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Golf on the Slopes

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

(continued from page 3)

The Whistler Golf Club, the first Arnold Palmer Signature design north of the border, sits at the base of the village's valley, with nine lakes, two creeks and mountain views on both sides. Lengthened and extensively renovated within the past decade, the mostly flat course provides the valley counterpoint to Jones's vertiginous routing.

The highlight of the resort, however, is Nicklaus North, right next to the main village. When opened in 1996, the layout received glowing reviews from numerous publications, including being named Best New Canadian Golf Course by Golf Digest, and quickly landed the Canadian Skins Game. In the Golden Bear's muscular style, the sprawling routing takes advantage of natural water features and thick stands of woods, and features beautiful and ample bunkering.

Big Sky, a visually stunning Bob Cupp design, lies just 25 minutes north of the ski resort, and is well worth the drive. It is uniquely tucked at the base of imposing, rocky, 8,300-foot-high Mount Currie and features 360-degree views. A parkland routing split by parallel fingers of lakes, Big Sky is like the best Florida golf transported to an alpine environment.

Three quarters of an hour south of the resort, en route to or from Vancouver, sits the waterfront Furry Creek course. Besides the views of Howe Sound and much different feel, the layout is most famous as the setting for some of the most memorable scenes from the golf comedy Happy Gilmore, helping to explain why Vancouver's burgeoning film industry has earned it the nickname Hollywood North.

Sun Valley, Idaho

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.


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