The Sun Valley resort dates back to the mid-1930s, when W. Averell Harriman, chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, decided to develop a destination winter sport mountain resort, similar to those found in the Swiss Alps.
Bald Mountain was chosen as an ideal location because of its favourable climate and so the X-shaped Sun Valley Lodge opened in December of 1936 with chairlifts, heated outdoor swimming pool and 9-hole course (designed by architect Billy Bell) following soon after.
Robert Trent Jones Jnr designed the Trail Creek course in 1980 and his former associate Don Knott added the 9-hole White Clouds layout on more elevated sections of the property in 2008, creating a wonderful 27-hole golf complex.
The fast flowing waters of the creek come into play at no fewer than seven holes on the front nine of the Trail Creek layout. The creek actually crosses the left doglegged 3rd hole twice, threatening both the tee shot and the approach to the green.Both par threes on the inward half are formidable short holes with heavily protected greens: the putting surface at the signature 10th sits behind an intimidating lake and the severe back-to-front sloping green at the 17th is fronted by a couple of enormous bunkers.
Sun Valley is a town best known for its Ski Resort and its claim to the world’s first chair lift (if you play the back 9, you’ll get to see it up close). Having skied here, I can confidently declare that it is indeed a ski resort. But, this isn’t a ski website, so I’ll instead have to settle for reviewing the golf course instead, one of many by esteemed architect Robert Trent Jones. Between the frequent accumulation of wealth and desperate need to bring people in during the summer, it’s common to see golf courses in any ski town and expect to pay a premium to play, and this one is no exception. Does it justify its high price though?
The Front 9 plays a lot more along the river and valley. Expect some demanding carries and precision shots depending on the hole with occasional rises. It makes some solid use of its otherwise flat terrain to keep a golf on their toes.
The Back 9 leans more into the mountain terrain, with some steep rises and falls, testing your capability to play uphill, particularly with the bunkers that come into play. As a bonus, you’ll also get to pass by the aforementioned world’s first ski lift, which unsurprisingly isn’t in use these days but has a neat dedicated plaque.
3: The first particularly interesting hole of the course, it’s the longest par 4 has a large downhill drop into the main part of the hole with a dogleg left. The daring long hitter can try to cut a path over the trees but beware the river in front of the green. Handicap 1 for a good reason.
8: The shortest par 4, it has two different fairways with a demanding carry to reach the second. Getting on in one is feasible for long hitters if they can hook or hit high at whim.
14: A moderately long par 4 with a major rise to reach the green and bunkers lined along the left, make sure to pick your approach correctly. Naturally the handicap 2 hole.
17: While rather boring from the front tees, it becomes an exciting but demanding long downhill par 3 from the back tees, with the greatest drop from tee to hole of the course.
It’s overall a decent course with some standout holes, and if you like your golf course with heavy forestation and elevation changes then you’ll enjoy it here. However, its high price and remote location make it a tough sell. There are so many other great courses out there that can be accessed and played at a fraction of the time and cost of this one. If you’re in town during the off-season (especially with a Rocky Mountain PGA Pass for playing 18 at the 9-hole rate) or can comfortably afford the summer price, then it should be a fine enough round.