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Golf on the Slopes

Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Matthew McConaughey, March/April 2011

(continued from page 1)

Great ski-resort golf is a mostly, but not entirely, new phenomenon. Tycoon W. Averell Harriman, head of the Union Pacific Railroad (and later a prominent American diplomat and politician), had the idea before anyone else, more than 70 years ago.

Then again, Harriman had a lot of new ideas, and for that reason Sun Valley (sunvalley.com) enjoys the distinction of being the very first destination ski resort in the United States. Harriman loved family vacations in Saint Moritz, Switzerland, and felt America was ready for a similar alpine resort—served by his railroad.

He hired Count Felix Schaffgotsch, a well-traveled European skier and bon vivant, and charged him with the mission of scouring the West for nothing less than the nation's single most perfect place for a fantasy ski resort, "an American Shangri-la." The result was Sun Valley, which opened in 1936, with, among many innovations, the world's first chairlifts. It immediately became the winter epicenter of celebrity, attracting the Clark Gables of the world along with myriad Olympic and professional athletes.

The instant winter success only encouraged Harriman, who decided on the spot that Sun Valley should be a four-season community, and just a year after the ski resort opened, its golf course was built, designed by William Bell of Riviera fame. The course was redesigned in 1980 by Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s firm, and while it gets little press, this layout is a true hidden gem.

It is also unique among such courses because it plays right at the foot of the ski slopes, so close that errant tee shots can find the historic first chairlift, no longer in use but preserved, yet the routing is relatively flat. This allowed Bell to overcome the land mines of mountain golf while fully utilizing the ski resort setting. Today, such a masterpiece would be extremely unlikely because land at the bottom of ski slopes is typically reserved for multimillion-dollar condos.

Proving that everything old is new again, Sun Valley just opened its second course, White Clouds, last summer. Actually, it is the first nine of the new course, playing as a stand-alone nine-holer until the next phase gets under way, once the economy recovers. It is as strong as nine-hole courses come, and also a night-and-day difference from its predecessor, carved from the region's high desert on a ridge opposite the resort.

The layout has much more visual drama than the 18-holer, and much more do-or-die shot making, with narrow fairways, carries across ravines and penal desert waste area all around. It is a high-quality, well-conditioned course that is also quite difficult. White Clouds beckons the low handicapper, while players of every ability will thoroughly love the original, now renamed Trail Creek.

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Tahoe's strength is also its weakness, as both a golf and ski destination: it is just too big. It is home to more than a dozen major ski resorts, but they are spread out in the mountains around the periphery of the nation's second deepest lake, one with a whopping 72 miles of shoreline, ensuring that nothing is too close to anything else.

Only a handful of the ski resorts have on-site golf, most notably Squaw Valley USA at Tahoe (squaw.com) and Northstar (northstarattahoe.com) at the north end, and at the south, Heavenly (skiheavenly.com), which recently stretched the definition of ski-resort golf.

Massive Heavenly sits high above the south end of the lake and straddles the California and Nevada borders, explaining why the town below it is aptly named Stateline. This is where most of the large casinos, numerous hotels and golf courses are located. A couple of years ago, Heavenly wrapped up an ambitious $750 million expansion that created a new base area right in the heart of Stateline's equivalent of the Las Vegas Strip, complete with a long gondola to whisk urban skiers onto the snow.

In doing so, the ski resort essentially annexed Stateline, turning the casinos themselves into ski-in/ski-out lodging, and giving guests easy access to the golf, including Edgewood Tahoe (edgewood-tahoe.com), widely regarded as the region's best. The 1969 George Fazio design was redone by his nephew Tom, often considered the game's greatest living architect, and concludes in epic fashion with three famous lakefront holes. Less than 45 minutes away in the burgeoning golf mecca of Carson Valley are South Lake Tahoe's two other standout layouts at Genoa Lakes (genoalakes.com), one by Peter Jacobsen, one by Johnny Miller, both with John Harbottle III.

1960 Olympics venue Squaw Valley USA, the premier ski hill in North Lake Tahoe, boasts the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Squaw Creek course at the base of its slopes. A thoroughly modern ski-resort course, Squaw Creek (squawcreek.com) uses ample boardwalks to wind through marshy wetlands, more Kiawah than Sierras.

The other ski resort with its own good course is once-sleepy Northstar, which is undergoing a renaissance with a new base village and Ritz Carlton resort. The Robert Muir Graves tract is half radically elevated mountain golf and half pastoral meadows, and both sides are well executed.

Other nearby courses of note are the recently constructed Coyote Moon (coyotemoongolf.com), and the 36 holes at Incline Village (golfincline.com), anchored by the definitive North Shore layout, the Championship Course, a standout lakefront parkland classic by Robert Trent Jones Sr.

Park City, Utah

Despite a passionate following of local golfers, the Beehive State has fewer big-name courses than just about any other. At the same time, recent Olympic venue Park City, a very short drive from Salt Lake City, has more big-time skiing than any other U.S. locale, with three world-class resorts, Deer Valley, the Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, any of which could anchor its own ski destination, all in one quaint place.

The result is a summer glut of deluxe lodging and dining, and for the savvy visitor, some great golf. Like Colorado's Red Sky Ranch, a number of top ski-country private clubs align themselves with one or more luxury hotels to allow very limited outside play. In Park City, the Stein Eriksen Lodge (steinlodge.com) does just that with the Pete Dye-designed Canyon Course at the Promontory Club and the Nicklaus-designed Park Meadows.

The new and very lavish Sky Lodge (theskylodge.com) on Main Street, easily the best in-town lodging, is also trying to work out some private-access deals for guests. For everyone else, there is a very high-quality 36-hole public facility at Soldier Hollow (soldierhollow.com), the site of the cross-country events in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

The town's own municipal Park City Golf Club is a well-above-average layout to round out the field, and out the back door of the excellent Hotel Park City. But the best course in the region is the very private Mark O'Meara design at the Talisker Club.

In an interesting reversal of fortune, this private residential community just acquired the Canyons, one of the five largest ski resorts in the country, with several hotels, including a new Waldorf Astoria collection spin-off, so the enticing possibility of limited public access to Talisker may be coming soon.

Larry Olmsted is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

The Best of the Rest

Aspen, CO: Great skiing, dining and lodging, but shockingly limited public golf. Best in the area is the schizophrenic Arthur Hills–designed Ironbridge, with a famed stretch of gravity defying holes, open to guests of the St. Regis, and usually The Little Nell and Hotel Jerome. (ironbridgeclub.com)

Banff Springs, Alberta: Known as the Castle of the Rockies, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel has an epic Stanley Thompson course with one of the world’s greatest par-3s, the Devil’s Cauldron. Skiing is at nearby Lake Louise resort. (fairmont.com/banffsprings)

Boyne Highlands, MI: Skiing is a purely local attraction, but golf is worth the trip, with four 18-hole courses, including the caddie-equipped Robert Trent Jones Jr. Heather Course, a Golf Magazine Top 100, and the unique Donald Ross Memorial Course, a tribute design reproducing the master’s best holes. (boyne.com)

Crystal Springs, NJ: This would hardly be your first choice for skiing—the resort barely mentions its 46-trail mountain on its website—but it does boast a collection of seven golf courses, including Ballyowen (frequently ranked the state’s top public) and a large golf academy. (crystalgolfresort.com)

Giants Ridge, MN: Another mediocre ski area, state-run Giants Ridge’s main attraction is 54 holes of excellent golf, including the Legend, Quarry and nearby Wilderness at Fortune Bay, a casino (fortunebay.com). These three are among the five best public courses in Minnesota, and the Quarry is the best, but they are all must-plays. (giantsridge.com)

Jackson, WY: Jackson is one of the nation’s greatest—and wealthiest—ski towns, and as such, its best courses are private. Until this summer, public access has been limited to Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis (jhgtc.com) and Teton Pines (tetonpines.com). The game changer is the private, Tom Fazio–designed Shooting Star (shootignstarjh.com), on a historic ranch immediately next to the Jackson Hole ski resort, which allows very limited unaccompanied play to guests renting an on-site luxury cabin (through rental agency theclearcreekgroup.com).

Mammoth Mountain, CA: This huge ski resort is the runaway favorite in the Golden State, and it now has a golf course to match, the highest in California at over 8,000 feet. Despite its height, the new Sierra Star has surprisingly gentle elevation changes, allowing it to work well as a modern example of mountain golf. (mammothmountain.com)

Steamboat Springs, CO: This sleepy but big-time mountain cultivates a forgotten Old West image, but after a major renovation of its classic Robert Trent Jones Jr. course, it reopened as the Rollingstone Ranch Golf Club. (rollingstoneranchgolf.com)

Stowe, VT: Vermont has always had the best skiing in the East, but among the least golf. In 2007, the Green Mountain State got its highest-profile course yet, a Bob Cupp private tract at the foot of legendary Stowe Mountain. Golf Odyssey’s David Baum believes that the “spare-no-expense private layout” that’s accessible only to guests of the posh new Stowe Mountain Lodge “provides the most dramatic game of any mountain course in New England.” (stowemountainlodge.com)

Tremblant, Quebec: Whistler’s East Coast sister resort lacks the quality of its sibling’s ski terrain, but
the area rivals British Columbia for golf with two very good courses, Tremblant’s Le Geant and Le Diable, plus the fantastic La Bête nearby. (tremblant.ca)


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