There comes a point when you are so tired from climbing up steep hills that your ears begin to ring. With my heart pounding and my heavy breathing drowning out every natural sound of this beautiful area, I finally summitted the top of the hill and stood atop the 5th tee at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin outside Big Sky, Montana.
In hindsight, walking this course wasn’t my brightest idea. When I arrived at the spectacularly beautiful stone façade clubhouse with views of the practice area in the foreground and the mountain peaks in the background, I was greeted by bewildered looks as I said, “I’m walking today.”
Their responses were mostly:
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
“I’ve never seen anyone walk this course.”
“You’re going to walk?”
Before starting my round, Moonlight Basin’s Director of Golf Greg Wagner, handed me a can of bear spray and gave me quick instructions on how to use it.
“Pull this cap off and fire from the hip, so you don’t shoot the spray over the bear. And you should be good to go. I doubt you’ll see one, but here you go just in case,” Greg said.
I laughed as I put the bear spray in an open pocket of my golf bag on the first tee and said, “Well it’s always better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”
The first hole at Moonlight Basin offers a fantastic view of the whole mountain valley from an elevated tee. A 200-foot drop from tee to fairway on this dogleg left par 4 with a bunker protecting the end of the fairway makes club selection on this 463-yard hole important. After the first portion of the fairway another elevation drop lays between the fairway and the undulating green that is protected by a deep bunker to its right.
Continuing my trek down the steep hillsides for the first few holes, I remembered something that made my calves tense up, “What goes down, must come back up.”
After the 470-yard par 4 4th hole, that turns slightly to the left on the gradual uphill fairway and is crossed by a creek 110-yards short of another tough green protected by a bunker in front, I started one of the toughest hikes of the day.
With my clubs on my back, I trudged up the path from the 4th to the 5th hole. The steep grade got my blood pumping and my lungs feeling as if they were going to burst at any moment as the trail continued to wind its way up the hill. Ten minutes into this climb, I realized why no one walks this mountainous course as I finally spotted the next tee.
As the miles added up and my legs grew wearier from the consistent climbs up the mountainside, I arrived at the long par 5 13th hole. At 628-yards this hole doglegs right 280-yards from the green and climbs its way up the hillside. Protected by eight bunkers inside of 100-yards, going for it in two isn’t a smart decision. This wide green features a high ridge in the front right and a number of swales that create intimidating pin positions.
On a course that offers nothing but spectacular mountain views, I found myself standing for an extra moment on every tee box and taking in the grandeur of Moonlight Basin. Talking with Director of Club Operations Mike Wilcynski after the round, the course was designed by Jack Nicklaus to offer the best of views from every tee. One of the best views on the course is the 16th hole at Moonlight, a downhill par 3 playing around 200-yards with a mountain peak in the backdrop of the green.
Walking back up another steep path that switch-backed its way up the mountainside toward the clubhouse, I took a moment to look back down the mountain valley that houses the Reserve at Moonlight Basin.
The 10.6-mile hike that covered 1,200 feet of elevation change and the reactions I got from some of the staff when I walked back to the clubhouse was worth it.
You can’t beat the views at Moonlight Basin, but next time, I might take a cart.
Thanks to the Greg Wagner, Mike Wilcynski, and the rest of the staff at Moonlight Basin for hosting me for a great day of golf.