The national parks bucket-list trip from Yellowstone to Glacier gets even better with some detours for spectacular golf, quirky lodging and some icy brews.
By Jacques Miller
Under the big sky of Montana sprawls what celebrated writer and sometime golfer William Kittredge called “the last best place”—a landscape of crystalline lakes and rivers, of saw-toothed mountains girdled by picturesque cirques, of animals so majestic they have come to symbolize our nation. It’s the land that has inspired, among others, Lewis and Clark, Teddy Roosevelt and John Steinbeck, who jokingly said, “Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”
The fourth-largest state in the union, Montana trails the Lone Star State in size, but it ranks 48th in population density with only 6.8 people per square mile. Compare that to the 96.3 in Texas (ranked 29th) or the 48.5 in Colorado, the country’s eighth-largest state.
Montana is Colorado writ large. The foremost expression of this comes in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks—and the stops along the 500 miles between them, including a good number of the state’s 103 golf courses.
Bozeman to Yellowstone
Fly direct into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, some 90 miles north of the west entrance to Yellowstone. Rent a car and kick things off in Bozeman, home to Montana State University and the world-renowned Museum of the Rockies, which houses the largest collection of dinosaur remains in the United States including the largest Tyrannosaurus skull ever discovered.
The choice for golf here is the Weiskopf-designed Black Bull Golf Club, a mountain-framed 7,200-yard links-style layout in the Gallatin Valley with perpetual residency among the state’s top 10 layouts, according to Golf Digest. Featuring a slick new clubhouse and some of Weiskopf’s best work (including a number of drivable par 4s), this private club allows guest play ($125-$150) only through October 1 of this year. Get there while you can.
Sidle up to the bar at Bridger Brewing and try a Vigilante IPA. Every major hotel chain has a spot along the interstate if you’re so inclined or you can stay downtown at a funky, retro motel like The Lark.
Driving towards Yellowstone National Park, head through Gallatin Canyon to the resort town of Big Sky. Legendary newsman Chet Huntley envisioned this place in the early 70s and it continues to blossom. Purely from a golfer’s perspective, the town of 2,300 boasts Arnold Palmer’s first design at Big Sky Resort, two private Weiskopf-designed courses (Spanish Peaks and Yellowstone Club) and the new Nicklaus Signature course, the Reserve, in the community of Moonlight Basin.
Moonlight Basin is a private community with rental homes (starting at $350 per night) that include playing privileges at the Reserve, whose numbers boggle the mind: 8,000 yards from the tips, 10 miles of cart paths, and a 777-yard par 5 with a 600-foot elevation drop from tee to green. The impressive hang time on a well-struck drive from the elevated tee box on hole no. 1 is a great start to the day. The par-5 sixth epitomizes the dramatic elevation changes and awe-inspiring backdrops that infuse the course. The well-stocked Comfort Station between holes 12 and 13 will fuel you for the 777-yard 17th (it’s only 676 from the blues). The split fairway to an elevated green on the short par-4 18th provides a fun ending to a memorable round.
In addition to the Green Bridge IPA at Beehive Basin Brewery, one lasting impression of Big Sky is the omnipresence of Lone Peak, which doesn’t reveal itself until you turn off the “highway” into Big Sky and from that point onward, you don’t not see it. It looms large and magnificent.
You really have to experience Yellowstone National Park to believe it. Otherworldly with geysers shooting water hundreds of feet into the air, boiling mud pots, natural hot springs, amazing waterfalls—and those are just some of the water features. Add to that the wildlife component with bison, bears, and wolves. An architecture buff might not leave the historic lodges like the Old Faithful Inn. If it’s booked, the park offers eight other lodging options and there are several hotels just outside the park in the town of West Yellowstone.
FROM SUPERFUND TO SUPER FUN
Venturing out from Yellowstone, take the path less traveled and go through Ennis and Virginia City and Sheridan (pit stop at Ruby Valley Brew to meet Cross-Eyed Mary) and Twin Bridges en route to the Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda. This, too, is a Nicklaus-designed course and uniquely sits on the site of a former Superfund site. Anaconda was home to the smelter operation that processed copper ore from the mines in nearby Butte. When the smelter operations closed, the town retained the smoke stack, as an ode to the town’s origins, and the golf course winds through relics of the old smelter operation including black slag bunkers.
Take the scenic route from Anaconda to Missoula by way of Georgetown Lake and Phillipsburg. Lodging options include the Historic Broadway Hotel, offering easy access to the renowned Sweet Palace candy store. At the Philipsburg Brewing Company give the Otter Water a pull.
From Philipsburg, head to “lil’ Boulder”: the college town of Missoula. Drop by Draught Works for a sample of My Ruca and amble across the tracks to the Northside KettleHouse for a Double Haul.
Slide a tee in the ground at The Ranch Club, a private community with hotel partnerships and unaccompanied guest play options for the traveling golfer. This golf community boasts a links-style layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. acolyte Les Furber. The course has nary a tree in play and the fairways are wide. Miss them and the rough will make you pay.
Standout holes include the par-5 seventh that offers two routes—both requiring a water carry—to the same goal, and the risk-reward left-dogleg par-4 16th. This hole holds birdie potential for long hitters, but two massive bunkers and the ever-present native rough mean the bogeyman is always watching.
GETTING TO GLACIER
From Missoula, venture north to Flathead Lake on the way to Whitefish. Two equidistant options present themselves. The eastern route around the lake goes through the artsy community of Bigfork, where galleries, shops and restaurants line the streets. Flathead Lake Brewing Company is worth a stop for a bite and a Citrus Smash IPA. If you take the western route around Flathead Lake, stop at Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside for some fish tacos and a Hat Trick.
Whitefish Lake Golf Club is a 36-hole layout with North and South courses. The older North course offers views across Whitefish Lake with the ski runs of Whitefish Mountain Resort looming in the background. The South features water on six holes, as well as an open view of Big Mountain. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers stay and play packages.
Just down the road, the Great Northern Brewing Company’s Going to the Sun IPA is a nice precursor of what’s to come.
The West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park is just over 30 minutes from Whitefish. While Yellowstone stands out for its unique water and thermal features, Glacier offers dramatic views of glacial-carved peaks with the winding Going to the Sun Road offering passage up and over the top at Logan Pass. Do yourself a favor and get out of your car and do some exploring on foot. If a one-mile walk is what you’ve got in the tank, check out the Trail of the Cedars. If you can make a day of it, take a hikers’ shuttle to Logan Pass and hike the Highline Trail.
As with Yellowstone, historic lodging options exist in Glacier National Park with more traditional hotels in the surrounding communities. “Traditional,” of course, is a relative term in this singularly exceptional part of the world.
Wyoming-based writer Jack Miller is an avid outdoorsman and an average golfer.
Colorado AvidGolfer Magazine is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it, publishing eight issues annually and proudly delivering daily content via coloradoavidgolfer.com. This Montana golf article appears in the August/September 2018 issue of the publication.