Roughs Around the Edges

Story and Photography By Michael McCoy
The backdrop of sheer cliffs at Heise Hot Springs evokes images of the American Southwest. 

Just about anyone living in the greater Teton region who knows a putter from a pitching wedge can name the area’s resort golf courses: Teton Pines, Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis, and Shooting Star in Jackson Hole; and, in Teton Valley, the Headwaters Club and Huntsman Springs. 

Beautiful courses, all of them, but also sky-high greens fees (if they’re even open to the public). That’s why a lot of local golfers have special affinities for the more pocketbook friendly—but still civilized and nicely manicured—courses like the 18-hole Teton Reserve near Victor, the 18-hole Links at Teton Peaks west of Driggs, and the 9-hole (plus a pair of practice holes) Targhee Village just across the Idaho state line in Alta, Wyoming … not to mention nearby public courses in Star Valley, Wyoming, and in the Idaho Falls-–Rexburg–Rigby–St. Anthony corridor of eastern Idaho. 

Then there’s a third tier of golf courses, the truly rustic ones you’ll never read about in Golf Digest, like the three highlighted below. No tee time? No problem. And no dress codes, no par fives, no rush: 100-percent relaxed, these are terrific places for kids and neophytes to learn the basics of the game. At the same time, because they’re made up mostly or entirely of par-3 holes, they’re excellent places for golfers of any skill level to hone up on their short game. 

The following three courses are quite isolated, even a bit hard to find. You could easily play all three in a day, or over a camping weekend—and, while you’re at it, discover some beautiful backroad slices of rural Idaho that you might otherwise never happen across. 

HEISE HOT SPRINGS  

Best known for its healing hot waters and popular pizza pies, the Heise Hot Springs resort hugs the north bank of Tie Bend on the South Fork of the Snake River. It also boasts an executive golf course made up mostly of par 3s (par 29 for nine holes), with a greens fee of $11. Open since 1978, the course features fairways peppered with big old conifers and a backdrop of reddish cliffs evocative of the U.S. Southwest. The number-four listing on the Course Rules billboard may tell you a bit about the Heise clientele: “No spike heels or cowboy boots on greens.” Nearby getting wet options for pre- or post-golf enjoyment include a natural mineral hot spring that’s kept at around 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a freshwater warm pool maintained at about 92 degrees, and an 84-degree summer pool crowned with the kids’ favorite: a 350-foot waterslide. There’s also camping and zip-lining available within the resort. The northerly turn off the Swan Valley Highway (US 26) toward Heise is about midway between Swan Valley and Idaho Falls. From there, just follow the signs. heisehotsprings.net

Drive the green on this short par-3 hole at Aspen Acres and you can double your money. 

CEDAR PARK   

The folks who run Cedar Park Golf Course, established in 1999, pride themselves on their pretty course that they consider “a little piece of heaven.” Cedar Park is all par-3s, so par for the course is 27. The shortest hole is 78 yards; the longest, 146 yards. Here you’ll also find a driving range and a super-fun 18-hole putting course that costs $4.50 to play ($3.50 for kids ten and under). According to the management, “this ultimate putting course [with] uphill and downhill shots to doglegs and monster 35 foot putts … will challenge every level of golfer.” The greens fee to play the main 9-hole course is $10—barely over a dollar per hole! The bucolic spot sits about five miles east of Rigby at 4429 East 234 North. cedarparkgolf.com    

ASPEN ACRES 

After Arthur Anderson and his wife Velma retired from farming in the early 1960s, they began wintering in California, where they took up golf. They enjoyed it so much that they decided to build their own course—why not?! At the controls of his 1948 Allis-Chalmers tractor, Arthur set out to carve the fairways of what would become the Aspen Acres Golf Course from a hundred-acre piece of the much larger Anderson-family farmstead. Now, for $15 you can bang out eighteen holes on grass where potato plants once flourished. With a century-old Swedish cattle barn at its center, Aspen Acres is an 18-hole executive course with twelve par-3 holes and six short par-4s, ranging from 216 to 323 yards. Tent and RV camping are available at an additional cost, but views of the distant Tetons and fields of barley rippling in the foreground are an added benefit of paying your greens fee. Last year, along with new management, came a name change: Yellowstone Golf Resort at Aspen Acres. The course is tucked amid rolling farmlands about eight miles southeast of Ashton, or two miles northwest of metropolitan Squirrel, on East 1100 North between 4100 East and 4300 East. yellowstonegolfresort.com

The remote Timberline Golf borders the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. 

FURTHER ADVENTURES 

A couple of other wilderness courses in the region—places where you actually could encounter a grizzly bear—include the nine-hole Timberline Golf (timberlinegolfresort.com) east of Ashton, just outside the Caribou-Targhee National Forest on the Cave Falls Road (which goes to the Bechler area of Yellowstone National Park); and the nine-hole course at Island Park Village Resort (islandparkvillageresort.com), a residential community situated near the north end of Island Park.