Jackson Hole’s original course was unveiled in 1965, designed by California-based architect Bob Baldock, who planned more than 350 golfing layouts during a long career spanning several decades. Only two years after opening, Laurance Rockefellar stepped in to purchase the property, appointing Robert Trent Jones Jr. to redesign the layout.
The 1988 edition of the now defunct US Amateur Public Links Championship was held here, with Ralph Howe III becoming the first left handed golfer to ever win a USGA title when he defeated Kevin Johnson, the defending champion, at the 37th hole in the match play final. Howe III also became the first winner of the event to receive a Masters invite.
Vail Resorts acquired the Grand Teton Lodge Company in 1999 then spent the best part of eight years carrying out improvements at the club. This entailed the complete renovation of the course with the redesign of the 1st and 15th holes, the addition of twenty new tees to increase the overall length, and the installation of a state-of-the-art irrigation system.
Jackson Hole is a hard course to review because a good portion of the joy in playing it is because of the simply spectacular views of the Tetons. I can’t even begin to describe those, and I would say they are worth the price of admission, but it’s not like you can’t see the mountains from pretty much everywhere else in the valley. Playing golf at 6,000+ feet elevation was a cool novelty for a young man who had only one or two rounds in similar conditions under his belt at the time, but the course itself here just wasn’t much to write home about.
The course conditions were excellent, but it’s such a mundanely flat piece of land that the holes themselves were nearly completely unmemorable. I do recall a cool dogleg left par five along a river that I had to look up the course’s website to tell you it was hole #11, but nearly all of the rest of the course just blends together. There was a photogenic but otherwise bland par three over a pond on the back nine as well, #13. The flatness makes it difficult for there to be much definition to the holes, and even the ones that are defined well are all very similarly and heavily bunkered.
Perhaps subsequent renovations and additional housing added a little something extra to the course, but overall the experience was a bit disappointing.
Sometime courses benefit in being located near enough to a stunning off-course view that many simply give such courses a pass when it comes time to assess the core architecture.
That is the crux of the story with Jackson Hole. Since the course's opening over 50 years ago much has changed as this enchanting area of Wyoming has become a clear Mecca in drawing mega numbers of outdoor enthusiasts.
Jackson Hole was really the first 18-hole layout of stature to come into existence. The original layout by Bob Baldock and his son from California was eventually overhauled when a young RTJ Jr. was selected to do the work.
Jackson Hole is blessed in having the spectacular Teton, Snake and Gros Ventre Mountain Ranges within easy view when playing the layout. The vistas are actually more riveting than the golf. The main issue is that the course is located on meadowland terrain that's hardly able to raise more than a pulse. The course has been lengthened a good bit but with the elevation it will not serve as a main impediment for strong players.
The style followed by RTJ Jr follows a close pattern to what his more famous dad did for many years. You have the predictable pinched-in landing areas in the fairways with large greens flanked by just as large bunkers. There's nary any land movement and while the layout is usually in very good condition the desire to keep the turf soft means no real ground game connection of note.
The long par-4 10th and par-5 11th holes respectively are rather challenging. Both holes require a keen intersection of power and placement as each features the Gros Ventre River on its left for the entire play of the hole.
The issue with Jackson Hole is that newer and more dynamic courses have entered the scene since it opened. For many who play here the nearby connection to the aforementioned mountain ranges will be enough of a reason to enjoy the golf. But like a restaurant that has a seductive ambiance the real test comes with the quality of the food and Jackson Hole is simply sufficient on that front but hardly delectable.
The facility clearly provides all the creature comforts but the totality of the golf makes an old time Texas expression quite apt -- Jackson Hole is all hat and no cattle.
M. James Ward