7,325 yards, 135 Slope from the Blues

Course:  The first stop on my tour of the Great West landed me in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  While I was there I was able to play the JHGTC a couple times.  Jackson Hole is gorgeous country and is basically set in a small valley with the Grand Tetons (pronounced, “Tee-tawns”) hovering in the background.  You’re a little over a mile high, so it’s dry, crisp and scenic.  I don’t think I saw a cloud in the sky the entire time I was there.  Although JH is known for its skiing, I think it’s almost better to visit in the summer so you can take full advantage of the scenery.  It was high season so the town itself was quite crowded, but that really didn’t bother me at all, except when I had to wait in line for brunch.

There are a few courses to play and JHGTC is one of the better ones to check out.  Designed by Robert Trent Jones, II, with recent revisions to the First and Fifteenth and updates to the course in general occurring last year, there’s a lot to like about this course.  It is easily one of the most scenic courses I’ve played.  You have the Tetons framing a lot of the holes.  You have streams, brooks, rivers and lakes surrounding and intertwining the holes.  And you have inspiring arts and crafts style homes to gawk at throughout the round.  The course is in perfect condition as well.  The fairways and greens seemed impervious to divots.

The course was lightning fast as well.  It was probably as close to golfing on marble as you can get.  So in addition to the altitude keeping the ball in the air longer, it would also run a lot more than usual.  That combination of factors, at least for me coming from the heavy humidity of the East coast, meant I was clubbing down 3, some times 4 clubs.  I was hitting to a 200 yard par 3 with my 145 club easily.  That was quite an adjustment and also meant it was very easy to roll into trouble or off the green.

RTJ2 designed a nice course here.  There are many dog legs, tons of bunkers and a good amount of trees that are all placed strategically to create interesting risk/reward decisions.  A lot is thrown at you, and every shot faces some kind of penalty for mis hits.  With the fast conditions and altitude, it’s tough to stay out of trouble, unless you know how much roll to expect and adjust your club selection.  Such a penal design is probably necessary to keep this course interesting and challenging, since distance, no matter how long the hole, really didn’t matter.  I mean, I just laughed when I had 250 yards to the hole.  It wasn’t a question of getting it there, it was more a question of whether I could get it in the hole.

But really, the big challenge here is the bunkers.  There are tons of them and the best way to characterize them is, sticky.  What I mean is that if a ball landed on the lip, it wouldn’t roll down to the bottom, but would rather stay in the lip.  It also meant it was tough to get the ball out.  They just were unlike any sand me or anyone else in our group had seen.   I can’t count the number of holes that one of those bunkers killed me.

The picturesque setting, the serenity of the area and a well laid out course makes JHGTC a great place to have a challenging round of golf while still experiencing the sights of Jackson Hole.

The First hole is a par 4 that dog legs slightly left.  You have a generous fairway for the tee shot with a bunker in front of a else front of the green.  The first is a nice starting hole that eases you into the round just right.

Tee shot on the First

Approach shot on the First.  The fairway looks like a bowling alley even from this pic.

The Second hole is a 580 yard par 5.  It’s straight with bunkers lining the sides of the fairways, and trees on the left and long grass on the left.  There’s a pond on the right of the green with a brook crossing the front of the green with a forced carry.  The approach shot was the first time I experienced the altitude and fast conditions, as I saw my 175 club fly to the rear of the green, then bounce and roll another 60 yards into a waste area.  The Third is the first par 3, a 200 yarder with water towards the tee area and then surrounding the left side, with a bunker on the right that collects errant shots.  I like what Bobby did here, as most golfers will line up away from the water right at the bunker that looks like it should be out of play.

I liked the Fourth a lot.  It’s a par 4 with a creek about 240 yards out running through the fairway.  Just far enough away to encourage a carry on the tee shot for a nice risk reward play.  And it turns out carrying the creek on the tee shot is vital to scoring well here, as there are alternate greens used that are both guarded by trees and bunkers if your shots aren’t placed on the correct side of the fairway.  It’s a nice course management hole that makes you think.

Tee shot at the Fourth.  Those trees guard the greens fiercely.

Approach at the Fourth.

After the Fourth you start realizing the course is starting to flex its muscles a little.  The Fifth is a hard dog leg left where the turn is guarded by an array of bunkers and trees, then a bunch of bunkers surround the green.  With the fast conditions, it was easy to hit into the bunker complex at the dog leg and again around the greens.

The Fifth on the inside of the dog leg

The Fifth at the outside of the dog leg

The Sixth is a 230 yard par 3 with a slightly elevated green.  This is the hole I realized that shorting ball flight and letting the ball run up was how to play.  And this hole is a prime example of that, as there are bunkers left and right of the green but no trouble from tee to green.  The Seventh is a shorter but narrow par 4 with another elevated green.  All of the trouble is to the sides, so keep it straight and you’ll be fine.  

The Seventh green

The Eighth stretches out again to a +600 yard par 5 that dog legs slightly right to an elevated green surrounded by bunkers and fronted by water.  One of the tougher approach shots on the course.

The approach at the Eighth.  Nice pin placement here.

The Ninth is a narrow par 4 where your tee shot must go through a chute of trees and carry a creek to the fairway.  The green has a bunker on the left side.  Really though, the challenge is with the tee shot and the narrow fairway.  One of the better tee shots on the course.

Tee shot at the Ninth

I’d rank the front nine 8, 4, 5, 9, 3, 1, 2, 6, 7.  Most of the holes are well done, but I’d put 6 and 7 as weak.

On the back 9, the Tenth starts out a little like the Ninth, a narrow par 4 with a tree lined fairway and a bigger green surrounded by bunkers and a little raised.  There’s water on the right side, but it’s far right and only comes into play if you mis hit your approach shot.

The Eleventh was one of my favorite holes on the course.  The tee shot faces a larger stream while the fairway angles towards the stream, letting you choose how much of the stream you want to carry for an easier second shot.  It’s a par 5, so you have a good chance at birdie if you’re able to take enough off the tee shot.  The scenery on this hole is spectacular, as this stream runs the length of the left side of the fairway, then another river runs towards the fairway joining the stream while the mountains are in the back drop.  You don’t get this type of view at many other courses.

Tee shot at the Eleventh

Second shot at the Eleventh

The Twelfth is a short par 4 that dog legs right.  There are trees on the right and bunkers left to keep your tee shot honest, then bunkers on both sides of the green to keep your tee shot honest.  The Thirteenth is the first par 3 of the back 9 and it’s a carry over water at about 170 yards.  The green is very wide, so just make sure your distance is right and you get a little lee way left and right.  I didn’t take any photos of this hole for some reason, but it’s the one the website has plastered all over the place.  It’s indeed picturesque.  The Fourteenth dog legs slightly to the right to a raised green with a steep bunker protecting the approach shots.  There’s a waste land on the right that collects a lot of balls.  The Fifteenth is a straight par 4 that is pretty easy.  Great chance for a birdie recovery.

The Sixteenth is named, “Great View,” but should be re-named, “Bunker Hell.”  There are a ton of them on this 200 yard par 3.  They surround the larger green, but intimidate.  A nice visual hole.

The Sixteenth.  Are there more bunkers or peaks?

The Seventeenth reminded me of the Fifth; a hard dog left leg with trouble on the inside and outside of the leg.  Bunkers surround the elevated green as well.  Then there’s the Eighteenth, a grand par 5 that dog legs right after the tee shot, has bunkers proceeding down towards the green, then has bunkers surrounding the green except for a narrow opening in the front.  There is trouble every where and scoring well on it gives you a good sense of accomplishment regardless of how you did on the rest of the holes.

I’d rank the holes on the back 9 as 11, 16, 13, 18, 17, 10, 12, 14 and 15.  The par 3’s and 5’s were excellent while the par 4’s were ok.

Generally, the combination of everything here makes this course top shelf.  When you travel for golf, you want everything to be high end and get the royal treatment, including a respectable course.  This place understands this.  Would I flock to this course for the design alone?  Maybe.  But when you consider the scenery, first rate service, conditions and everything else, this place gives you one of the better vacation golf courses you could hope for.  Don’t get me wrong, the design is unique and there’s enough good holes to keep you interested.  The par 4’s on the back 9 were only ok and 6 and 7 were stale, but I enjoyed the other holes a lot.  My point is that there’s so much else to appreciate here that you wouldn’t even notice if the course was bland.  The cart girl here came around often, the halfway house had awesome cheeseburgers, everyone was friendly, and the practice area was better than a lot of courses I play.  I have no qualms recommending this course to anyone who will be in the area, or is trying to decide to become a member.

Range.  Would love to have that view every time I hit some balls


Inside the clubhouse

Gripes:  We paid the member green fee, which was a reasonable $90, but I could see someone having an issue with the non member peak rate of $195.  JH is not a particularly cheap place and it is a RTJ2 course, so some would argue 195 peak is reasonable.  If I was in JH again, I would know that my wallet was taking a hit regardless of what I did and would fork it over.  In other words, it’s worth playing.  The fast conditions were also a big adjustment.

Bar/grill:  Outstanding.  Relaxing inside or outside, it was top notch.  I wish I could have spent more time there honestly.

Clubhouse:  Big and well stocked.  Huge selection of everything, free tees and divot tools.  And tv’s.  Also top notch.

Nearby:  Elk and streams.

Getting there:  About 15 minutes outside downtown JH.  Probably a $30 cab ride if you have no other option.