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North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club in Montana is a real classic

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Whitefish Lake Golf Club - North Course - hole 3
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With a tall pine tree framing the tee shot, the long, par-4 third is a great example of how well the North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club flows. (Mike Bailey/WorldGolf.com)

WHITEFISH, Mt. - The North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club is every bit as good as its sister course - the slightly more heralded South Course. It may even be better, depending on how you like your golf. The North Course has hosted many of the state's most significant events, and over the last several decades, it has also been modernized.

A golf course really is a living, breathing entity. And nowhere is that more evident than at the North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club, set in the Flathead Valley near Glacier National Park. Like the original 18 holes - there are 36 in all - the North Course goes all the way back to the 1930s.

Whitefish Lake: South Course vs. North Course history

While Whitefish Lake G.C.'s South Course has only been around since 1995, the North Course parallels 20th-century history.

During the late 1920s, several Whitefish residents purchased 104 acres for $1,600 to build the Woods Nine. It was a slow process, but one wily local politician figured out how to get federal funding by having the golf course double as an emergency landing strip.

The city of Whitefish eventually came to own the golf club, but actually considered closing it in the 1950s because it was losing money. That's when the Whitefish Lake Golf Association stepped in to take over. Since then the WLGA has acquired more land, adding the Lake Nine, and now operates the club as a non-profit venture.

Now, with some 2,500 members who pay just $500 a year to play at Whitefish Lake Golf Club, it's no wonder that tee times can be hard to come by during the club's eight- to nine-month season.

Recent improvements on Whitefish Lake North

Course architect John Steidel of Kennewick, Wash., has been working with Whitefish Lake G.C. since 1983 in remodeling both golf courses. His work has included new greens and tee boxes on the North Course, the tee repairs being completed over the past five years.

Longtime board member Terry Nelson said the goal was to create four distinct sets of red, white, blue and black tees. In 2009, the 13th and 14th holes, both of them par 4s, were among the last to get new tees, which added distance for the black and actually shortened the white by around 300 yards total.

The cart path on the left side of the fairway on 13 was also moved to the right side and below the green.

"We spent a total of $150,000 on the project, including rock wall, tree removal, cart path building and asphalt, sodding the new tees and old cart path areas completely," Nelson said.

Nelson, who is also a member of the United States Golf Association's Green Section, said future projects include more cart path work, refurbishing the bunkers, another new green and a couple of more tees.

North Course flows well at Whitefish Lake

There is nothing contrived about the club's North Course; you get that sense from the very first tee shot.

It's difficult to pick favorite holes, but I like the way the third, a 454-yard par 4, is framed by a tall pine just off the tee. It is followed by what many consider to be the course's signature hole - the 203-yard par-3 fourth hole, which is guarded by a pond front and left with the landscape of pines and peaks in the background.

Really, the North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club is simply a collection of 18 solid golf holes. The only possible exception is the 10th, considered by some to be a little too quirky. At 276 yards, it is easily drivable for long hitters, but with out of bounds right and plenty of trouble through the fairway, it rarely makes sense to try to drive the green. Still, I liked it, and had to try to drive the green. I wound up through the fairway on another hole in a bunker and made bogey.

The 13th hole, at 372 yards, is one of the most interesting layouts on the course. The tee shot is downhill, and if you can hit an accurate driver, you can set up a short wedge to this narrow green. The safe play is an iron or a hybrid off the tee.

North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club: The verdict

The North Course at Whitefish Lake Golf Club is straightforward golf; pretty much what you see is what you get. It is reminiscent of the great old courses of the Northeast in that the contours are typically subtle, but you really do have to think your way around the track.

Each hole is its own little journey - and each is memorable. Cut through towering pines with the peaks of nearby mountains serving as a backdrop, the terrain almost guarantees that you won't get bored.

With a rating of just 71.2 and just over 6,800 yards, the North Course certainly isn't overly difficult, but you do have to respect the course and focus if you want to shoot a good score.

With the recent remodeling work over the last couple of decades, the North Course is in excellent condition. The newer bentgrass greens are still a little firm, but they putt extremely true. And the fairways are outstanding for a city-owned course.

Combine that with low green fees (under $60) and you can understand why it can be difficult to get a tee time.

Whitefish Lake Golf Club is also just a great place to hang out for a quick lunch on the club's outdoor deck or a more formal dinner at the restaurant, which many claim is the best in all of Whitefish. In any event, be sure to try the huckleberry pie, made from fresh huckleberries painstakingly harvested from above 3,500 feet.

Facilities at Whitefish Lake Golf Club are also good, with a practice green located just behind the first tee in the middle of the parking lot. Lessons are also available from the club's professional and friendly staff.

Stay and play in Whitefish

Located across the street from Whitefish Lake Golf Club is the Grouse Mountain Lodge. The 145-room full-service resort offers several golf packages that include 18 holes of golf and guaranteed tee times, as well as a breakfast and a golf gift from the resort's gift shop.

The Lodge backs up against the 18th hole of Whitefish Lake Golf Club's South Course. Like Whitefish Lake G.C., the Grouse Mountain Lodge also has excellent restaurants, namely the Grill, Deck & Patio, and upscale Wine Room, where you can enjoy multi-course gourmet meals and a vintage selection of spirits.

I highly recommend the elk carpaccio, thin slices of lean elk tenderloin served with a spring salad mix and house vinaigrette.

More photos

Whitefish Lake G.C. - North Course - hole 4Whitefish Lake Golf Club - North Course - hole 13Whitefish Lake G.C. - North Course - hole 18

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 20 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @Accidentlgolfer.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Whitefish Lake Holf

    Dave Mullin wrote on: Oct 19, 2015

    I have been playing Whitefish lake for many years, mainly in the fall. When we played last week, we paid $69 to play a course who had just sanded and aereated the greens, had not cut the fairways or rough,nor was there any equipment out. Leaves not blown off playing areas. I was very disappointed, as were the people we played with. Definitely not worth $69.


  • Whitefish Lake Golf

    keith martin wrote on: Jun 2, 2010

    Just read your article on WLGC. We're from Pittsburgh, Pa and have a summer home on WL. As memebers of the golf course too, it was nice to see your positive article. Keep 'em coming!
    PS- 13th is almost impossible to drive. Even if you make it the ball won't stick on the greeen!