Monday, August 9, 2010

The Sunny Side of Life

I spent the first week of August playing golf at Sun Valley Resort in Ketchum, Idaho. Sun Valley, which just celebrated its 75th winter season, is known as one of the best ski resorts in the world, and it’s definitely distinguishing itself as an exceptional place to play golf from April 1 to October 1.

Here are some of the highlights of my visit:

·     I played the 18-hole Trail Creek course a couple of times and was impressed with the 6,941-yard layout offering fairways framed by tall evergreens and Aspens.  From the middle and resort tees it has generous and fair landing areas and there’s suitable challenge when low-handicappers move to the back tees. The mountain panoramas, open, flower-laden meadows and wildlife at seemingly every turn (I saw deer prancing by on several holes) provide a great way to spend four hours.

·     The new 9-hole White Clouds course is extreme mountain golf at its finest. Some holes feature tee shots from highly perched tee boxes to wide-open fairways down below. The views are stunning. You have 360-degree wrap-around panoramas of the Wood River Valley encompassing world famous ski runs on Baldy Mountain and Dollar Mountain, the Pioneer Mountains, Angel’s Perch, Devil’s Bedstead and the home of Ernest Hemingway. For a vast understatement, Sun Valley Resort owner placed a stone with a plaque on the 5th tee box that reads: “This is not all about golf.” My favorite hole is the 523-yard, par 5, number eight where you smash your drive from an elevated tee into the brilliant blue sky to a spacious valley below.

·     One of the amenities that makes Sun Valley a great family golf destination is the innovative 18-hole Sawtooths Putting Course, which is patterned after the one at St. Andrew’s. Though I actually scored a nine one of the wildly undulating holes, the course is an absolute blast to play.

·     After a round, there’s a great treat waiting for you—Sun Valley’s golf clubhouse, a 59,000 square-foot stone edifice with wrap-around terraces with mountain views and indoor and outdoor fireplaces. The menu goes well beyond your typical, boring clubhouse fare. Here I munched on sweet potato fries and a Mediterranean Lamb Gyro and washed it down with a frosty brew from the tap. I hear the grilled wild salmon sandwich is a good choice as well. For traditionalists, the Kobe Beef Burger, a half-pounder with cheddar, Swiss or bleu cheese will make you forget about all your bogeys, too.

·     I got to see country crooner Garth Brooks in concert (see photos) with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony at the phenomenal new outdoor pavilion. The copper roof structure accented by Italian stone has a superb sound system and seats 1,500. Among the acts that have appeared recently are former Eagles lead guitarist Don Felder, singer/songwriter Peter Cetera, formerly of the band Chicago and violinist Itzhak Perlman. The Sun Valley Symphony performs free concerts at the pavilion throughout the summer.

·     One of the highlights of visiting Sun Valley Resort in the summer is the Olympians on Ice program staged at an outdoor rink directly behind the main lodge. The night I saw the show, Olympic Silver Medalist Sasha Cohen was the featured performer and she headlined a dynamic show.  The shows are staged every Saturday night from late June to early September. I was told many top skaters use the Sun Valley Resort facility as a summer training ground so there’s never a shortage of great skaters for the show.

·     To really get a sense of what the resort has to offer, you’ve got to rent a bike. The on-site bike shop has everything from serious mountain bikes to big tire cruisers. I chose a cruiser and rode into the town of Ketchum about a mile away. A picturesque village peppered with bistros, restaurants, bars and gift shops, Ketchum is laid-back without the pretentiousness of, say, Aspen or Vail.  Celebrities apparently love the understated lifestyle.  Among those with homes in the area are actress Demi Moore, actor Bruce Willis, and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

·     Legend abounds that Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Ketchum off and on later in his life, wrote part of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in a room in the Sun Valley Lodge. From the 5th tee on the White Clouds Course you can see Hemingway’s house.

·     The dining at Sun Valley has a little something for everybody. Following a gondola ride up Baldy Mountain, I dined at the legendary Roundhouse (Averell’s), one of the great on-mountain dining places in the world. At The Ram, the resort’s top gourmet restaurant, I had one of the best German cuisine-inspired dishes to ever grace my palette. It consisted of a seasoned piece of pork roasted for eight hours then placed over a bed of spatzle with a course mustard sauce. Absolutely superb. One of my dining partners raved about the oven-roasted Chilean sea bass and the pan-seared prosciutto stuffed breast of free-range chicken is a can’t miss as well. Don’t leave the property without dining at the Trail Creek Cabin, a fixture since 1937 that sits next to a babbling brook and features and outdoor bar with phenomenal mountain views. Locally raised beef, Idaho Trout, baby back ribs and meat loaf are the top menu choices. In the summer, you can take a wagon ride to the cabin for dinner.

·     If you’re looking for a summer or early fall golf getaway where everybody in the family will find an activity to enjoy, I highly recommend Sun Valley Resort. Among the activities available are tennis, hiking and biking, horseback riding, paddle boats, trap, skeet or sporting clays shooting at the gun club, gondola and ski lift rides, fly-fishing, three swimming pools, on-site boutique shopping, wining, dining and shopping in the nearby village of Ketchum, spa, fitness center, ice skating, on-site six lane bowling alley, kid’s program and the list goes on.





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