines and old railroads. Explore the Pintler Primitive area, Lost Creek State Park, Discovery Basin Ski Area and the Big Hole National Battlefield.

A fine stay-and-play spot on your way in or out of Anaconda is Fairmont Hot Springs Resort on Interstate 90, 17 miles east of Anaconda and 15 miles west of Butte. The resort’s 6,741-yard, Lloyd Wilder-designed course is more fun than fearsome. It’s a bargain at $39 per round (cart not included). Lodge guests are eligible for a discounted greens fee. Soak afterward in two hot-springs pools before heading to the Mile High Dining Room, Springwater Cafe or Whiskey Joe’s lounge.

Salt Lake to Sun Valley

Even with rest stops, the drive from Salt Lake City to Sun Valley will take about five hours, most of it on fast-moving Interstates 84 and 15, until you reach Idaho Highway 75 at Twin Falls. There you’ll head north to Sun Valley on local routes.

This part of Idaho is renowned as a ski mecca and a hangout for celebrities. Ernest Hemingway is buried in the neighboring town of Ketchum, but these days you might spot Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger or snowboarding aficionado David Duval strolling around town.

Sun Valley Resort opened its doors just before Christmas in 1936. Two years later it unveiled a course designed by William Bell, amid the pine forests near Bald and Dollar Mountains. The layout, redesigned in 1977 by Robert Trent Jones Jr., wraps around Trail Creek and changes elevation dramatically. This is pure five-star scenery.

A trio of par 3s is what you will remember most. The 5th, at 120 yards, is the shortest hole at Sun Valley, but your uphill tee shot must carry Trail Creek and a large bunker to reach a severely sloped green.

A new back tee at the par-3 15th stretches this downhill devil to 250 yards, with a vertical drop of 75 feet. Finally, the 197-yard 17th plays over a large pond that doubles as a goose sanctuary. When the hole is cut on the front-right of the green, you’ll have but 20 feet between the water’s edge and the cup.

Sun Valley Resort is the opposite of Anaconda when it comes to accommodations: The resort is a village unto itself with a total of 509 rooms at the Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn, as well as resort-owned apartments, cottages and condominiums.

Throughout spring, summer and fall, Sun Valley offers a jam-packed activities menu — you can even cool off with a whitewater ride on the nearby Salmon or Payette Rivers. As for dining, favorites include Gretchen’s in the Sun Valley Lodge, the Ram Restaurant in Sun Valley Village and Sunday brunch at the chic Lodge Dining Room in the Sun Valley Lodge. In downtown Ketchum, stop by Hemingway’s former haunt, the Pioneer Saloon, still famous for its steaks and spirits.

Also in Sun Valley is Elkhorn Resort, whose 29-year-old layout is one of the few design collaborations between Robert Trent Jones Sr. and son Robert. The course has struggled to maintain its upscale status, but that’s changing thanks to new owners who hired Troon Golf as the new management team.

But hurry: Elkhorn will close on September 17th for a massive redesign and won’t reopen until the spring of 2005.

Alternatives include snagging a tee time at the private, Hale Irwin-designed Valley Club, or getting some serious bang for your buck at the nine-hole Bigwood Golf Course just north of Ketchum, where 18 holes costs $49 (without cart).

Designed by Robert Muir Graves, Bigwood uses multiple tees that help make two loops of the layout a good day’s work. There are bunkers aplenty and magnificent views of nearby Bald Mountain.

Salt Lake to Jackson Hole

You can take divergent routes to complete the five-hour trek from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole, where the Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club and Teton Pines Country Club & Resort stand in the shadows of the towering Grand Teton Mountains.

For the best combo of scenery and speed, try Interstate 80 east out of Salt Lake City to Evanston, Wyoming, then follow the Wyoming and Utah Highway 89 signs to Afton, toward Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. If there’s no hurry, wet a fly and see how many fish you can hook in an hour on the Salt River.

It’s a slow go from Afton up the Hoback Canyon, where the Snake River meanders from Jackson and Jenny Lakes. Upon reaching Jackson Hole, head to the north side of town near the Gros Ventre River.

Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club, built on land originally owned by the Rockefeller family, has garnered international renown for its awe-inspiring views of the Grand Tetons — not to mention a family of golden eagles that lives to the left of the 9th hole.

Opened in 1963, the Jackson Hole Club hosted the 1988 U.S. Men’s Public Links Championship and the 1993 U.S. Women’s Public Links. But when the USGA called again in 2001 to invite the club to host a 2003 event, general manager Jon Pinardi was forced to say no.

His reasons? The club needed to install a new irrigation system; renovate tees, greens and bunkers; and lengthen a few holes on the 40-year-old course, originally designed by Bob Baldock and redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1972.

Now the course is getting another makeover. To accommodate the renovations and facility updates, which will include a new clubhouse, the course will close the front nine in the spring of 2004 and the back nine a year later. That will leave nine holes open at all times.

Crib Sheet
Old Works Golf Course
406-563-5989 $29-$40
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort
800-332-3272 $29-$39
Sun Valley Resort Golf Course
800-786-8259 $94-$106
Elkhorn Resort
800-355-4676 $96-$125
(carts mandatory)
Bigwood Golf Club
208-726-4024 $29-$49
Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club
307-733-3111 $78-$135
Teton Pines Country Club & Resort
800-238-2223 $60-$160
Want more? Go to www.visitmt.com, www.visitsunvalley.com or www.jacksonholenet.com

In his redesign, Jones incorporated several natural wonders and created a few wonders of his own. Perhaps his best move was building the 530-yard 11th hole around a big bend in the Gros Ventre River. The design tempts you to bite off as much as you can chew, rifling a driver down the left side and over the waters of the river to a dogleg-left fairway. Even if you play the hole safe to the right, it’s easy to go through the fairway. Jones put water hazards on 12 holes, including a series of ponds on the 169-yard 13th. The hole is named Teton Trace because of the way the Grand Tetons are reflected in the clear blue waters, creating a distraction on what is already a tough shot — all carry over water to a diabolically sloping green.

The Snake River Lodge & Spa, affiliated with the Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club, is the only premier lodge and full-service spa in Teton Village at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Be sure to stop in at GameFish restaurant at the lodge, offering new American cuisine in an elegant Western setting.

Outside the Snake River Lodge you’ll find the Alpenrose Restaurant, the Cascade Grill House & Spirits and myriad shops. The Mangy Moose is a popular watering hole — though a bit overrated as a first-class eatery — just across the village.

Just west of Jackson Hole rises the pristine Teton Pines Country Club & Resort, designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay. A series of course renovations has spiffed up this 7,412-yard, par-72 layout. Former U.S. Amateur champion John Fought was brought in to revamp the 444-yard 1st and 528-yard 14th, which he did with surpassing style.

Like Jackson Hole, Teton Pines is open to guests staying at its affiliated lodges, as well as to the public. The layout is maintained at country club quality and offers outstanding service. Sprawled at the base of the Grand Tetons — still 6,200 feet above sea level — Teton Pines lures golfers and non-golfers alike with a Jack Dennis flyfishing school between the 18th green and the clubhouse.

Teton Pines features water — not the fishing kind — on all but two holes. The 634-yard 7th is a three-shot torture track that requires an approach over a large lake to a wide, shallow green. But the four memorable finishing holes at Teton Pines typically dominate the post-round rehashes.

Off the course, Teton Pines features every amenity imaginable, and fishermen will be delighted to discover that they can cast a fly right off their verandahs into a pond or stream from several lodging units.

Golf is growing here in Jackson Hole, with a trio of new courses scheduled to open in the area by 2006. The Teton Springs Golf and Casting Club, 22 miles west of Jackson in Victor, Idaho, is slated to debut with nine holes in late summer and should have nine more in play by mid-2004.

Also in the area’s master plan is The Canyon Club, 17 miles south of Jackson near Hoback Canyon, and a yet-to-be named 18-hole course near the local high school.

Golf aside, Jackson Hole is an adventurer’s paradise. Ride the Snake River through rapids dubbed Big Kahuna, Lunch Counter and Rattlesnake. Hike, fish, mountain bike or tour one of the 50-plus art galleries in town. And don’t be surprised if you catch a glimpse of local landowners Harrison Ford and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Before departing Jackson Hole, make a point to stop by the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Saloon, where you can sit on a saddle at a bar embedded with old silver dollars. Take advantage of one of the 50 different beers and “cowboy cocktails” available to toast your new status as a long-drive champion.

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