Still skiing? Get golfing!

Golfing and skiing are as different as two sports could be, not in the least because one requires snow and the other lots of sun. Well, we have both here in Sun Valley, and while golfers are dusting off their sticks, don’t expect to see snowboards and skis heading into storage just yet. Thanks to the vagaries of Mother Nature, right now you can ski on Baldy in the morning and crack out the clubs in the afternoon.

Today, April 5, is the official opening of Sun Valley Resort’s driving range and practice greens, and with skiing on Baldy continuing through April 14 there’s a fantastic fortnight to be had for enthusiasts of both sports here at Sun Valley.

Trail Creek’s trademark holes: Hole #14, "Bullwinkle," is one of the course's top 3 trademark holes, it got its name from the shape of the large sand traps on the player's left hand side. Joining it are #10, a scenic par 3 over a pond looking right at Bald Mountain, and #3, a long, tough par 4 that is the most challenging hole on the course,

This is the earliest opening of the golfing facilities in recent memory, according to Jeff Petersen, director of golf. “It certainly is very, very early, by far the earliest opening in my nine years here,” he said. “Generally an early opening for us is towards the end of April, so we’re a couple weeks ahead of where we normally are, even for an early opening.”

There’s still a week or two to wait to tread the greens on Sun Valley’s three world class golf courses, Trail CreekWhite Clouds and Elkhorn, but Petersen anticipates it will be sooner than last year, which was April 24. “Most likely the middle of the month,” he said. “But it’s up to Mother Nature, as always.”

So while the limited snowfall late in the season may have disappointed the skiers, it has certainly given golfers plenty of reason to rejoice. “It’s the changing of the guard now,” said Petersen. “It’s certainly a little bit shorter and a little bit abrupter than we’re used to but that’s the beauty of being in the mountains.”

Petersen arrived in those mountains in 2005 and took over management of the courses in 2008. During his tenure, golf at Sun Valley has undergone an impressive transformation. “When I first arrived we were in our old golf shop, which was very tiny and outdated. In the summer of 2008 we opened up a beautiful clubhouse, added an additional 9 holes and improved the practice facilities greatly.”

Today, Petersen believes Sun Valley offers everything golfers could want from a golf resort. “There’s a wide mix of different golf holes throughout, from the 18 hole Robert Trent Jones-designed Trail Creek course, redesigned in late 70s/early 80s, which offers a wonderful traditional design and layout, to the new 9 hole White Clouds (opened in August 2008), which offers a more open course, more akin to the mountain-lifestyle, a lot of undulation, lots of up and down. It’s a great contrast to what we have down below on the Trail Creek course.”

Jeff Petersen in Sun Valley's Director of Golf. His favorite time of year to play at Sun Valley is the fall. "Mornings are always preferred, it's so quiet and scenic. Sneaking in a late 9 holes in the evening is a great way to do it too," he said.

The new facilities have also helped broaden the appeal of the sport, a 58,000 sq ft clubhouse provides the perfect spot for a family to relax and hang out while dad or mom gets in a round, plus the Sawtooth Putting Course is a great place to introduce the young ones to the sport, or encourage a newcomer.

All these changes have earned the resort national acclaim as a golfing destination. “While just about every major ski resort now offers golf, there are very, very few that warrant a golf vacation. Sun Valley has suddenly emerged as the leader of that small pack,” wrote Larry Olmsted in Forbes magazine last year.

I asked Petersen what he thinks makes golfing at Sun Valley so special. “The look,” he said. “You never have the same shot or the same view twice.” Turn one way and you’re staring right into Bald Mountain, turn the other and there are the Pioneers peaking out at you. “It’s just very scenic and very traditional and true to what the surroundings are here.”

The wildlife viewing also lends to the appeal. “We have a deer family that tends to nest down here in the early spring time,” Petersen said. “We’ll have a couple fawns born in early spring.” As long as they keep their distance, wildlife and golfers exist in perfect harmony, barring the odd hot-dog stealing fox.

Despite the serenity and beauty of the surroundings, this is far from a walk in the park. “The course is very challenging,” Petersen said. “From your very good, low handicap players to the recreational higher handicap players, we have a set of tees for all, it can stretch out to be just shy of 7,000 yds in length, or down to 5500 yards, good golfers and bad golfers all alike can find something that will challenge them.”

A new challenge to look forward to once the season gets going is a completely redesigned #1 hole. The large pond on the left was shrunk and the green expanded, resulting in a better designed hole. “Late last fall we started redesign work of our opening hole on Trail Creek,” Petersen said. “Most of the preparatio for rolling out turf has been done already, and sod and new grass will go down this spring and we hope to be playing it come July 1.”

But, thanks to the infuriatingly indecisive Mother Nature, there are still plenty of rounds to be got in before then, and a few more runs down Baldy, if you’re quick!

Jennifer Tuohy

VIDEO: Sun Valley’s golf pros with the lowdown on golfing in the mountains.

Go Play!
The Pro Shop and Practice Facilities are open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (208.622.2251), the Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant are open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (208.622.2919).
The $124 per person “Come Early. Play Late” golf package is available through June 9th and includes one night’s lodging and 18 holes of golf on one of Sun Valley’s courses and cart. (888-383-2522).
For more information visit www.sunvalley.com/golf