Golf has always been a part of the Sun Valley experience. The original “Sun Valley Golf Course” opened 84 years ago in 1937, during the Resort's first summer of operation. It then expanded to 18 holes in the 1960’s, before undergoing a redesign by famed course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1980. Today, it’s known simply as “Trail Creek,” named after the burbling tributary of the Big Wood River that the course straddles throughout its 6,968 yards from the tips. This wonderfully mature and elegantly laid out course is joined by two other beautiful and equally distinct courses—White Clouds and Elkhorn—to create a legendary trifecta of golf at Sun Valley Resort. Throw in the challenging, fun-for-all-ages 18-hole putting course, 25-acre practice facility and a stunning clubhouse, and it's easy to see why Sun Valley’s golf offerings are every bit as world-class as the skiing. Due to their close proximity and the gorgeous long days of late spring and summer in Sun Valley, it’s completely possible to play two of the courses in one day, or all three in a weekend.
Far from repetitive, each course carries with it a completely different personality and golfing experience. From the high ridgelines, jaw dropping views of Bald Mountain, and challenging tee shots of the 9-Hole White Clouds course, to the sweeping grandeur, elevated tee boxes and long holes of Elkhorn. Then there is the grand dame of Trail Creek, a course that fits so elegantly and naturally into the narrow sunny valley surrounding Sun Valley Resort that at times it feels more like playing in a nature reserve than a public golf course. Wildlife sightings at all three courses are common and even in the busiest months, a sense of solitude and peacefulness reign supreme.
A perfect weekend of golfing in Sun Valley would have to start with lunch at the Sun Valley Club. Home to the pro shop for both Trail Creek and White Clouds, the lunch menu is one of the best around. While there are too many delicious items to list them all, the crispy chicken sandwich is an all-time favorite of mine. From there, it’s only about 100 yards to the first tee box of the Trail Creek course, home of Sun Valley’s prestigious Club Championship, and a classic course in every sense of the word. While some of the holes may be considered short-ish by today’s standards, don’t be fooled into thinking this course is easy. Large mature trees, plentiful water hazards in the form of its namesake Trail Creek and numerous ponds, along with elevated greens and blind doglegs, are enough to keep the lowest handicaps on their toes.
After playing the 18-hole, par 72 Trail Creek Course, it’s time to grab a drink of water, buckle-up and head across Sun Valley Road to the 9-Hole White Clouds course. Best played for the first time in the still early mornings or late evenings when the wind isn’t howling, preferably with someone who has played the course before. Carrying a monster difficulty rating of 37.5 for 9 holes (75 for 18) with a slope of 145, the White Clouds—also designed by Trent Jones Jr.—is not for the faint-hearted. Every one of the 9-holes holds a different type of challenge, and the constantly rolling terrain, deep bunkers, narrow fairways, golf-ball-gobbling sagebrush hillsides, and diabolical pin placements will humble even the best golfers. Be sure to take a few deep breaths and enjoy the fantastic elevated views of Bald Mountain, and remember not to take it all too seriously up there, especially if it’s your first round on the course. You should also probably bring a few extra balls in your bag—just in case—but especially if the wind is blowing.
After playing 27 holes on your first day, it’s time for drinks and dinner at the resort before waking up the next day and making the short drive to Elkhorn. Designed and built as a tag-team effort in 1975 between Trent Jones Jr. and his father, Trent Jones Sr., Elkhorn is big and burly (7,214 yards from the tips), with lots of elevation changes, some ultra-long 600-yard plus holes, and huge expansive views of the surrounding mountain ranges. A tale of two sides, the front nine, designed by Sr., is full of hills and tee shots that require length and precision, while the back nine, designed by Jr., is chock full of water hazards, protected greens, and pesky bunkers. Hosting numerous pro-am tournaments, Elkhorn is the type of course visitors love to play, just begging for big, feel good tee shots through the thin mountain air, and rewarding accurate irons with large, well-manicured greens.
Depending on how those 45 holes go, a lesson with Elkhorn Club Pro and local ace, Tate Mills at the Elkhorn driving range might be in order. Along with a wonderfully crafted cocktail from the clubhouse’s bar.
Swing on friends, it can happen in Sun Valley.
Words by Kitt Doucette