- Whitefish, Montana
- Members only
- Tom Fazio (2000)
- 4th in State (Golf Digest)
Montana isn’t described as a “golf rich” state, however, the top courses in the state are all really high quality. Rock Creek Cattle Company, Yellowstone Club, The Reserve at Moonlight Basin, Stock Farm Club and Iron Horse are among the 5 most elite clubs in the state.
The Tom Fazio design is in the uber popular Whitefish, Montana, known for its lake and restaurants. Lots of celebrities choose to call Whitefish their home for the summer, so seeing someone like Jerry Rice or Drew Bletsoe hanging around Iron Horse isn’t out the ordinary.
The course is a fairly demanding 7028 yards thanks to the forest the course is woven through. The first hole is no exception as it opens with the longest par 4 on the course, measuring 455 yards.
The demanding first tee shot has a bunker in play on the right, approximately 300 off the tee, and the left side of the hole kicks towards the middle. The approach shot has a depression area short right, and everything slopes towards the back right portion of the green.
The first hole is a good hole, yes, but as a first hole? It might be too extreme. It’s a fairly demanding tee shot, and being the longest hole on the course is a tad aggressive for my liking. If the hole came near the middle of the round it would be a good hole, but as the opening hole, especially for a members club like Iron Horse, it is excessive.
The second hole is fairly uneventful. A sharp fall off right and long, and a kicker slope short left hidden behind a bunker is the main features of this 214 yard par 3. A spine runs up the right side making putting across it difficult.
The third is one of the better holes on property. Doglegging to the right around a bunker that’s in play with driver of 3 wood (I think the latter is the play for an ideal landing area), the tee shot plays to a semi-blind landing zone over a massive gully. The green is cut into a hillside, and with the right side completely shaved down you can throw it up on the slope to get to the green if you’re in trouble or have a long club in. A back left shelf makes for some difficult pins. It’s another mid-length par 4, coming in a yard shy of 440.
The fourth is a short par 5 with a tight tee shot. Only 520 from the back deck, getting it in play here gives you an ideal chance at getting home in two.
Hit it short left and watch the ball roll towards the middle of the green. A front pin is pretty difficult here, though, as the green slopes to the back right.
The 5th is my vote for the worst hole on the course. At 347 yards, it’s the second shortest par 4, playing back up the slope. However, it’s overly tight, limiting options. It’s a pretty standard iron-wedge to a pretty weird green complex.
The 6th is a fairly straightforward par 5. 567 on the card, I’ve always felt like this hole plays a little longer than what it says. Your eyes say go left, but leaves a longer (but easier) second shot if you go for it. Down the right is a tougher tee shot and you’ll have to work it around a big tree about 120 out, but it’s a shorter yardage.
The 7th is a cool little par 3. Playing no more than an 8 or 9 iron regardless of the 188 yardage, this hole drops down to a multi-level green fronted by two bunkers left, and one right. I really like the green here, and I think that’s the best feature. It’s got a lot of really crazy movement that makes for some really fun putts. Club selection is key here!
The tee shot at the 8th is another tight one. I actually really like this 442 yard par 4, although after 1 and 5 claustrophobia starts to catch up to you here. With a little more width on 1 and 5 it would actually make this hole stand out more and be better overall.
This hole is in the discussion for the most difficult hole at Iron Horse. It doglegs up and to the right, with three bunkers on the outside corner of the dogleg, and bunkering short left. As is the theme for most holes here, the green is very tricky, but there’s some slopes and contours that can feed the ball closer to the hole.
The 9th is a fairly weird tee ball, bending left around the tree line with the right trees coming into play as well. Two bunkers are on the left, but they don’t come into play with driver or even 3 wood and feel like they’re there for alignment purposes. A bunker right is in play if you don’t turn it over enough. The approach, however, is pretty good. The first 8 holes at Iron Horse feature pretty deep greens, but this one is a mere 22 paces long. It’s pretty wide fronted by 3 deep bunkers, but the hole is only 422 and plays a little shorter so it’s manageable.
The 10th is the #1 handicap hole, although I don’t really see the logic there. It’s 439, sure, but the tee shot is fairly generous. A bunker left isn’t in play and is my line with a fade, but two bunkers right are in play.
The approach plays down and over a small depression area, fronted by a bunker short left and short right.
I am not real crazy about 11, either. It’s another short, uphill hole at 379 yards, but features a little more variety. Bunkering left and right are in play with different clubs so you have to pick which one you’d like to have in play. The green is perched up pretty high with a very, very harsh run off area short left and a bunker short. This hole doesn’t really cater to the higher handicap.
The 12th is a lovely hole, and is in the running for the best hole here. It’s the shortest par 4 at 339 yards, and features loads of options. You cannot see the green from the tee, however, it’s evident it suits a fade the best with driver. A downslope in the fairway can help you get it to maybe front edge or front bunkers, but I’ve just always laid up to 100 yards.
The green complex is superb, with a back left tongue that bowls in, and a front left portion. A middle tier is also here that is much more difficult than back left or front. I always elect for a full wedge in here because there is some dicey pins here with a full club, let alone a pitch shot over a bunker.
The 13th is another solid par 5. It plays 559 yards from the back deck, and the fairway slopes towards the right the entire hole. The green complex once again goes towards the back portion of the green, so hitting it short left is the ideal play to get home in two.
One of my main issues with Iron Horse is how all three par 5’s play fairly identical. A tee shot that favors a fade, as well as a second shot that is best to hit it short left and let the natural slope tumble the ball towards the green. It’s a nice hole the first time, the second you’re scratching your head because it feels similar, and then the third time you clue in. A little more variety would’ve been nice.
The 14th is so-so. I like the green complex, and I think that’s the defining feature here on the 253 yard par 3. One bunker short right is visible from the tee, and the left side kicks everything in. They’ve softened this hole over the years, so left side won’t always come down. The green is like an upside down saucer, which is pretty neat.
The 15th is a bunker-less hole, which I’m always a sucker for. Some good natural contours and interesting topography are the main features here.
The tee shot ideally is played up the right, but that gives you a fairly draw-biased lie. Down the left brings you into a depression area, and although it’s flatter than the right, it plays more uphill. The green complex here is also superb, fronted by a knob right in front of the green that has some green contours sloping off of it. I wish I would’ve gotten a picture.
The 16th starts a really good finishing stretch. This 229 yard par 3 plays over a large gully that bends around to the left of the hole, with two bunkers short left and a feeder slope short right. It’s a faux redan, just missing the green complex that slopes entirely towards the back (it bowls in to the middle).
The 17th is kind of a weird yardage. At 360 odd yards, playing straight downhill at elevation, it feels like it should be drivable, but a bunker about 30 yards short left in front of the green is right where you need to hit it. If it were 10 yards shorter I think it would be much more interesting off the tee, but that’s just me. It’s a spectacular view and a fun green complex fronted by a bunker that’s challenging if you’re in it.
The 18th is a cool finishing hole, but is a classic Fazio hole that critics might not love as much as the average player. It’s a sharp dogleg to the right, almost playing like a cape hole around a bunker complex. A pond is way right, so don’t hit it there.
The approach is fairly difficult, even with a wedge in hand (which you should have in as the hole is only 412 yards from the back tee). A bunker and a stream are on the right are the main difficulties, especially off a fade lie. The farther left you hit it the more you’re looking up the neck of the green, while the farther right you go the more it plays shallow, but wider.
Overall, Iron Horse is a great experience and a nice track to spend a day on. It’s not the best Fazio I’ve played, but it’s enough to make me wanting to come back. As a pro tip, show up early, go into the locker room and get the sausage breakfast sandwiches. Go hit up the epic practice facility, play your morning round, then return to the dog show (which you passed after 9 on the way to 10) and then go out for another round. If you can find a way to play this fairly exclusive course, take the chance! It’s worth seeing and is a lot of fun, especially with friends.