Montana, in many ways, punches above its weight when it comes to golf courses.
The Treasure State is the fourth largest in square miles among the United States, but it ranks No. 44 in population with just over a million residents. That leaves plenty of wide-open spaces, and the best courses in the state take full advantage of the largely untamed, rugged landscape.
The Wilderness Club near Eureka is one such course that features long views of surrounding mountain ranges. Surrounded by the vastness of Lake Koocanusa and U.S. Forest Service land, the Wilderness Club course – designed by a collaboration of Nick Faldo, Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley – is the top-ranked public-access course in Montana on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for 2020.
Golfweek ranks courses by compiling the average ratings – on a points basis of 1 to 10 – of its more than 750 raters to create several industry-leading lists of courses, including the popular Best Courses You Can Play list for courses that allow non-member tee times. These generally are defined as courses accessible to resort guests or regular daily-fee players.
Built on rolling topography with forested edges near the Canadian border, the Wilderness Club opened in 2009 and first jumped to the top of the Best Courses You Can Play list in 2012. For 2020, it is followed on that list by Old Works in Anaconda, Northern Pines in Kalispell, The Ranch Club in Missoula and Buffalo Hill in Kalispel.
“Wonderful course, spectacular views of snow-capped mountains and a real test of golf,” said Golfweek rater Sandie St. Onge in her review of the Wilderness Club. “Every hole is framed, par 4s (are) very long and most par 5s were reachable. Definitely a must-play if in Montana.”
Montana is especially strong in Golfweek’s Best rankings of private clubs in the U.S. Golfweek recently averaged the ratings of the top five private clubs in each state to compare elite golf courses, and Montana ranked 16th on that list, ahead of sunny golf destinations such as No. 16 Arizona and No. 20 Hawaii – New York is No. 1 on that list of state comparisons.
Rock Creek Cattle Company in Deer Lodge, designed by Tom Doak, is the top-ranked private club in Montana and also is No. 25 in the entire U.S. on Golfweek’s Best ranking of modern courses built after 1960.
The Stock Farm in Hamilton is No. 2 among Montana’s private clubs, followed by Moonlight Basin Ranch’s Reserve course in Big Sky, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club in Big Sky and Iron Horse in Whitefish.
Golfweek also publishes a ranking of top residential courses in the U.S., and Montana does well near the top of that list as well. For 2020, Rock Creek Cattle Company is No. 2 among all U.S. residential courses, and The Stock Farm is No. 16 on that list.
For a northern state that sees heavy snowfall – the golf season runs roughly from April through October, depending on location in the state – that makes for a powerful golfing punch.
Each year, we publish the three lists that are the foundation of our course-ratings program: Golfweek’s Best 2020: Top 200 Classic Courses, Golfweek’s Best 2020: Top 200 Modern Courses and Golfweek’s Best 2020: Best Courses You Can Play.
Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play 2020 in Montana
- Wilderness Club, Eureka (m)
- Old Works, Anaconda (m)
- Northern Pines, Kalispell (m)*
- Ranch Club, Missoula (m)
- Buffalo Hill, Kalispell (c)
Golfweek’s Best Private Courses 2020 in Montana
- Rock Creek Cattle Company, Deer Lodge (No. 25 m)
- The Stock Farm, Hamilton (m)
- *Moonlight Basin Ranch (Reserve), Big Sky (m)
- *Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, Big Sky (m)
- Iron Horse, Whitefish (m)
* New or returning to the list; c: Classic, built before 1960. m: Modern, built in 1960 or after
Golfweek’s Best 2020
- Top 100 Best Courses You Can Play
- Best Courses You Can Play, state by state
- Top 200 Modern Courses
- Top 200 Classic Courses
- Best Private Courses, state by state
- Top 30 Campus Courses
How we rate them
The members of our course-ratings panel continually evaluate courses and rate them based on our 10 criteria. They also file a single, overall rating on each course. Those overall ratings on each course are averaged together to produce a final rating for each course. Then each course is ranked against other courses in its state, or nationally, to produce the final rankings.