They don't call it the "wild west" for nothing.
The states that make up the mountain west are synonymous with the words from America the Beautiful ... 'Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain."
The plains, prairieland and farm fields of Nebraska bleed into the front range and Rocky Mountain high of Colorado. From New Mexico in the south to Montana and Idaho in the north, these places feature some of America's most rugged and rewarding landscapes. In other words, it's ideal for golf.
None of these states are true hotbeds of destination golf like California, Arizona, Florida and the Carolinas; the exception being, perhaps, Colorado. However, there are pockets of golf worth discovering. For example, I played golf in Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming along the Interstate-80 corridor while moving and driving from Michigan to California over five days. What a memory.
You can get in your car and choose your own golf adventure, too. Here's where:
Nebraska's Prairie Club
Five hours from Omaha, six from Denver.
Considering the closest regional airports are more than 100 miles away, the Prairie Club in Valentine has always been a drive-in destination in America's heartland near the Nebraska-South Dakota border. This remote Sandhills outpost is the resort answer to the legendary private club called Sand Hills designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that sparked a modern architectural movement.
The Prairie Club was also at the forefront of the par-3 movement that has swept through the U.S. resort scene. The 10-hole Horse course features greens and tees that can be played in any combination. You simply aim and call your shot, much like the basketball game of the same name. The Prairie Club's regulation 18s are both similar in that they're par 73s with rugged bunkering, but very different in presentation with the Pines sweeping through forest and the Dunes by Tom Lehman rolling across open prairie.
Nebraska's I-80 corridor
Four hours from Denver and Omaha.
My "moving/golf trip" along I-80 stretched too many miles for any sane golf group to cover - a total of 1,167 miles from Blue Top Ridge in Iowa to the Canyons course in Park City, Utah. But a condensed version through Nebraska would be a nice, and affordable, long weekend getaway. The Bayside Golf Club and Wild Horse Golf Club are about 100 miles apart. Both have onsite cabins, making a one-night, two-round stay the perfect way to experience both Dave Axland and Dan Proctor courses. Bayside delivers hilly, unforgiving terrain with views of Lake McConaughy. Wild Horse, regularly ranked among the most affordable Top-100-caliber courses in golf, counters with mostly flat fairways protected by long prairie grasses. Take on doglegs and angles of attack at your own peril.
The lake life in Coeur d'Alene
Less than 4 hours from Missoula and Helena, MT., and 5+ hours from Boise.
This beautiful golf and lake destination is anchored by the Coeur d'Alene Resort on the shores of the lake. Every golfer should experience one of the most memorable par 3s in golf, the floating island green reachable only by boat. Venture outside the town and you'll discover Circling Raven, an expansive and homes-free layout cut across 620 acres of tribal land. The casino will keep golfers entertained after dark.
St. George, Utah
Four hours from Salt Lake City and less than two hours from Las Vegas.
The addition of the new Copper Rock Golf Club in Hurricane this spring elevates what is already an outstanding golf getaway. St. George, tucked into southwest Utah near the Nevada border (and Mesquite's fine collection of courses), is surrounded by the dynamic red rock formations that make nearby Zion National Park so revered. Golfers have plenty of choices when it comes to accommodations and stay and plays: Sand Hollow Golf Resort has 27 holes (the epic back nine on the Championship course is mind-blowingly scenic), a putting course and a short course; The Ledges offers high-end homes and the Inn at Entrada offers access to the private Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club. I fell in love with the region during a golf and hiking trip in 2019.
Ski AND golf country in Park City, Utah
1 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City.
Sure, Park City's the place to be in winter, but it's not too shabby in summer, either. The public golf scene is small but interesting. I played the flat but enjoyable Park City Golf Course in the heart of town during my move and stayed at the swanky Waldorf-Astoria, Park City. Since my visit, the nearby Canyons course has opened, offering a short, tight, mountainous challenge. About 20 minutes outside of town is Homestead Resort in Midway, home to the Homestead Golf Club that was ranked No. 1 in the state by Golf Advisor users in 2018. If you've got private club connections, the 36-hole Promontory Club and Glenwild Golf Club and Spa are two of the best out West.
Colorado's Western Outposts
Distance from Denver: Telluride (6+ hours), Grand Junction (4+ hours) and Steamboat Springs (3+ hours).
The further west you drive from Denver, the further you get from civilization. You can spread out in all directions to explore some remote golf courses and charming towns. Fish Creek flows through six holes of the Rollingstone Ranch Golf Club at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas in Steamboat Springs about 150 miles northwest of Denver. Driving 250 miles west to Grand Junction reveals one of America's most scenic public courses, the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa. The 6,442-yard Tiara Rado Golf Course, one of two local munies, sits in the shadow of the impressive Colorado National Monument with excellent views of the Grand Mesa and the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains in western Colorado and eastern Utah.
Telluride seems lost deep in the 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains 330 miles southwest of Denver. It's a beautiful place, if you can find your way there. The Telluride Golf Club provides a roller-coaster ride of a routing.
Colorado's Vail Valley
3+ hours from Denver and Cheyenne, WY., and 6+ hours from Albuquerque.
The Vail Valley is another ski mecca that's good to golfers: Ironically, I've played golf here multiple times but never visited to ski. The Red Sky Ranch in Wolcott alternates its Greg Norman and Tom Fazio courses daily between member play and opening up to guests at key partner resorts. The same guest- and members-only policy applies to play Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s scenic Beaver Creek Golf Club in Avon. The Vail Golf Club is a quality city muni that allows you to rent golf bikes. Keystone Resort sports more lodging and the River and Ranch courses closer to Denver.
Luxury in Colorado Springs
1+ hour from Denver and 4+ hours from Albuquerque.
The Broadmoor has been a five-diamond resort longer than most of us have been alive - 56 years and counting. Both the West course and more famous East course, host of multiple USGA championships, have ties to Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr. and are lined with thick rough and bunkers. If you get beat up, don't worry. The rest of the resort is for pampering and relaxing, from a stroll around Cheyenne Lake to the spa and myriad of dining choices. You can go all out at the five-star Penrose Room or sing along at the cheery Golden Bee, a British public featuring live music.
If you're itching for more golf, there's also the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, a Dolce Resort. Pete Dye designed the resort's Country Club of Colorado.
Montana's Big Sky
One hour from Bozeman and 6+ hours from Boise.
Big Sky is a destination on the rise. The Big Sky Resort is home to the public Big Sky Golf Course, Arnold Palmer's first-ever design. The two major private clubs nearby, the Reserve at Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, are adding resort accommodations in the years to come, which will open up more public access. The 150-room Montage Big Sky adjacent to the clubhouse at Spanish Peaks is expected to debut in 2021 as Montana's first luxury hotel. Vacationers who rent homes in these communities can already gain access to these high-end experiences on a limited basis.
New Mexico's Casino Country
6+ hours from Phoenix and Denver, and 4 hours from El Paso.
Whenever I'm asked about the best golf destination nobody's heard of, I offer up this funky town made famous by Breaking Bad. There are a trio of casino resorts with golf: Sandia Resort & Casino is the best with the Isleta Resort Casino (27 holes) and the Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel (27 holes) very solid as well. The headliners are two scenic showstoppers about 45 minutes from downtown: Twin Warriors adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa and Paa-Ko Ridge (27 holes) in Sandia Park. Twin Warriors and Santa Ana are actually sister courses owned by the same tribe in Santa Ana Pueblo.