GOLF: Land of the Links

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead Valley won’t offer you everything you would find at other golf destinations, like South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.

Here, in the northwest corner of Montana, golfers won’t pay $150 green fees or lust envyingly after scads of private courses they could never hope to play. And, a cold brew in the clubhouse after a day on the links won’t set one back $8.

What golf enthusiasts will find is an area that’s carved out its own niche en route to becoming a golf destination – enough so, that it’s been ranked previously as one of Golf Digest’s top 50 golf destinations in the world. The valley’s courses stick to their homegrown strengths: gorgeous landscapes, a wide variety of course styles and a friendly atmosphere.

“There’s no question what really draws people to this area is the wide variety and quality of the courses,” Steve Dunfee, the Flathead Valley Golf Association president, said. “Other places may have some very good courses, but they can kind of be all the same. Here, we’ve got everything from link style to tree-lined mountain courses, and the quality for the price is one of the best deals anywhere.”

The valley boasts eight public championship golf courses, all within a 45-minute drive each other. While each is unique, the courses do have some shared qualities, the most prevalent being stunning scenery. Golfers enjoy beautiful mountain vistas, lakes and rivers, not to mention regular encounters with wildlife such as deer, elk or a bald eagle. At Glacier View, located just outside of Glacier National Park, even bears have been known to make an occasional appearance.

Couple the valley’s outstanding golf with the multitude of other recreation opportunities – kayaking, fishing, hiking, boating, biking and more – and it’s no surprise people choose the Flathead as a summer vacation spot. But, there’s plenty for locals to enjoy on the courses, too.

At the Whitefish Lake Golf Club the club’s professionals groom the valley’s next generation of golfers every year with free clinics. More than 150 kids between the ages of 5 and 18 take advantage of the free lessons offered twice a week during July. Village Greens in Kalispell offers a $65 senior package complete with green fees, cart and lunch for two people every Tuesday and Thursday. And for those who are a little less confident or just looking for fun, the Frontier Course just outside of Kalispell offers an affordable, quality nine-hole course – and great barbeque.

So, as winter’s brown gives way to spring green, it’s time for this annual tradition to begin again.

Big Mountain Golf Club
Kalispell, (406) 751-1950
Stats: 18 holes; 6,180 yards from the white tee; $65 daytime, summer rate
Designed by two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North, this course is a combination of traditional Scottish links and natural pines winding along the Stillwater River. Its par 72 layout earned it a 12th-ranked rating on the list of Golf Magazine’s 50 best U.S. golf courses for $50 or less last year.

Buffalo Hill Golf Course
Kalispell, (406) 756-4530
Stats: 27 holes; 6,284 yards from the white tee on the championship 18; $50 daytime, summer rate
Located just minutes from downtown Kalispell, this tree-lined and mountain course features large elevation changes as it follows the undulations of the Stillwater River, which flows through it. From doglegs to sand traps, this course gives enough opportunities and challenges to play holes different every trip through.

Eagle Bend Golf Club
Bigfork, (406) 837-7310
Stats: 27 holes; 6,297 from the white tees; $90 daytime, summer rate
Located on the north shore where the Flathead River runs into Flathead Lake, it’s a little harder to score a tee time at this semi-private course, so call ahead. With 27 challenging holes, this golf course held the Golf Digest’s No. 1 ranking for the state of Montana six years in a row.

Frontier Golf Course
Kalispell, (406) 755-0111
Stats: 9 holes; 1,393 yards; 9 holes -$14, 18 holes – $20
Okay, so there may only be nine holes at this local course, but it’s fun, inexpensive and with the Frontier Roadhouse Restaurant next door you can gorge on delicious barbecue post-links.

Glacier View Golf Course
West Glacier, (406) 888-5471
Stats: 18 holes; 5,161 yards from white tee; $25 daytime, summer rate
Glacier View Golf Course is known locally as a friendly, relaxing and family-oriented course. It’s wide fairways make for a forgiving layout and the course accommodates group events and small tournaments. And since it’s located right next to Glacier National Park it has arguably the best view in a valley full of scenic landscapes and it’s the course where you’re most likely to see a bear.

Meadow Lake Golf Course
Columbia Falls, (406) 892-2111
Stats: 18 holes; 6,416 from white tees; $60 daytime, summer rate
With great views of the Glacier National Park’s peaks and seven holes bordering streams or lakes, there’s plenty of attractive scenery here to enjoy – even if your golf game isn’t on par. This resort also offers onsite lodging, so you can go from breakfast to the fairway within minutes.

Polson Bay Golf Club
Polson, (406) 883-8230
Stats: 27 holes; 6,271 from the white tees on the championship 18; $40 daytime, summer rate
Located on the south shore of Flathead Lake, this facility has an 18-hole regulation course and a nine-hole regulation course. Both are built on rolling terrain, offer Mission Mountain views and, between the two, the lake comes into play several times.

Village Greens Golf Club
Kalispell, (406) 752-4666
Stats: 18 holes; 5,907 from the white tees; $42 summer, daytime rate
Bent grass greens, fairway mounding and white sand make this mid-distance course a popular local destination. And on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, seniors age 50 and up can get green fees, a golf cart and lunch for two people for $65.

Whitefish Lake Golf Club
Whitefish, (406) 862-4000
Stats: 36 holes; North 18 – 6,266 yards from the white tees; South 18 – 6,128 yards; $48 daytime, summer rate
Montana’s only 36-hole course, this complex is located adjacent to Whitefish Lake and offers great views of both Whitefish Lake and nearby mountains. Locals can enjoy free children’s golf lessons in July, and with pine and birch lined fairways, well-bunkered greens, mounding and water obstacles there’s plenty for everyone else as well.