Goin’ to Jackson Hole

Want to mess around? From world-class golf and trout-fishing to heli-skiing, hunting, riding, skating and much, much more.

Johnny Cash wasn’t one for golf, and “Jackson”— his 1960s hit that has earwormed me on the hour-long flight from Denver to Jackson Hole—evidently isn’t too keen on the game, either. The song’s two-quarter signature is messing around with my finely-tuned three-quarter-time swing tempo.

At least that’s the excuse I give my playing partner, PGA Head Professional Kali Quick of Snake River Sporting Club, after starting my round there with three consecutive bogeys and going OB on the short, par-3 fourth.

“Great song,” the 28-year-old LPGA Q-School Finalist says after singing a verse herself. “Too bad it’s about Mississippi.”

While this could explain why my game went south between the range and first tee, it also means it has nowhere to go but up.

Which it eventually and mercifully does, approaching a respectable degree of harmony with this masterful Tom Weiskopf Signature layout in the Snake River Canyon, less than 20 scenic miles from my plush room in downtown Jackson’s historic Wort Hotel.

Driving into Snake River Sporting Club’s 554-acre property, you immediately know golf is but one of its myriad member amenities. If the sign for the heliski pad doesn’t tip you off, then maybe those pointing towards the equestrian center, archery course, skeet range, Frisbee golf course, and Nordic skiing and biking trails will.

As the river comes into view, kayakers, rafters and stand-up paddleboarders share the currents with anglers casting for the Snake’s fine-spotted cutthroat trout. A pair of deer crossing the road suggests hunting expeditions in adjoining wilderness areas known for elk, bear and the occasional mountain lion.

And of course, there are the cars of craftsmen finishing off the spectacular homes marketed on real estate signs. By the time you reach the homey clubhouse appointed with original art from Jackson’s Altamira Gallery, it’s no surprise that in addition to fitness facilities and delectable dining, the 26,000-square-foot building houses a “Sports Shop” that stocks putters and golf polos alongside bike jerseys, waders and fly rods.

SRSC is a four-season club but golf, which members first played here in 2006, has returned after a financially imposed hiatus. Reopening this spring, the 7,533-yard course deftly straddles a prime stretch of the club’s six miles of private river access and 3.5 million acres of the adjacent Bridger Teton National Forest, with verdant woodlands and bosky wetlands respectively distinguishing the front and back nines.

On the front, spruces, firs and pines spill down from the forested mountainside to comingle with riparian willows and cottonwoods. This lushness shields each hole from the next while simultaneously weaving them into an oeuvre of a piece with its surroundings.

The No. 1-handicap par-4 third, for example, which chutes through a narrow corridor of conifers and cottonwoods, leads to a fall-away green near a shed that steers you towards the sylvan fourth tee. There, you can fill your water bottle directly from Lamb Spring and hear the yips and yodels of coyotes echoing off the canyon walls.

A respect for natural habitat informs the design, as well as your club selection on the par-four eighth, where water at the end of the fairway takes driver out the hands of most players and leaves them with a hybrid approach. Quick thinks this should be the No. 1-handicap hole.

Known for his drivable Par 4s, Weiskopf put two on the front: the 317-yard second and 378- yard fifth. Those distances are from the tips, called Snake tees. From the shorter fly-fishing inspired Caddis, Wulff and Midge tees, double-digit players can also reach, especially at more than a mile above sea level.

The turn to the back nine ascends towards the bench on which Snake River’s clubhouse perches with the teeing area for No. 10 just below. Both spots offer similarly jaw-dropping views of the course, river, lush valleys and the ridged rear of Munger Mountain. Although far more open than the front nine, the back compensates for its lack of trees with an abundance of water and architectural sleights that prompt disbelieving reshoots with your Rangefinder.

The distance on No. 11 is indeed all of 635 yards from the Snakes, and presents a scoring opportunity if you carry the stream (200 yards) and the bunkers (290). It’s followed by what Quick and General Manager Jeff Heilbrun reluctantly (because they like them all) call the “signature hole”—the 233-yard 12th, which sits on flat land and requires carrying a winding latticework of elevated cart paths and tortuous creeks to reach a green framed stunningly by the mountains and guarded by a steep bunker on the left.

Pictured above: The “signature” 12th hole

An eagle awaits on the next hole—a bald one that has its nest in the tree near the tee—and another rare bird comes two holes later in the form of a bunkerless, 205-yard Par 3. The 15th sports a harsh ledge left of the green that drops a good 20 feet, and with one of the best fishing stretches of the river riffling a few feet away, you might opt to wet a line with one of the rods that lay beside the chairs along the bank. Just don’t miss the trio of stunners— a pair of opposite dogleg Par 4s and a 592-yard finishing hole—that climax what Weiskopf called his “finest work to date.”

Pictured above: The 15th hole

The editors of Golf Digest must agree, because when Snake River opened in 2007, it trailed only Sebonack Golf Club—the Tom Doak/Jack Nicklaus Hamptons collaboration—on the magazine’s list of best New Private Courses. But whereas Sebonack would go on to host a U.S. Women’s Open, SRSC went on to host lawyers, lienholders and other horsemen of the financial apocalypse and fell into foreclosure in 2010.

However, in 2013 the Atlanta real-estate investment firm Cygnus Capital bought the distressed 257-acre property with the full intention of “repositioning it and reinvesting in it,” says Cygnus principal Christopher Swann.

Did it ever. Cygnus invested an additional $11.5 million to finish and furnish the clubhouse, revitalize the golf course and build out the amenities and real-estate offerings, which include the stunning 3,750-square-foot Martin Creek Cabins. Among the 68 homes and lots currently offered, each cabin features four bedrooms and more than 800 square feet of covered, elevated decks overlooking the creek. Aspen’s Poss Architecture designed the high-ceilinged, timbered buildings, and WRJ Design polished the interiors with, among other materials, rare granite countertops and tiles, knotty alder doors and cabinets and sawn oak floors. The cabins run $2.5 million.

Cygnus also more than doubled the size of the property— from 257 to 554 acres—by additionally purchasing the adjacent River Bend Ranch and the 7,700-square-foot home that now sits on a 35-acre lot and lists for $6.5 million. Lots on the property range in price from $550,000 to $950,000 and include club membership.

To manage Snake River’s reinvention, Cygnus hired Heilbrun— a longtime Jackson resident who had served as COO of nearby Teton Pines Resort & Country Club before taking a similar position at North Carolina’s elite Wade Hampton Golf Club.

“Our goal is to provide the entire Jackson Hole experience in a private club setting,” he says over lunch on the sprawling clubhouse deck. “All that’s missing are the people, restaurants and the shopping—all of which is only 15 minutes up the road.”

And if, like most people, you want to ski Jackson Hole, Snake River membership includes access to an on-mountain ski club that offers 25 lockers, valet parking and breakfast and lunch right next to the new tram at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

“We have a youthful energy—not in age but in attitude,” Heilbrun continues. “It’s adventurous and independent.” Hiring the 28-year-old Quick to run the golf operation directly reflects that philosophy, as does the protean energy of Outdoor Pursuits Director Will Hobbs, an affable sportsman who took this visitor on an entertaining gauntlet of shooting clays, bow-hunting lifelike woodland creatures (including a velociraptor) and floating along the Snake. The June visit put us “about two weeks out from fishing,” according to Hobbs.

That, naturally, doesn’t stop the blue herons, hawks and eagles from hovering, or a flock of pelicans from perching on a shoal.

“Foam is home,” Hobbs memorably says about the hard-seam bubble line where bugs and fish converge. “That’s where the groceries get delivered.”

To deliver members to the resurgent club, Heilbrun and Membership Sales Manager LB Haney have taken novel approaches. Not wanting to poach from area clubs, they have set up a multi-club membership program whereby a member at, say, Teton Pines, can add a SRSC membership for $35,000, plus $8,625 in annual dues (reduced from $60,000/$11,500), provided they remain a member at the other club.

A very attractive option for Colorado residents (and anyone who does not own or rent property for more than two weeks a year within 200 miles of Jackson Hole) is the National Membership. For a $3,000 initiation and $5,750 in annual dues, you and three guests get 15 days of golf between Memorial and Labor days, plus full access to all club amenities. This membership also comes with a legacy benefit that reduces heir initiation by 50 percent.

“We have $100 million in assets here, so we don’t need initiations to cover capital costs,” Heilbrun explains. This results in a tremendous value proposition for Front Range residents, especially when you consider the frequency and price of the short flight from Denver to Jackson as compared to the fuel-wasting congestion on I-70. Factor in the glorious location and smorgasbord of amenities—especially the golf, skiing and fishing—and you have a pretty good argument to become a national member.

Don’t think it’s worth the trip? Trust me, by the time you return from Jackson, you’ll be singing a different tune.

Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.comJon Rizzi is the founding editor and co-owner of this regional golf-related media company producing magazines, web content, tournaments, events and the Golf Passport.