Mountains to Greens

Golfing Flathead’s Highway 93

As the spring sun perks up the grasses and wildflowers and the days lengthen into our long northern-summer evenings, no matter what else you have planned during your travels through Northwest Montana a round, or two or three, of fine golf is time well spent.

And it’s easy around here as there are few other stretches of road that offer hundreds of miles of pure mountain beauty and easy access to endless recreation opportunities. The northern half of U.S. / Canadian Highway 93 running north and south from Idaho to Canada is one, and a drive of a lifetime — a route with endless mountain vistas, lush valleys and scenic rivers, plus an abundance of trailheads for hiking, biking and wildlife viewing. And if you’re a golfer, the opportunity to combine rustic mountain beauty with pristine greens is a bucket list experience you’ll want to realize again and again.

You can start your Highway 93 golf tour at Trail Creek Golf Course in Sun Valley, Idaho, and extend all the way to Trickle Creek Golf Resort and Greywolf Golf Course near Jasper, British Columbia. But if your time is limited, there is one particular hot spot of championship golf and mountain beauty along the 93 corridor — Montana’s Flathead Valley.

From Polson on the southern shore of Flathead Lake to Eureka and Whitefish north near the border of Glacier National Park, and with the quaint city of Kalispell at its hub, the Flathead Valley offers the full package: challenging courses (from 6,200 to 7,000 yards and slope ratings of 118 to almost 121), affordable rates for both greens fees and hotel accommodations, sheer beauty and endless après golf activities. And with little traffic, uncrowded courses and mild temperatures, getting around and enjoying your round is stress free.

Base in the middle of the valley …

Kalispell is the region’s largest city, and its central location and abundance of lodging and dining options makes it a great place to base yourself for a full Flathead Valley golf experience. The city itself has a long golf tradition. Buffalo Hill Golf Course was founded in 1915 on the pasture where city founder Charles Conrad started his bison herd. (Incidentally, you can see the offspring of Conrad’s herd at the National Bison Range 80 miles south of Kalispell.) Over the century, the course has improved through seven major renovations and evolved into one of Montana’s highest ranked courses. Atop Buffalo Hill you’ll enjoy wide views of the valley and mountain peaks and the course’s many doglegs and hidden landing areas.

Another top-ranked course is Kalispell’s Northern Pines Golf Club, a Scottish links course designed by Andy North. (Northern Pines was formerly known as Big Mountain Golf Course.) The course offers two golfing experiences — rolling fairways on the front nine and a flat and long back nine that follows the scenic Stillwater River, ideal for easy walking. Kalispell’s other local course, Village Greens, also offers a nice walking golf experience.

… take an easy drive north …

North of Kalispell and at the far north edge of Highway 93 before it crosses the Canadian border, you’ll find one of Montana’s newest golf experiences. Eureka’s Wilderness Club tucked next to Lake Koocanusa is consistently ranked the No. 1 golf course in Montana by Golfweek. In one of the most secluded parts of the state, Nick Faldo designed the course to take advantage of the surrounding natural beauty with a gently rolling topography to challenge, inspire and appeal to golfers of all abilities.

In the community of nearby Whitefish, championship golf has been around longer than its world-class skiing. Starting in the late 1920s, early Montana golf enthusiasts built Whitefish Lake Golf Club with a dual purpose — golf course and emergency landing strip. During the 1930s through the New Deal’s WPA, the city built the course’s signature log clubhouse using timber from the surrounding forest. Today the course is a renowned 36-hole complex — the only one in the state — and a local and visitor favorite with sweeping views of both Whitefish Mountain Resort’s ski trails and Whitefish Lake.

Flathead Valley’s largest and arguably most beautiful neighbor, Glacier National Park offers one of the area’s most family-friendly golf experiences. Standing at every tee box at Glacier View Golf Course in West Glacier, you’ll gasp at the park’s towering jagged peaks and whatever wildlife you’re bound to encounter walking the course.

… and a short drive south to Flathead Lake

On the southern end of the Flathead Valley, mammoth Flathead Lake becomes the foreground. Near the north shore of the lake in the picturesque village of Bigfork, semi-private Eagle Bend Golf Club offers resort-style golf with its 27 holes. William Hull designed and built the original 18 holes, and in 1995 Jack Nicklaus designed and built the “Nicklaus Nine” with sculpted and challenging fairways. The club’s newest addition is an impressive practice facility.

On the southern tip of Flathead Lake, the Polson Bay Golf Course is the only golf course right on the lake. Open to the public since 1938, the course recently added 18 new holes to its original nine — each boasting spectacular views of the lake and Mission Mountains.

While each of Flathead Valley’s courses offer a unique golf experience, they all include nicely appointed clubhouses with excellent restaurants and well-stocked pro shops — with the added benefit of no state sales tax. You’ll find greens fees very reasonable when you realize you could purchase a season pass at a Montana course for the price of two rounds at many out-of-state courses. And if you’re planning a family reunion, a couples getaway or guys weekend, almost all courses offer group discounts.

While on Montana’s Highway 93 you may feel like you’ve escaped it all, but getting there is easy either by car or RV, or via daily flights from Glacier Park International Airport, Amtrak service from Whitefish and several rental car options.

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