- Architect: Tom Fazio
- Built in 2000
- Whitefish, Montana
- 4th in Montana (Golf Digsest)
- 16th in My Top 50 Golf Courses
Anyone who’s played a Fazio golf course knows his style. Post 1998, Fazio has adapted a more “artistic” approach to architecture, building some beautiful golf courses with his newfound bunker styling.
Iron Horse Golf Club in Whitefish, Montana is no exception. Carved out of dense Montana forest, the course features some dramatic elevation changes, making for lots of picturesque holes.
Iron Horse is so much more than a golf course, however. A beautiful clubhouse, the club features beautiful locker rooms with breakfast and lunch servings, two “refreshment huts” after holes 4 and 14, a halfway house after 9 and the “Pony Express,” a snack shack in the clubhouse–oh, and everything is complimentary with your fees to play golf.
The first hole, a 450 yard par 4, is a scary first tee shot. Playing downhill, the hole is a slight dogleg left, with bush left and right and a bunker about 290 off the tee on the right.
Personally, I don’t think this a bad hole, rather the opposite, but for a member’s golf course, it’s a little too difficult. Lots of people seem to get intimated stepping onto this tee.
The second is no cake walk either. A 211 par 3 with a huge slope on the right side of the green kicking everything away and a deep bunker right right, and another bunker short left guards this green. the tee shot is another difficult one that the player needs to get away from with at worst bogey.
The putting surface isn’t a set-in-stone 2 putt, either. A ridge runs down the right side of the green, almost off the left side of the front right bunker, and dictates the direction of every putt. It’s really difficult to make a putt on this green.
The third is probably one of the best, if not the best hole on the course. Playing around 420 yards, the hole is a slight dogleg right off the tee. A bunker on the right is pivotal to the tee shot.
The hole becomes interesting when you get to the fairway. A deep bunker guards the left side of the green, and a kicker slope to the right of the green is what surrounds the green complex. For the player to get a good angle, and not have to go over the bunkers short left, the player will have to challenge the right bunker in the fairway. If the player plays out left, they’ll have a difficult approach over all the bunkers, but they have the option to play it out to the right and watch it come towards the centre of the green. Below is the green complex of the 3rd.
The third is all about options, something that isn’t abundant at Iron Horse. The different ways you can play the 3rd makes it one of the best holes on the course.
The fourth, the first par 5, is reachable par 5 playing around 520 yards. The tee shot features three bunkers, two right and one left, and a hazard right.
The 4th is really all about the tee shot. Hug the right and have a shorter yardage and likely a look at the green, or leave it out to the left and have a semi-blind approach to the green and a longer second shot.
The 7th is the second par 3, and the most dramatic hole on the course. Dropping down some 100 feet, the par 3 plays much shorter than the 190 yardage.
The green complex is awesome too. Crazy undulation on the green, the pin position plays a vital role on where to hit it. Unlike a lot of greens, where you can go right for it to get it as close as you can, you can hit it to the certain slopes on the green and it’ll funnel towards the pin.
One of the toughest holes on the course, the 8th is a beast. But, unlike the other hard holes (1, 2), the 8th is later in the round, and is optimal time to make a difficult hole. 440 yards, doglegging right up the hill, the tee shot is difficult.
The approach also plays uphill, and with a fair amount of bunkers short left, it demands the player to be smart about where they’re hitting it.
Stepping onto the 8th tee, one imagines the 18th hole at Augusta National Golf Club — Fazio does consulting work there. Below is a comparison of the 8th at Iron Horse (left), and the 18th at Augusta (right), both have similar tee shots.
After filling up at the “dog shack,” or the halfway house, the player arrives at the beautiful 10th hole, a wider tee shot than the previous 9, and a slight relief for the player.
Not much to this hole, other than the approach seems to play slightly downhill, and with hazard long, you need to be cautious of your club selection.
The 12th is one of the few shorter par 4’s on the course. At 350 yards, you can decide how aggressive you can be off the tee. The green complex is guarded by 4 bunkers, and isn’t a huge surface, so the best play is to lay back to a full wedge distance. Below is different looks at the 12th green complex.
The 14th is a beautiful vantage point looking over the Flathead Valley. The par 3 is the longest on the club at 247 yards, but plays downhill.
The course really finishes strong, with a 230 par 3, 365 par 4 and 420 par 4 finish.
The 16th, flanked with hazard short and left, as well as two bunkers short left, is difficult, but plays as a faux redan. A player can use the kicker slope out to the left and see it come back towards the centre.
The 17th, although 365 yards on the card, is drivable, thanks to the downhill nature of the hole and the 3000 or so feet above sea level.
The green is really interesting. The front left portion of the green features a lot of break, while the right side features almost none. The player needs to be really sharp when putting here.
The 18th, arguably the best finishing hole I’ve seen so far, is a beautiful, dogleg right par 4, playing 420 yards from the back tees.
The tee shot plays more of a dogleg right from the I tees. The bunkers are carry-able, but if it’s slightly miss hit, the bunkers are in play, and not the place to be.
From the right side of the green, a creek running along the ride side is in play on the approach. The whole right side of the green has the creek and a bunker in play, making a back right pin tough to get to.
Overall, Iron Horse is a solid golf course. However, there are some issues among the course. A lot of the time it feels too penal for a member’s course, and would be unenjoyable for the higher handicapper. Some of the holes, namely the 5th and 11th, feel similar. Another glaring issue if whenever I go I basically hit the same shots of every single hole, as there’s rarely any variety or options.
Nonetheless, Iron Horse is a wonderful experience. A manicured course, with a blade of grass not out of place, I regularly return to Iron Horse with excitement, because even though there is some issues, it’s still a fabulous track to play.