Cutthroats and Golf:
Teton High

By Bill Nestor 

The Teton valley is beautiful. (Below, left:Waterfalls are scattered throughout the property along the cart paths and walking trails; below, right: Historic Rammell Barn on the 15th hole preserves the history of the of the farmlands from which Headwaters Golf Course was cut.; center: the #10, par-3.) Photos by: Mark Whitright

  Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth; truth is beauty- that is all….”

The Teton valley is beautiful. That is the truth; but it is not all.. 

Nestled in an Idaho valley at the Teton Springs Lodge & Spa is an eighteen-hole masterpiece. The Headwaters Golf Club is a prairie layout by a trio of design artists-- PGA Tour player Steve Jones, golf architect Gary Stephenson, and the legendary Byron Nelson. 

Set at 6,600 feet on a sweeping valley floor, surrounded by protected National park and forest and the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, Headwaters is guaranteed perpetual vistas of grandeur.

Byron Nelson's Texas farm boy roots likely drew him to this 774-acre tract of land, his last design effort, once comprised of four contiguous barley and alfalfa spreads.  “Fellow Texan Bill Ward-- a local resident and club member who was involved in taking Softspikes to market, was influential in bringing the Lone Star state trio together at Headwaters, “said Jon Pinardi, Teton Springs Director of Operations.  “They have molded the farmland into a superb private golf course.”

Expansive ponds line the fairway at the par four- 18th that plays 314-488 yards.
Photo by: Mark Whitright

Byron Nelson's accomplishments are historic--52 tour victories including two Masters (1937, 1942), the 1939 U.S. Open and two PGA Championships (1940, 1945).  His 1945 season is considered the best ever by a male golfer--18 wins, including 11 tournaments in a row, finishing second another seven times.  In 1946, at age 34, Nelson retired from full-time competitive golf to his working Texas ranch.  Steve Jones has notched eight PGA Tour wins including the 1996 U.S. Open.

Gary Stephenson’s design style of emphasizing the natural lay of the land is evident at Headwaters.  He has worked on dozens of golf courses in the U.S., Australia, and Thailand including the renowned Talon Course at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. (

My route to Teton Springs took me through the Jackson Hole, Wyoming airport onto a mountain road that winds its way up and down from one valley floor to another, over the Tetons, through a year-round snowcapped pass at 9,000 feet before dropping into Victor, Idaho and the resort 34 miles away.   The Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains occupies both sides of the pass, with peaks rising to 13,000 feet, defines the region, a Mecca attracting outdoors adventure enthusiasts.  Skiing, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking, paragliding, fishing and golf draw visitors year round.  Many who arrived for a week's vacation find themselves years older--having never left.

Putting Green at clubhouse.  Teton Springs Lodge in background and Palisades Condos on the right.
Photo by: Mark Whitright

Teton Springs Lodge & Spa is the only facility on either side of the pass with its own golf course.  There's also a full service spa, 25 meter heated pool, hot tubs, tennis and basketball courts, fitness center, heliport, fish populated ponds, restaurant, lounge, and a myriad of recreational opportunities.  

“Teton Springs Lodge is a ‘Small Luxury Hotels of the World’ member. Our comfortable earth tone fashioned accommodations include one or two bedroom suites and lodge rooms surrounded by gentle plains and mountain views.  Individual cabins and homes are also available.  An additional 42 suites are planned,” said General Manager Jeff Naylor. 

The development is a strikingly idyllic scene of placid prairie and rugged mountains.  The clear blue sky, and sun bright reflections shade and illuminate uncultivated features, straw colored grasses and earth tone hues of the lodge and rustic cabins accented by natural tones of granite rock formations, pointing sharply jagged tips toward a higher place.

The Teton Range is geologically young, formed six to nine million years ago by fault blocks thrust upward.  Glaciers sculpted the plains below some time later.  The level prairie approaches to the foot of the mountains, an almost sea of glass, then the peaks abruptly shoot up a mile or two from the valley floor.   

Luxurious rustic living in “Mountain Man Cabin”
Photo by: Mark Whitright

The variety of altitudes and climates further dramatize the setting and make for diverse populations of flora and fauna.  Within the Plains to Alpine elevation marker zones come varied species, including bison, elk, moose and mule deer.    

Headwaters is a private golf club with playing privileges for guests at Teton Lodge, who will find an abundance of water in play throughout the course routing, specifically on 14 holes.  The headwaters of the Teton River create a series of springs and three creeks across the property that run through the valley to the Henry Fork and Snake River, just west of the club.    These spring creeks are heavy fisheries with a healthy population of yellow cutthroat trout.  It is possible to play golf and fish without leaving the premises.

Fishing for rainbow trout, brown trout and cutthroats.
Photo by: Chris Duthie

Fishing for rainbow trout, brown trout and cutthroats is perhaps the best in the world on nearby rivers. Guides from WorldCast Anglers are available to head out on the South Fork or other rivers to fly-fish from McKenzie float boats. ( Professional Matthew Stireman said, “Golf season runs from early April to late October. Earlier snow melt on the western Idaho side of the Teton Range provides a longer season than that found not far to the east in Jackson Hole.”

There’s a nine-hole par three course, and complete practice facility at Headwaters for warming up. Confronting the championship 18, players can choose from five sets of tees ranging from 5,400 to 7,400 yards.

“Byron Nelson believed that golf is a game to be enjoyed,” said Pinardi, so picking the right tee is a player’s first strategic move. The middle blue tees may only be 6,447 yards, but plenty of challenge is maintained with par-4s stretching distances as at the third hole- 458 yards, the eighth-452 yards and the ninth-479 yards. The tips with its par-5 601-yard fourth, or par-4 517-yard eighth and a number of other 400-plus yard par-4s are not for the faint of heart. But either tee will test your game and deliver a memorable round of golf.

The beautiful and challenging #10, par-3 of the Headwaters Golf Course.
Photo by: Mark Whitright

Headwaters is a masterfully maintained and conditioned golf course. The soil and sediment making up the underlying layers on which it was built were deposited thousands of years ago by crawling masses of miles-deep ice age sheets. Little dirt was moved other than for shaping. The scraped off topsoil was put back and took its centuries-old place. It now holds Kentucky Blue grass throughout and bent grass greens. It is very well kept but not overly manicured. The greens roll quickly but are not disproportionately fast for its fitness. Aprons are cut neat and approaches trimmed to allow play commensurate with Byron's desire. “Mr. Nelson wanted to design a course that could be played on the ground,” shared Stireman.

“The Golf House, located on the north side of the village adjacent to the first tee, includes a retail shop, board room/conference area and the Headwaters Grille. Executive Chef Dan Davis creates deliciously prepared upscale casual fare. The Grille serves up Bitch Creek, Snake River and other local microbrewery suds. Additional club facilities planned will feature exclusive members dining, meeting space, concierge services, and private locker areas for members,” said Pinardi. The Headwaters Golf Club at Teton Springs not only provides a world-class golfing experience but also hospitality comparable to exclusive private clubs.


Spring Creek Ranch offers a myriad of activities, year-round.
Photos courtesy of Spring Creek Ranch

To the east, over the border and pass, sits Jackson Hole, Wyoming, also in a valley at 6,600 feet. Not far from downtown and its famous elk-antler arches town square is Spring Creek Ranch, a luxury resort and conference center perched cliffside facing the Teton Range and 13,770 foot Grand Teton summit. The majesty of Grand Teton presents an imposing formation. Its snow-capped crest looms magnificently over a sagebrush-covered valley floor.

Spring Creek’s setting and vistas are exhilarating. It’s comfortable and roomy accommodations feature fireplaces and spectacular views of the Teton mountain range and Grand Teton. The resort’s site is hundreds of feet above the valley floor within a wildlife refuge of 1,000 acres that is home to moose, deer, elk, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles. It offers quiet accessible seclusion from Jackson Hole and year-round activities -horseback riding, hiking, horse drawn sleigh rides, snowshoeing, tennis, spa, fitness center and nearby fly-fishing, golf, alpine skiing, whitewater rafting, and hot air ballooning.

The resort’s Ganary Restaurant delivers fine casual dining in a cathedral ceiling room with a wall of glass that magnifies the noble Grand Teton. Chef Jason masterfully prepared a pure palate pleaser -a superb local smoked trout dip appetizer with crostini; classic caesar salad with Spanish boquerones anchovies and house made croutons; delicious bison porterhouse; melt in your mouth blackened elk tenderloin and New Orleans butter sauce; pureed potatoes and baby string beans. Their fine wine list produced a pair of complementing tasty servings—2006 Oregon King Estate, Pinot Grigio and Ridge, Three Valleys (Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Carignane), Sonoma 2006.

“The Truth is- there is nowhere else to stay in Jackson Hole where you can wake up to such beauty, look out at the Tetons and simply be in awe of nature's work. So many of my competitors come to the ranch to take pictures for their brochures," said Stephen Price, the Spring Creek Ranch general manager. Which is quite something when you realize that 97% of the nearly four million acres in Teton County, Wyoming have been forever protected by national parks and forests, land trusts and public conservation easements.

Bill Nestor writes about golf, travel and lifestyle from his home in Vermont.

Teton Springs Lodge & Spa
Headwaters Golf Club
Phone: 877-787-8757
Website: Creek Ranch
Jackson Hole, WY
Phone: 800-443-6139

Other Area Golf Courses:
Headwaters, ID - Nelson, Jones, Stephenson, P and TSG

Huntsman Springs, ID - David McKlay Kidd, P

Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis, WY- Robert Trent Jones Jr., SP

Teton Pines, WY- Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay, SP

Teton Reserve, WY- Hale Irwin, P

Snake River Sporting Club, WY - Tom Weiskopf, P

3 Creek Ranch, WY - Rees Jones, P

Shooting Star, WY - Tom Fazio, P and FSG

River Rim Ranch, ID - Greg Norman, P
(P/Private, SP/Semi-Private, NC/Near Completion, FSG/Four Seasons guest, TSG/Teton Springs guest)

Getting There:
Daily flights- Non-stop jet service to Jackson Hole from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and commuter flights from Boise, Denver, Salt Lake City.