Moonlight Basin - hole 1
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Moonlight Basin - hole 1
No. 1 at Moonlight Basin might be the most scenic first hole in golf. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Images
Moonlight Basin - hole 2
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The par-4 second hole at Moonlight Basin doglegs right. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - hole 5
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No. 5 drops to an infinity green at Moonlight Basin. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - hole 6
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Moonlight Basin's par-5 sixth hole climbs to an elevated green. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - hole 7
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The par-3 seventh hole sits in a beautiful setting at Moonlight Basin. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - hole 9
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A pond guards the ninth green at Moonlight Basin. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - hole 11
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The 11th hole is the first of three par 3s on the back nine at Moonlight Basin. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - views
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The scenery never stops at Moonlight Basin. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - hole 17
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Thank goodness the 777-yard 17th hole at Moonlight Basin plays downhill. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - comfort station
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The comfort station at Moonlight Basin is stocked with food and treats. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - clubhouse
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The small clubhouse is a cozy hangout for members at Moonlight Basin. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Moonlight Basin - range
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Even the range at Moonlight Basin has views for miles. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor

Big Sky Beauty: The Reserve at Moonlight Basin makes the most of the mountain scenery in Montana

Private Jack Nicklaus course at 7,500 feet in elevation is a stunner.

BIG SKY, Mont. - The Reserve at Moonlight Basin makes a compelling case as the most scenic inland course in America.

Golfers have no idea what's in store when driving to the first tee until the first fairway comes into view. From the elevated tee, the par 4 nosedives 252 feet to a twisted, hard-to-hold fairway. The view of the imposing 11,000-foot peak of Lone Mountain, Fan Mountain, the Spanish Peaks stretches for miles across the remote Madison Valley.

Architect Jack Nicklaus debuted the first nine (the back) in 2008 and returned to complete the full 8,000-yard routing by 2015 after new owners bought the private club out bankruptcy during the depression. His canvass roams across 1,000 acres following more than 10 miles of cart paths. Starting at 7,500 feet, there is more than 1,000 feet of elevation change along the way.

There are plenty of "Moonlight moments" on the course. Players pass by "The Cabin", a comfort station loaded with snacks and drinks, twice during the round. After a blind tee shot, the fifth green reveals itself as an "infinity green", hanging precariously on the edge of the earth with the entire valley unfurling below. The par-3 seventh hole resides in a bucolic setting adjacent to a pond. One of the longest holes in the world - the 777-yard par 5 at No. 17 - glides gracefully downhill.

The small mountain-contemporary clubhouse, built in 2015, is such a cool hang out that members sometimes come just for lunch and not golf. They can enjoy cocktails next to a fire pit on the outdoor patio and nibble on pizza from a wood-fired oven, while soaking in the majestic views. The driving range, home to five target greens, and the short game area, home to four more USGA-standard greens, transforms on Friday evenings into a par-3 course with hole holes ranging from 45 to 100 yards. Moonlight Basin is a special place.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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