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White Clouds: Golf in the sky on a new nine at Sun Valley Resort in Idaho

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

One of the West's most famous ski destinations, Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, has added a slew of summertime fun, including the new nine-hole golf course, White Clouds.

Sun Valley Resort - clubhouse
Sun Valley Resort has a new clubhouse and putting course.
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SUN VALLEY, Idaho -- Since the 1930s, Sun Valley Resort in Idaho has mixed sophistication with good ol' cutting loose.

This is, after all, the birthplace of the Hokey Pokey, and celebrities have, for years, escaped Hollywood for the quieter, peaceful mountain air here.

Sun Valley Resort rates as prestigious a mountain retreat as exists in the West, thanks, in part, to the famous faces, from Ernest Hemingway to Marilyn Monroe. It also hosts some of the ski world's top events. Idaho residents make the two-hour drive from Boise for their own local getaway, while others fly in from southern California or, like Steve Wynn, Las Vegas. This summer, Wynn brought buddy Garth Brooks for a Summer Symphony fundraiser at the outdoor pavilion that opened in 2008. This kind of star power is nothing new to the valley.

If you haven't checked on summertime happenings in Sun Valley in recent years, it's time to take another look.

Golfers and non-golfers alike will want to visit the new clubhouse that measures nearly 60,000 square feet. Opened in 2008, it replaces an old railway shed used as the clubhouse since golf began here. The three-story building features everything from a huge outdoor terrace and dining to golf simulators and full locker rooms. Below the terrace sits the new 18-hole Sawtooths Putting Course, at which guests can show up, grab a putter from the first hole and enjoy a casual match. But be warned, it's not easy.

In one of the biggest additions to the outdoor scene, the resort opened its mountain gondola for the summer. Formerly used only during ski season, now you can eat lunch at the mountaintop Roundhouse Restaurant, bring your bikes and ride trails down the mountain -- or even go parasailing off the top.

Some estates in the area, include many along the Trail Creek course, are fit for royalty. But the common folk can fit right in at the resort. Prices are reasonable, with September golf packages starting at $137. You can grab a sandwich or pizza at a deli on the cheap or take the free resort shuttle into town for more bar and restaurant options. For accommodations, stay in a single room at the inn or lodge or rent a larger condominium or cottage to accommodate whole family.

Sun Valley Resort's new White Clouds golf course

Sun Valley's wide array of summer activities, from fishing to sporting clays, overshadows the golf -- though not like it once did.

The Sun Valley Resort's Trail Creek golf course started with nine holes in the 1930s. It was renovated and extended to 18 in 1971 by Robert Trent Jones Jr. In 2009, a very different nine holes opened across the street. The new White Clouds golf course marks the first phase of what could develop into an 18-hole design, economy pending.

No one shies away from admitting the golf course can get a little tricky to understand the first time around -- and the wind is always stronger up here in comparison to Trail Creek below.

"It's not quite as friendly as far as resort courses go," said Jeff Petersen, director of golf at Sun Valley Resort. "There are a lot of uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. We find the more people play it, the more they realize where they can and can't go."

The golf course was designed by Don Knott, a former associate under Jones. Knott helped with the redesign of Trail Creek when Jones extended it, as well as other golf courses in the Jones portfolio -- like the Prince in Kauai, Hawaii.

White Clouds' topography actually resembles the Prince, minus the Bermuda grass and tropical jungle. At White Clouds, holes Nos. 2 through 8 perch on the top of a narrow strip of hills and slopes away into high grass in all directions. Fairways yield few, if any, flat stances. To get an idea of the severe nature of golf course's location, head up the gondola to Bald Mountain and look down upon White Clouds' narrow strip of high ground.

But the holes are a lot of fun -- none more than the fifth, the second of consecutive par 5s. Here, Sun Valley owner Earl Holding overruled Knotts on where to place the back tee box. Knotts argued it would be too long at 637 yards, but Holding loved with the location and the panoramic view from the back tees,

"It's not all about the golf," Holding told Knotts, a phrase now set in stone, literally, next to the fifth tee.

In fact, with the hole's firm fairways and the opportunity to capitalize on a good bounce off a downhill slope, 637 yards is hardly hokey. Longer hitters may even take a second-shot run at the green, which ranks as the golf course's most interesting, sloping from front to back.

It's a stiff test, for sure -- enough to warrant your own little Hokey Pokey if you prevail with a birdie.

And that's what it's all about...

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.


 
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