Wild Blue Yonder: The Wilderness Club Resort

It’s remote, stashed away in the far northwest corner of Montana, just a few Bubba bombs from the Canadian border. It’s not easy to get to, surrounded by baby-blue mountain lakes, snow-plastered peaks, and thousands of acres of protected forests. Bear, moose, and elk are regularly seen on its 550 acres. So, yes, Wilderness Club is an appropriate name.  But “away from it all” motifs aside, Wilderness Club Resort — a recent addition to the Troon family — is simply one of the most impressive and revered golf resorts in the Pacific Northwest. At least, for the fortunate few who have been there.

MUST-GO STATUS

While the region’s trout-teeming lakes (might want to bring your rod), heavenly hiking trails, and rustic charms are reason enough to get off the beaten path and wander to the Wilderness Club, it’s the exceptional Sir Nick Faldo-designed golf course that really elevates this outpost into “must-go” status.

“The golf course is really the star of the show at Wilderness Club,” said Brian Ehlert, managing partner of the tucked-away resort. A Canadian entrepreneur whose family has a long history of golf course ownership in the neighbouring province of Alberta, Ehlert has been living at Wilderness Club and overseeing operations since 2015. “The atmosphere and lifestyle here is unlike anything else in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, the golf course will knock your socks off. But there is so much more to do here. Non-golfers love Wilderness Club. It’s the ultimate place to kick back with your family and immerse yourself in the finer things in life, the best that Montana has to offer.”

The idyllic waters of Wilderness Lake invite canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, fly-fishing, and other non-motorized water sports. Plenty of hiking and biking trails, a new 18-hole championship disc golf course, cedar hot tubs, pickleball, beach volleyball, fitness studio, spa tents, horse park, and a family friendly water park overlooking the lake (the thrilling 250-foot slide is about as close to Disneyland as you’ll get here) are a few of the highlights.

Of course, for most guests who make the journey, the priority will be multiple rounds on the distinctive golf course. Parading through ponderosa pines and swerving along wetlands — and culminating with a riveting finishing run along Wilderness Lake — the golf experience is truly world class.

“The course serves up a beautiful blend of open landscapes, rolling hills, and forest,” said designer Faldo. “I love the feel right from the start. You’ve got big skies, mountains, and within two holes you’re out into the edge of the forest. On every hole you can just stop, enjoy the incredible mountain views, and listen to the silence!”

Not surprisingly, Faldo’s design partner in the venture, Brian Curley, has a similar take. “I’ll never forget my first trip up there in 2003,” recalled Curley, who has worked alongside Sir Nick on a number of projects. “As soon as I saw the site, I had my own ‘Eureka’ moment. As is the case with most mountain courses, I expected a rocky and weak soil base and engineering headaches at every turn. However, I was elated to discover the terrain was sandy, full of beautiful natural features, and absolutely ideal for sculpting and growing turf.”

Non-golfers love Wilderness Club Resort. It’s the ultimate place to kick back with your family and immerse yourself in the finer things in life, the best that Montana has to offer.”

 

Curley and his crew took full advantage. Even though the initial developer, Canadian businessman Hardy Nelson, wanted an “Augusta National” inspired design with white-sand bunkers and crystal-clean lines, Curley managed to convince him that a more natural look, with ragged transitional areas and buffers, would be better suited to the site. In terms of the visuals, melding the rumpled fairways into “the wilderness” was the desired outcome. And, of course, utilizing all that native golden sand for the bunkering — of which there was an unlimited supply — was also a no-brainer.

Faldo, who visited the site several times during construction, was, obviously, smitten with the place and the design strategy. “Nick absolutely loves Montana,” said Curley. “And this project has always been very close to his heart.”

PHENOMENAL FINISH

Obviously, this design philosophy is on full display throughout the course. The opening three holes — framed by native grass and swarms of ragged bunkers — are a rather “friendly” initiation into what’s to come. The sixth, a highlight hole that’s flanked by a sea of sand and unruly grass down the left, is, in terms of the “au natural” nuances, a triumphant example. And there are many more.

Even on the back nine, where the ponderosa pines pinch in a little more, hand-and-shovel gouged bunkers, wild fairway contours, and daring drops to greens that rim reed-lined lakes ensure that raw and ragged overtones prevail. Don’t get the wrong impression, though: guests find exceptional turf conditions on fairways and greens.

But it is, without a doubt, the phenomenal finish that will linger the longest in your mind. Starting with No. 16, a gorgeous downhill par-4 with a tough-to-hit green perched above a pond, it’s non-stop nervy shots in a sublime lakeside amphitheatre. No.17 is a wonderful one-shotter with, perhaps, the most exquisitely contoured green complex on the course. And No. 18, a hero-maker par-5 with water all the way down the left, is a bomber’s dream and the ideal go-big-or-go-home finish.

Originally built as an exclusive member-only retreat — the course opened in 2006 —Wilderness Club has, under Ehlert’s new vision for the property, opened its doors to public and resort play. And thankfully so, as the course was recently ranked No. 57 in Golf Digest’s “100 Greatest Public Courses in America.”

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Fully equipped suites, cottages, and cabins are available for overnight stays and can accommodate from two to 24 guests. Real estate opportunities are readily available and plenty of prime lots are still available. (As of this writing, build-out is at approximately 50 percent.) New dining options and a village event center are currently underway during phase one of a three-phase expansion plan.

Unless you’re planning on a long road trip, flying into Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, which is approximately an hour-and-a-half south of Wilderness Club, is the quickest way to get there. But however you choose to go, be prepared … you may not want to leave.

Wilderness Club Resort
Eureka, Montana
(406) 889-6501
www.WildernessClubMontana.com

Tall stands of pine trees, mountain backdrops, and a superior design by Sir Nick Faldo define the golf experience at Wilderness Club.

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