Where To Golf Next

Spacious Big Sky life appeals to urbanites

These days, Montana is rising in popularity among property buyers because the region offers one of the basic tenets in real estate — location, and lots it

One of the age-old principles to real estate success is “location, location, location.” Right now, as the coronavirus continues to disrupt how we live, work and play, one of the most attractive locations seems to be a place with space.

That explains, to some degree, a growing interest by urbanites to flee from high-density locales like New York City to more spacious suburban communities. The increased demand for these types of wide-open places are being driven by a desire for larger homes with home offices of course, and last but not least, a need for more peaceful, healthier outdoor living.

To be sure, the latter element is one reason golf courses nationwide are experiencing a renaissance of traffic and business. One place that epitomizes the best of golf and the aforementioned grander indoor-outdoor lifestyle is the rarified air of the Rocky Mountains and Montana’s Big Sky region.

Indeed, everything is seemingly bigger and more spacious in the Big Sky area, a well-known resort destination situated in the southwest corner of Montana just 45 minutes from the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Take Moonlight Basin, for instance, a private ski and golf community adjacent to Big Sky that features an endless array of alpine adventures spread across 8,000 acres.

Among the community’s compelling recreation highlights is The Reserve, a private Jack Nicklaus Signature course laid out across an overly generous 1,000-acre footprint of stunning mountain vistas. Completed in 2015, the course features 7,500 feet of elevation and offers 360-degree views of Lone Mountain, Fan Mountain, the Spanish Peaks, and Madison Valley, which is known for having some of America’s most secluded and beautiful scenery since it’s part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Featuring about 1,000 feet of elevation change and nearly 10 miles of cart paths, Nicklaus accentuated the Reserve’s grand golf scale by designing one of the longest holes in America – the 777-yard, par-5 17th. For those fortunate enough to play this signature hole — call ahead for limited stay-and-play packages offered to non-members — the hole doesn’t prove to play too onerously long thanks to a fairway that unfolds a couple hundred feet downhill to the green.

Spanish Peaks Mountain Club — Golf Course
Spanish Peaks Mountain Club features a spacious 7,200-yard design by course architect Tom Weiskopf that has no shortage of mountain views.

If all of this Nicklaus-designed golf isn’t enough of a dramatic and secluded leisure escape — the layout also has an adjoining par-3 practice course — one of Moonlight Basin’s neighbors is well-known Big Sky Resort, which features 5,850 acres of world-class ski terrain with 300 named runs on four connected mountains.

Moonlight Basin vice president Kevin Germain says Big Sky’s “crazy busy summer” was clearly driven by the growing desire of people to pursue more space in more natural settings.

“People make a special connection with nature and you can’t have it unless you’re in nature,” said Germain, an avid outdoorsman and fly fisherman, which Big Sky is particularly known for. “We have always tried to cater toward that desire and I think as people have been locked up and quarantined or isolated for the last few months, they just want to get out and embrace nature and have that connection.”

Another place that offers that same compelling combination is neighboring Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, which has mere 3,530 acres of pristine Montana wilderness packaged with world-class private golf and ski amenities. The Tom Weiskopf-designed course is sited on 300 acres of gently rolling terrain and offers 40-mile views that include the Spanish Peaks and Gallatin Range, as well as the Absaroka and Beartooth peaks of Yellowstone National Park.

Located at 7,000 feet of elevation, no two fairways border each other and there is almost 1.5 miles between the fourth green and 14th tee box. After opening 13 years ago, Spanish Peaks fell victim to the financial crisis of 2008 and eventually went into bankruptcy, just like Moonlight Basin.

But the two communities are now under the well-capitalized ownership of CrossHarbor Capital Partners, a Boston-based real estate investment firm. CrossHarbor is also the company that stepped in to acquire nearby Yellowstone Club after developer Tim Blixseth went bankrupt in 2009. The ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club is known for having its own private mountain, and well-heeled members and homeowners like Bill and Melinda Gates, former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, former vice president Dan Quayle, screen and stage artist Justin Timberlake and NFL quarterback Tom Brady.

By all accounts, all three once-struggling luxury communities have rebounded financially and business remains brisk as ever during the pandemic, evident by two new lodges under construction at Moonlight Basin and Spanish Peaks with private residences that will give owners and guests access to golf in the summer and ski-in, ski-out privileges to Big Sky Resort, one of the largest ski resorts in North America.

Moonlight Basin — Moonlight Lodge Exterior - Tony Demin.jpg
Moonlight Basin's Moonlight Lodge, opened in 2000, before a ski area was conceived on the Moonlight side of the mountain. In went private for members in 2017.

The two lodges – the $400 million Montage Big Sky at Spanish Peaks and LakeLodge at Moonlight Basin – are scheduled to open next year and represent the latest in real estate opportunities alongside a variety of townhomes, condos, homes and vacant lots that are available. The 59,000-square-foot LakeLodge will offer a host of dining and recreational amenities, including a golf simulator so members and guests can book a lesson from one of the Moonlight Basin’s professionals. Plans call for 16 private residences, priced from $775,000 for studios up to $4.5 million for five-bedroom penthouses.

Meanwhile, the much-larger Montage Big Sky, which will measure 520,000-square-feet when completed just off the Weiskopf course, will feature 39 branded Montage Residences run by the luxury hotelier, Montage Hotels and Resorts, and 150 hotel guestrooms and suites. Prices inside the gates of Spanish Peaks start at $2.45 million.

Yes, everything in Big Sky truly is bigger by nature. And the very nature, is special to say the least. Moonlight Basin vice president Kevin Germain credits the community’s extremely busy summer season for real estate and membership sales growth. And buyers are coming from all over the country.

For instance, heading into the final quarter of the year, Moonlight Basin has sold nearly double the number of memberships (60) from a year ago, according to Germain, including 38 new signature golf memberships that come with a hefty and standard $75,000 initial deposit.

“The growth has been much greater than anticipated,” adds Germain, who has been at Moonlight Basin for 20 years. “People are embracing the lifestyle here and I think one thing that’s happened during covid is it’s made everybody move their bucket list up.

“People that always talked about having a place in Montana for all its mystique and beauty are now doing it. I think one of the other things that’s happened during the pandemic is everybody’s realized life is short. I can pretty much work from anywhere so why don’t I go live somewhere where I want to vacation.”

And do it of course, in the biggest of Big Sky manner.

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