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Whitefish Lake Golf Club: Montana's Only 36-Hole Playground

By Andrew Penner, Contributor

WHITEFISH, MT - In the movie "The Hunt For Red October," Soviet sub commanders Marco Ramius (played by Sean Connery) and Vasily Borodin (Sam Neill) can't wait for the day when their defection to America will be complete. They yearn for the day when they will stand on American soil as free men. If you've seen the movie then you know that Ramius lived to see America but Vasily never made it. A bullet ended his dream and he died uttering the words, "I would love to have seen Montana." Woven through forests of pine, birch, and tamarack and in the shadows of the magnificent peaks of Glacier National Park, Vasily would have loved the Whitefish Lake Golf Club.

The town of Whitefish is located on the north end of the Flathead Valley, just 45 miles from the Canadian border. Dubbed "Stump Town," because numerous stumps were left about when they pushed the railway through in the early 1900s, Whitefish is a place teeming with western flair and ambiance. Exploding with adventure, history, and recreational opportunities, anyone with a zest for the outdoors (and for smacking a little white ball around) will never get bored in Whitefish.

"Boring" is about the last word that comes to mind when describing the Whitefish Lake Golf Club. Interestingly, it is Montana's only 36-hole facility. The two courses - North and South - epitomize what golf in the "Big Sky" State is all about - spectacular scenery, a laid-back atmosphere, and great value.

When you include the other courses in the Flathead Valley - Eagle Bend, Buffalo Hill, Northern Pines, to name a few - this region, according to Golf Digest, is one of the "50 Greatest Golf Destinations in the World." When you examine the other destinations on the list - the Carmel Valleys, the Myrtle Beaches, the Whistlers - you begin to realize what a special place the Flathead Valley really is. When you experience it for yourself, you want to pick up and move there.

The Whitefish Lake Golf Club is one with an intriguing history. They first started playing golf on the site in the 1920s. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s, the club also doubled as an airport. The planes became a constant safety concern and eventually the fairways became an "emergency only" landing zone.

In the early 1960s a second nine was added (Lake Nine) and in 1994, after the second of two nines were added across the road, the club was officially a 36-hole facility. Then the rains came. In the mid-1990s the Flathead Valley received record rains for three years in a row. A number of holes on the South Course were constantly underwater. The club was forced to revamp, raising the level of four holes by as much as four feet. After spending nearly a million dollars on the reconstruction, things are high and dry now.

Not surprisingly, with its early start and pristine setting, the Whitefish Lake Golf Club features one of the prettiest clubhouses and best restaurants you'll ever visit. Originally constructed in the 1930s with local timber, the gorgeous structure was fully restored in 1999. Crisscrossed beams and lodgepole pine provide the framework and give the building a warm, vintage feel.

"Vintage" is also a pretty good way to describe the courses here. Both of the present courses were designed by John Steidel, who also fashioned the excellent course down the valley in Polson. The newer South course, which is on the other side of the highway, is loaded with engaging holes and fascinating settings. The older North course is a classic, pastoral trek that affords a few nice views of Whitefish Lake. Both courses are around 6,600 yards long so length is not a prerequisite to play well here.

The highlight of playing the South course is playing holes 6, 7, 8 and 9, which skirt the shores of Lost Coon Lake. A pretty low-lying area with loads of wildlife, the environment around the lake is completely absorbing. Shore birds hop along the banks, red-winged blackbirds rustle atop the reeds, and deer can often be seen having a drink along this pristine wildlife haven. You'll need to summon all your concentration in order to hit the green on the par-3, 7th. The green, pinched between a bunker and the lake, is one of the most impressive and intimidating targets on the course. Not surprisingly, the South Course, which plays to a par of 71, has a four-star rating in Golf Digest's "Places to Play."

The older North Course, which has much less water in play, features smaller greens and bigger trees. Crooked shots will likely mean a chip out. With its aged look and gentle contours, the North Course is about as aesthetically pleasing as they come.

Speaking of aesthetics, by far the area's biggest attraction is Glacier National Park. Located just 20 minutes away by car, Glacier National Park is pure heaven for mountain lovers. The Park's greatest asset has to be "The Going To The Sun Road," which takes motorists on a jaw-dropping, spine-tingling journey through Logan Pass. At the top of the pass you'll find the Logan Pass Interpretive Center and the trailheads to numerous sensational alpine treks. One of the easiest climbs is the mile and a half scamper (much of it on a wooden boardwalk) to Hidden Lake. Winding through a majestic mountain utopia with goats, sheep, and wild flowers abounding, this short hike will forever be a classic. The Going To The Sun Road, which was completed in the 1930s, is still to this day one of the most incredible accomplishments in roadway engineering history.

If a hike through Glacier's ice-chiseled peaks doesn't excite you, then chances are a trek though the Whitefish Lake Golf Club will.

With two scenic courses and photo ops galore, you'll love what the western town of Whitefish has in store for you. And after you "have seen Montana," - unlike Tom Clancy's fictional character 'Vasily' - you too may want to plan your defection here.

Places to Stay and Eat

Both Whitefish and Kalispell (fifteen minutes south of Whitefish) offer numerous hotels and lodges. In Whitefish, try the Best Western Rocky Mountain Lodge (1-800-862-2569) or the Quality Inn Pine Lodge (1-800-305-7463). Or try the Kandahar Lodge on The Big Mountain (406-862-6098). Whitefish offers an assortment of dining experiences. Easily the best restaurant in town (the locals will tell you) is the Whitefish Lake Golf Club Restaurant. With a great assortment of seafood, beef, and chicken entrees amidst the elegant atmosphere of the historic clubhouse building, this is the place to dine in Whitefish. For good Cajun food you can also try Tupelo's in downtown Whitefish.

Nearby Courses

Unfortunately, the newest course in Whitefish is ultra-exclusive. Tom Fazio's new Ironhorse Golf Club is a gated community with a strict "members only" policy. No matter, this area offers numerous choices for the golf ball striking kind. Northern Pines (Kalispell), Buffalo Hill (Kalispell), Eagle Bend (Big Fork), and the Meadow Lake Golf Resort (Columbia Falls) are all "must plays" in the area. If you are coming up from the south end of the Flathead Valley, stopping to play at The Polson Country Club is also highly recommended.

Other Attractions

Cruising through Logan Pass on "The Going To The Sun Road" and ogling the impressive peaks of Glacier National Park is a no-brainer. Other attractions and things to do include visiting the massive Hungry Horse Dam, boating, fishing, hiking, and skiing. (You don't want to forget your camera.)

The Essentials

Whitefish Lake Golf Club
Whitefish, Montana
Phone: (406) 862-4000
Email: info@golfwhitefish.com
Web: www.golfwhitefish.com
Fees: $38.00

Andrew PennerAndrew Penner, Contributor

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.

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