Northwest Montana Golf

Northwest Montana Golf Article
Northwest Montana Golf ARTICLES

Taking notice of Montana's Flathead Valley; Area is one of golf's

In 2000, Golf Digest added Montana's Flathead Valley to its list of the nation's "50 Greatest Golf Destinations." In 2003, Golf World magazine did the same. And since then, the region has only enhanced its image as one of the most scenic, affordable and accessible golf meccas in the country. With eight championship courses located within a 45-minute drive of each other, and a seemingly endless array of lodging possibilities and other outdoor activities available, the Flathead Valley continues to build on its considerable reputation.

Following is a brief look at the eight diverse and challenging championship golf courses that make the Flathead Valley a dream destination for golfers of all levels. More information and reserved tee times can be obtained by calling 1-800-392-9795, or by visiting on the internet.

Big Mountain Golf Club

3230 Highway 93 North

Kalispell, Mont. 59901

Phone: (800) 255-5641

Comments: Formerly known as Northern Pines Golf Club, this Andy North-designed gem plays to a par of 72 and stretches to just over 7,000 yards from the back tees and abuts the Stillwater River, which comes into play on a couple of holes. The course is visually unique in that many of its holes combine a Scottish links look within the more natural framework provided by the towering pine trees after which it was originally named. Landing areas off most tees are remarkably generous, but approach shots to the beautifully manicured bentgrass greens must be properly placed in order to score.

Buffalo Hill Golf Club

North Main Street

Kalispell, Mont. 59903

Phone: (888) 342-6319

Comments: A true shot-makers' course, this 6,525-yard, par-72 layout plays over and around a promontory near the west entrance to Glacier National Park and is named after the hill, itself, on which buffalo once grazed. Most of the holes unwind through towering stands of mature trees, with many fairways tilted dramatically in accordance with the lay of the land and making level lies difficult to find. The greens are quick, and trying to figure out how a putt will be influenced by uneven surroundings can be a real test of one's imagination.

Eagle Bend Golf Club

279 Eagle Bend Drive

Bigfork, Mont. 59911

Phone: (800) 255-5641

Comments: Long considered the premier course in the region, this 6,802-yard, par-72 layout sits on the northeast corner of Flathead Lake and offers some stunning views of both the lake and surrounding mountain ranges. Not particularly intimidating from the tee, the course puts an emphasis on the proper placement of drives in order to set up demanding approach shots to greens that can be lightning fast and difficult to hold. When they let the rough grow, look out!

Meadow Lake Golf Resort

490 St. Andrews Driver

Columbia Falls, Mont. 59912

Phone: (406) 892-2111

Comments: Spread across 330 acres of gently rolling and heavily wooded terrain, this testy 6,714-yard, par-72 layout boasts a true resort feel, complete with a small hotel, condominiums and town houses - none of which detract from the wonderful golf experience the course offers. Water comes into play on seven holes, and some of the mountain views are simply breathtaking. Accuracy off the tee is essential in trying to navigate the tight, tree-lined fairways that contribute to the intimacy of the course. The greens are relatively small, but perplexingly contoured, and demand a deft putting touch.

Mission Mountain Country Club

640 Stagecoach Trail

Ronan, Mont. 59864

Phone: (406) 676-4653

Comments: Located in the heart of scenic Mission Valley, this 6,479-yard, par-72 layout features wide, plush and inviting fairways, stunning views of the Mission Mountains from nearly every hole and some of the biggest bentgrass greens in the region. Many of the fairways are lined by mounds - some of which can provide errant drives with surprise bounces back to toward the short grass. The front nine unwinds across relatively flat ground, while the back features some interesting elevation changes. Because of the size of the greens, three-putts can become perplexingly routine. And the wind is often a major factor, especially on the less-protected front nine.

Polson Country Club

111 Bayview Drive

Polson, Mont. 59860

Phone: (406) 883-8230

Comments: This scenic 6,964-yard course plays to a par of 72 and is the only track in the Flathead Valley to offer fairways that run adjacent to the shores of Flathead Lake. The lake views are stunning - as are the vistas of the surrounding Mission and Swan mountain ranges, and the condition of the course is impeccable. The course was expanded to 27 holes in 1999 and the nine new holes were intertwined with the nine built in 1989, creating a feast for the senses and a grand test of golf.

Village Greens Golf Club

500 Palmer Driver

Kalispell, Mont. 59901

Phone: (406) 752-4666

Comments: The bentgrass greens and overall condition of this relatively short, 6,401-yard layout continues to draw rave reviews. Playing to a par of 70, Village Greens sprawls beautifully across what was once a dairy farm and, like most courses in the Flathead Valley, offers spectacular mountain views. What helps set it apart, visually, from other courses in the area are its massive and strategically placed white sand bunkers. The fairways remaining inviting targets off the tee, but once the small fir trees that dot the course mature, that could change dramatically.

Whitefish Lake Golf Club

Highway 93 North

Whitefish, Mont. 59937

Phone: (406) 862-4000

Comments: Whitefish Lake Golf Club boasts Northwest Montana's only 36-hole complex and remains a favorite stop among golf-minded tourists. The North Course, at 6,579 yards, is the longest of the two par-72 layouts, but only by a few yards. The biggest difference in the two tracks - both of which offer superbly conditioned bentgrass greens and well-positioned bunkers - is the terrain on which they were built. The tree-line and classically designed North Course is relatively flat and easy to walk, while the South unfolds in a more modern way over hillier terrain that brings water into play on several holes. Both courses are top-notch and worth the price of an extra night's lodging for those wanted to sample all they have to offer.
Whitefish Lake Golf Course was our first stop and a very pleasant surprise. Though touted as a championship course at municipal prices, seeing is believing, and as the ’70s song goes, “I’m a believer.” Truly a gem, this is a course boasting 36 holes, many with views of Big Mountain, the nearest ski haven, which guards the north end of the valley. This was the nicest municipal complex I’ve seen, with lush landscaping and grooming to championship standards. Best of all, the rates are truly small- town municipal, at $9-$20 less per round than the others. The south course is rated 70.5 from the tips with a slope of 122 in 6,551 yards. The north course’s rating and slope are 69.8/118 in 6,579 yards and was honored in “One Great Hole,” a special section of the United States Golf Association magazine Golf Journal.

Meadow Lake Golf Club is just 15 minutes away in neighboring Columbia Falls, east of Whitefish and a few miles closer to Glacier National Park, which contributes forested boundaries of evergreen and mountain larch to the gently rolling acreage. An 18-hole championship golf course, it is protected by the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains, which provide spectacular mountain views, and has been rated by Golf Digest as a Top 500 U.S. Public Course. Golf Magazine called it a “must play,” and I agree. Rating/slope: 71.3/118 in 6,694 yards.

Semi-private Eagle Bend Golf Club delights with three 9-hole layouts, including one layout by Nicklaus Design. Located in Bigfork, 45 minutes from Whitefish and home to a booming dining and arts culture, this complex has the feel of having been carved from craggy, rocky outcroppings. It also delivers views of adjacent Flathead Lake, America’s largest natural freshwater lake; the Swan Mountains; and Glacier National Park. Rated the No. 1 course in Montana for six consecutive years by Golf Digest, it provides a weather-safe marina for residents. I, having left my yacht at home, motored about this very special course in an ordinary cart. Better get there soon, as this course is on the verge of going private. Championship 18-hole course rating/slope: 71.2/121 in 6,724 yards. The Lake Nine Course is 3,497 yards from the tips.

Northern Pines Golf Club combines a traditional links-style course with the natural beauty of a Montana valley setting. Designers Roger Packard and two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North transformed virtually flat farmland into a challenging 18-hole championship course that a select 24 residents will be privileged to call home. The course was designated by Golf Digest in 1999 as the second best golf course in Montana. Perched on the edge of Kalispell, just 10 minutes from Whitefish, Northern Pines was the site of the 2000 Pacific Northwest PGA Section Championship. Stillwater River runs through it, and I liked this course’s crystal clear sense of a big, big sky and its friendly feel. During our weekday afternoon outing, there were many golfers walking, some with young golfers in tow. Rating/slope: 72.6/121 in 7,015 yards. Montanans love their land and all of the Flathead Valley golf courses practice sound environmental stewardship. Each participates in the program, to one degree or another, or follows guidelines similar to those of the Audubon Certified Sanctuary Program, which promotes ecologically sound pesticide use, wetlands protection and more, for the benefit of indigenous and migrating wildlife and its surrounding community. The courses practice water conservation, environmental planning, wildlife and habitat improvement, and outreach and education. Birdhouses abound throughout all of these courses and naturalized landscaping is proudly and prominently utilized.

Golfers dine, don’t they? Some people think of dinner only as an excuse to eat. I gain a fuller measure by appreciating it as a respite from creative tinkering with my scorecard (though I’ve heard that burst of creativity burn extra calories). Imagine my delight at discovering a richly varied menu at Logan’s Grill in the Grouse Mountain Lodge, in Whitefish. I can personally recommend the roasted duckling in huckleberry sauce and the vanilla crème brulee. The merlot I chose came from a winery, which, alas, has no golf course to recommend it, so must stand on its own merits, which it did. You are perhaps thinking, “Golf, golf, golf. Does she think of nothing else?” Yes, she does. In fact I have been thinking that I must return to Whitefish and its lush valley setting. Maybe this fall when the very reasonable green fees tumble into the cellar and there remains a plethora of other recreational delights, such as fishing, boating, hiking, biking (you get the picture), and the surrounding mountain larch exhibit the Midas touch.