The Reserve at Moonlight Basin Review

Texas Outside Rating: 9.2

Golf - Private Course · 9 Holes · Par 36
Big Sky, MT
Online Specials · Stay & Play

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The Reserve at Moonlight Basin Review

The Reserve at Moonlight Basin is currently operating with only the back nine open.........but it's the greatest nine hole course I've ever had the pleasure of playing.  The conditions were absolutely perfect when I played on a typical Montana Big Sky bluebird day in early August. 

When completed Moonlight Basin will be high on the list of the finest courses in the Pacific Northwest.  This Jack NIcklaus designed beauty ran into problems with their nationally known lender and a sagging economy and construction halted in 2008.  Therefore the incredible clubhouse sits as a metal skeleton surrounded by breathtaking mountains and sitting above a beautiful valley that will include the new front nine.  The plan is for the front nine, interim clubhouse and practice facility to be open for play in 2012.  In the meantime Moonlight Basin seems to be treating their current 115 members very fairly with reasonable fees and policies.  They will cut memberships off at 395 and they have an initiation policy that seems very fair to local and remote members alike.  It's definitely worth looking in to this now.

Eleven of their members own properties by the course and offer a Stay and Play policy for visiting golfers....including Texans wanting to exchange heat and humidity for cool, dry mountain air with incredible scenery and migrating wildlife.

Noteworthy in these photos is that Moonlight Basin doesn't set their tees with the typical colored markers but rather uses real antlers and the cut logs with the names of the course's streams;  Mill Creek, Jack Creek, Lone Creek and Hammond Creek.

The first photo is the gorgeous downhill, rollercoaster #17 that plays to a whopping 777 yds from the Mill Creek tee.  Yet a perfect drive can catch a huge downhill chute leaving a long iron to reach this monster in two.  Remember the benefit of booming your shots at 7,200 ft. elevation.

Moonlight Basin is extremely environmentally friendly.  Their irrigation system uses no pumps.  It's simply gravity fed from the mountain melt off and springs above the course.  Under Jack Nicklaus' design wisdom the course plays up to the 14th hole (the first hole built due to the gravity irrigation system) then plays down in to a lush valley beneath the future clubhouse.  The 18th hole is a relatively short par four with a split fairway option.  (see photo).

Alan Poole, Membership Director, explained to me that the back nine will not have homes near the fairways and the front nine has a small number of home sites slated for development.  His line is "You'll see mountaintops, not rooftops".  I like that.

Big Sky and Moonlight Basin combine into a world class ski area in the Winter and Spring and a wonderful slice of heaven in the Summer and Fall.  Big Sky is just one hour south of Bozeman, MT and there is talk of American Airlines adding DFW-Bozeman direct flights in the future.  It's also a great way to access Yellowstone National Park just a short jaunt south of Big Sky.

Do what you can to get up to Big Sky Country and play Moonlight Basin now as nine holes and in 2012 as a full 18.  You'll love it!

Sam Sherstad     Writer, Recreation Travel Reviews

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Course Slope & Ratings

Tee Box Yardage Rating Slope

Course Information

Course Architect:
Nicklaus Design
Greens Type:
Greens Condition
Greens Difficulty
Course Map
Beware of water on 5 holes and the 42 sand traps.

Texas Outside Rating

Overall Rating:
9.2 out of 10
Fun to Play:
Front Nine Rating:
Back Nine Rating:

The Reserve at Moonlight Basin will provide you with the best mountain golf experience you can find. Alan Poole, Membership Director, will be happy to give you a great tour of the existing and future facility. That's Alan in the photo showing the illustration of their future clubhouse on a ridge overlooking the golf course, mountains, valleys and migrating elk, bear, deer and more that head through this valley and south to Yellowstone. Mike Wilcynski, Golf Course Superintendent, is a great disciple of Jack Nicklaus and his philosophy of golf course design and maintainence. Mike's rightfully proud of the fine job he's done building The Reserve at Moonlight Basin.



Here's How Texas Outside Determines the Scorecard Rating

The Texas Outside rating scale ranges from 1 to 10 – a perfect 10 course would be something like this:  links along a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean and bordered by tall trees; lush fairways on rolling hills with lots of natural hazards; water (which is crystal clear) on most of the holes; immaculate greens (but they are undulating and tough); lots of variety and character (each hole is completely different and includes blind shots, elevation changes, doglegs, and significant challenges); perfectly manicured traps with the whitest and prettiest sand you’ve ever seen; a nice club house with great food and a 19th hole; a GPS; plenty of beverage carts or your own cooler and ice; and it only costs $40 bucks! What this means is that you probably won’t find any 10s in Texas – try Cabo San Lucas, Pebble Beach, or some of the Hawaii courses! 
Texas Outside rates courses on the following:

  • Beauty – tall trees, rolling hills, beautiful houses, waterfalls, and similar stuff would score high; a 1 would be flat, bushes or cactus instead of trees, and some grass but mostly weeds
  • Difficulty – a straight, 300 yard par 4 with no traps or hazards, no out of bounds or water would probably get a 1; if it is a 460 yard par 4 over two ravines, with water along one side, natural hazards on the other, strategically placed traps or that dreaded tree right in the middle of the fairway, we are talking a 10. 
  • Variety – what would you give a course where all the holes looked and played exactly the same (“I thought we just played that hole!”); were side-by-side, which is good for finding or dodging other people’s balls, but not much fun; and you can see the flag from every tee box?  That’s right, it gets a 1.
  • Fun Scale – a 10 is where you walk off the course and say “now that was fun” and you can’t wait to get back, or you immediately turn around and play another 18 holes
  • Value – a 5 is $50 to $60, a 10 is $20 to $30, and 1 is $200 or so – of course all of this is dependent upon how you liked the course.  For example, if a run down, boring municipal course, with six players on each hole was only $10; it would still get a value rating of 1.
  • Condition – this one’s pretty easy – what condition are the fairways. A 10 commands very lush perfectly manicured fairways, compared to a 1, which has fire ants, weeds, and more dirt than grass!
  • Condition of Greens and Difficulty – very hard to read greens with lots of undulation and tough pin placement, rate very high on the difficulty scale.  Condition is self-explanatory.  

All of the above determines the overall score for the golf course.  In other words, we like courses that are pretty, fun, very challenging with a lot of variety, and fairways and greens in excellent condition – all for $40.  We also tend to play the courses that are affordable for the masses, which means in the $30 to $80 range. We rate hard and we haven’t found a 10 in Texas yet – don’t worry we haven’t given up and we’re still looking.