When it comes to playing golf or finding that scenic home along the fairway, homebuyers in the Flathead Valley have a treasure trove of options
HOME BY DILLON TABISHhen Alice Ritzman was an up-and-coming golf sensation growing up in Kalispell, she had one nine-hole course where she could play. From the classic fairways of Buffalo Hill Golf Club, she rose in the state’s amateur ranks and achieved her dream of qualifying for the Ladies Professional Golf Association. After a successful career playing professionally for 20 years, Ritzman returned home in 1999, and to her surprise she found a much different landscape.
The valley had burgeoned into a golf mecca. Nearly 10 championship tracts of lime-green fairways stretched throughout the vast, scenic interior of the Flathead. Buffalo Hill, tucked in the heart of town, had expanded with another 18 forested holes. Northern Pines, built by two-time U.S. Open Champion Andy North and Roger Packard, arrived in 1996 as a Scottish Links-style course near the banks of the Stillwater River. Village Greens developed near Evergreen between 1992-93 as an 18-hole course surrounded by an emergent, robust residential neighborhood.
Up north, the Whitefish Lake Golf Club, another historic venue for golfers in Northwest Montana, grew to become the largest site in the valley, with two separate 18-hole north and south courses. The Iron Horse community popped up on the hillside north of Whitefish with a private golf course and 316 homes sites, many of them multi-million dollar homes.
Down in Bigfork, near the northern shores of Flathead Lake, Eagle Bend surfaced in multiple phases, and today encompasses 27 holes that are considered among the finest in Montana.
Meadow Lake Resort rose on the edge of Columbia Falls, set to the backdrop of Glacier National Park, with 18 holes of similar high quality.
The sudden influx of quality courses drew nationwide attention, and Golf Digest named the Flathead Valley a top 50 destination in the U.S. for enthusiasts of the sport.
The blossoming has only continued. In the last decade, two top-end courses sprouted up in Eureka: Indian Springs Ranch and The Wilderness Club.
So what explains this local golf boom?
“A lot of people vacation here. So I think there was a need for a lot of golf courses for people who want to spend three or four months of the year here,” Ritzman says. “There was a need to have a place to be able to play.”
Indeed, the outdoor playground that is the Flathead has thrived as a vacation destination, especially among Canadians living just north in Alberta. Tourism in general has proliferated, and as a result more second homebuyers have discovered this area as an ideal getaway.
“Where to Retire” magazine the last two years has highlighted this area as a great place to retire — “The communities that make up Flathead Valley appeal to retirees and boomers seeking to trade congested city life for open spaces and outdoor splendor,” says Mary Lu Abbott, editor of the magazine.
Ritzman is now a realtor in the valley who regularly meets prospective homebuyers, including vacationers who don’t want to leave, and oftentimes the search leads to a new life on the links.
“People love seeing the green grass and the trees and water features that generally go along with golf courses,” she says. “There’s also more comfort. Golf courses tend to be nice residential neighborhoods that are pretty safe. People know there are going to be nice homes in those neighborhoods.”
Another perk of living near a golf course is the stable property values; being surrounded by amenities within nice neighborhoods keeps a home well priced, Ritzman says.
“It’s a pretty safe investment when it comes to property prices,” she says. “The value stays.”
The world-class courses spread across the valley and have been catalysts to picturesque neighborhoods that have developed over the last few decades.
Joyce Mitchell, with Mitchell & Associates Real Estate near Eagle Bend, agrees that the golf community is unique and idyllic.
“It creates a very nice setting and a peaceful setting,” Mitchell says. “You have all of the amenities.”
Mitchell has seen many retirees who flock to the Flathead land along Eagle Bend or other courses.
“Younger retirees, who may be up in their age but are more physically fit, love the lifestyle of living (in a golf course community),” Mitchell says.
Then there’s the strong appeal to Canadians.
“(Canadians) love to play golf. Even when it’s cold and rainy outside, they’re having a blast,” says Kerin Gayner with Meadow Lake Resort.
Meadow Lake has evolved over the years to include several vacation home rentals and time shares within the resort, which features a suite of community aspects like Truby’s Restaurant, a spa, swimming pools and a fitness center all around the course.
Similar situations exist up north in Eureka, where Indian Springs Ranch has developed a recreational lifestyle community intertwined around the golf course.
It all comes back to the unique opportunity of living and playing in a comfortable home setting, which the Flathead offers in abundance.
“That’s the beauty of the valley, is that literally you can go from everything to a small home lot around the golf course to a multi-million dollar estate and everything in between,” Ritzman says.