Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sun Valley turns its focus to golf

Golf course expansion got off ground in 2006

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley head golf pro Jeff Petersen (left) and Sun Valley Resort director of golf Doyle Corbett stand on the ridge of the Gun Club Nine, Baldy looming prominently in the background, in mid-November shortly before earth moving work on the new nine shut down for the winter. They are standing on the ridge where par-5 holes #4 and #5 go towards and away from Baldy. Photo by Jeff Cordes

If you likened Earl Holding's 30-year ownership of the Sun Valley Resort to an 18-hole round of golf, the 80-year-old patriarch of Sun Valley is well into a very successful round and still striking solid shots.

Holding has focused for years on snowmaking, ski lodges and renovating his hotel facilities, but it's important to remember that one of the first things he did upon buying the resort in 1977 was plant trees—lots of trees on the golf course.

The tree plantings and a major redesign from 1977-79 were Holding's last big upgrades on the golf course. But 2006 was a turning point for major improvements that will put Sun Valley Resort golf course in the public eye for years to come.

Holding with the encouragement of his longtime general manager Wally Huffman are full speed ahead with the addition of a new nine-hole course called the Gun Club Nine, as well as construction of a new clubhouse.

Both the Gun Club Nine and clubhouse are due open by 2008.

The Gun Club Nine covering 3,600 yards is a dramatic mountainous layout that rises from the old Sun Valley Gun Club shooting range to the ridgeline atop the natural bowl.

Views of Baldy, the surrounding hills and the populated valleys are spectacular from the five holes stretching along the top of the ridge.

Sun Valley director of golf Doyle Corbett has played and seen a lot of golf courses, and he said, "There's nothing I've seen that sits up on the hill like these five tee boxes."

Head golf professional Jeff Petersen added, "Every hole has views."

Corbett said Sun Valley's new nine won't have one signature hole that stands out and lures people to the course, like the floating 14th green at Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort.

Rather, the beautiful vistas and challenges offered by the new nine will attract new and returning golfers to Sun Valley, Corbett said.

Huffman has said the unique scenic vistas of the Gun Club Nine will be most appreciated when playing the new course.

Their beauty can't be fully absorbed just by looking up from the valley floor and wondering what the heck the earth-moving equipment is doing up there.

That's what most golfers and valley residents saw this summer and fall since the initial earthwork, shaping of fairways and greens and installation of irrigation took place from July through November.

It was odd seeing bulldozers working along the top of ridges overlooking Gun Club bowl.

The Idaho Mountain Express asked Corbett and Petersen for a tour in November, shortly before snow covered the new course.

It was every bit as impressive as it seemed from the valley floor. Corbett, of course, saw the course from the standpoint of a golfer and pointed out the challenges of a hilly course—things like side hill lies and how the wind will play differently in the morning and afternoon on the ridge.

The first and ninth holes, 400- yard and 410-yard par 4s, run parallel to each other on the valley floor near the old shooting range of the Gun Club. And the second hole is a short hillside 155-yard par 3.

Your ascent to the ridge will begin on the 350-yard par 4 third hole, which will play longer than it is because of its uphill climb and importance of hitting its landing areas.

Catching your breath atop the 6,500-foot ridge and taking some time to survey the scenery, you'll take out the driver and whack it towards Baldy on the 550-yard par-5 fourth hole. At times Baldy will seem so close that you can almost touch it.

The next three holes come back out along the ridge, away from Baldy and towards the sagebrush foothills.

The 590-yard, par-5 fifth hole runs parallel to the fourth and takes a little left turn to the green at the finish. The 360-yard, par-4 sixth hole is a risk-reward type of situation. A little duck-hook on one of these, and a duffer's ball could bounce downhill, it seems, all the way to Bigwood.

Downwind and downhill, the 220-yard par-3 seventh hole is a tough test. You are rewarded with a cart ride to the various eighth hole tee boxes, located at about 6,260 feet elevation from the championship tee.

What a view! And you don't stay there long.

It's downhill all the way, probably a 150- to 200-foot elevation drop to the landing area of what is supposed to be a 520-yard par 4. Let 'er rip!

The ninth hole is a routine 410-yard par 4, probably tough to maintain your focus because you'll be looking over your shoulder at the ridge and what you just came down.

Plans call for housing in the Gun Club bowl area in view of holes #1, #2, #8 and #9 but no firm plans have been announced by the company.

Sun Valley Co. first publicly proposed the Gun Club Nine in April 2004 and targeted 2008 as opening date for the nine-hole addition meant to complement the existing 18 holes.

Part of Holding's 50-year master plan for the development of the resort, it is the first significant golf course improvement in nearly 30 years at the Sun Valley Resort.

At the time, two-and-a-half years ago, Huffman said he would make development of the Gun Club Nine a high priority. In the future, he said then, the company would add another nine further east along Trail Creek Rd. near Trail Creek Cabin.

So, along with its new golf clubhouse due to open in 2008, Sun Valley is poised to go from 18 holes and an outdated pro shop, to 27 holes and a new clubhouse in just two years, and a 36-hole course down the line.

The Gun Club site, the main parcel covering about 74 acres, is within the city of Sun Valley, meaning plans to develop the area had to be approved according to city rules.

In April, Sun Valley Co. first presented its Gun Club master plan application to the city. It called for mixed land uses for the entire 344-acre property. The uses included the nine-hole Gun Club Nine, 30 single-family house lots and 365 multi-family residential units. On May 18, the city council approved the plan.

Continued public access to hiking and cross-country ski trails was part of the approval process.

To come up with the Gun Club Nine's unique design, Sun Valley Co. hired the firm of Knott Brooks Linn Golf Course Design Group based in Mountain View, Ca.

A principal of the company, Donald J. Knott, has been a lead project architect for more than 60 projects over 30 years. Former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, Knott was involved early in his career in the 1977-79 Robert Trent Jones Jr. redesign of the Sun Valley Golf Course. Currently, he is also designing the 18-hole course at Jug Mountain Ranch, a private residential community near McCall.

By mid-July, the work on moving earth started on a six-day-a-week schedule by the contractor, Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, Neb. They knocked off in mid-November but are continuing irrigation work this winter on the pump house building located on the reservoir near the old Sun Valley Gun Club range.

The existing 18-hole Sun Valley Golf Course was originally designed by William P. Bell in 1938.

Sun Valley expanded to a full 18 holes in 1962. When Holding arrived as the new resort owner, replacing Bill Janss in 1977, one of the first things Holding did was plant more than 1,000 trees on the golf course and institute the Robert Trent Jones Jr. redesign. The changes added more than 400 yards in distance, made more challenging stream carries and positioned ominous bunkers.

The existing 18-hole, par-72 course, known for its scenic beauty and sounds of water, plays to 6,892 yards and features seven Trail Creek crossings on the front nine alone.

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