(Picture – The par-4 opening hole at Huntsman Springs tells you everything you need to know about what you are about to experience. Photo by Laurence Lambrecht)
Built on broad vision and community involvement, Huntsman Springs brings a new stewardship to the land
by Paul Ramsdell
There is a large corral connected to the Huntsman Springs golf community in Driggs, Idaho.
Pierre, a rare white buffalo, makes his home in that corral along with his three mates (hence his nickname, Lucky Pierre) and all their offspring. The small herd tends to keep to itself, and tends to keep humans at a distance.
Except when Jon Huntsman is nearby.
When the namesake of Huntsman Springs is making a visit to the 1,350-acre property in the Teton Valley of Eastern Idaho, that’s when Lucky Pierre and his family come over to the fence to show their affection and enthusiasm.
That’s what being a self-made billionaire with a heart of gold and unending patience will do for you.
Everyone in the golf community should feel the same appreciation for Huntsman, because at a time when the dormant national and golf economies are keeping new activity at a standstill, Huntsman Springs confidently had its grand opening last month for its David McLay Kidd architectural gem. It was all possible thanks to Huntsman’s substantial financial backing, his patience and his quest for long-term quality.
“When your name’s on it, you don’t walk away from quality,” Huntsman said of the 18-hole golf course that will be surrounded by 650 home sites as well as seven community parks and a commercial area.
No one connected to Huntsman Springs is worrying about whether it can be an overnight success. That’s not the point.
The view from behind the 13th green at Huntsman Springs. Photo by Laurence Lambrecht
He knows quality will endure, so he wanted the finest from the very start – and that meant Kidd, who designed a 7,877-yard, par-72 course that calls for carries over water and wetlands and maneuvering through man-made dunes; while at the same time, it’s a 5,571-yard short course that avoids the water and sets up perfectly for everyone in the family.
And get used to that re-occurring theme – family.
Family is important to Jon and Karen Huntsman, who produced nine children and have 56 grandchildren and now are starting to have to keep track of great-grandchildren. The profits off the Huntsman Corporation, a global giant in chemical/plastic manufacturing started 40 years ago, could buy shopping malls and movie houses galore, but that’s the worst thing for families, and that’s why the Huntsmans enjoy Driggs so much.
They want kids to leave their video games behind before coming to Huntsman Springs, even leave their friends behind. Huntsman Springs will be a place to get re-connected with your family by walking the two-mile raised boardwalk amid the 500-acre wildlife habitat, or hiking up the nearby Tetons, or fly-fishing in the Teton River.
The site started as flat farmland that slowly sloped from the Teton Mountains in the east to the Teton River in the west.
“It absolutely is an architectural achievement. He didn’t have a natural, great piece of land,” said Tony Snoey, operations manager for Huntsman Springs.
One element was to lower the golf course with the areas for the home sites sitting above the fairways, and a large berm running along the entire eastern border of the course. The west side of the course slides into 500 acres of wetlands.
And just as the mounds and berms aren’t natural, neither are the waterways that are featured on virtually every hole. Before the course was built, plenty of water ran through the site, but it was all ground water coming off the Tetons and finding its way to the Teton River.
With the urging of Mike Stears, the local partner of the Huntsmans and the head of MD Nursery and Landscaping in Driggs, Kidd brought the water to the surface and created small streams and water features throughout the course.
The property officially is private, but homes in the community will always be available to rent, either short-term or long-term, and with that comes access to the golf course and all the amenities of the community.
All proceeds from the project will be donated to Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, where the Huntsman Corporation is based.
His passion lies in battling cancer, much of it first-hand. He lost both his parents to cancer, and has personally fought off the disease on four separate occasions himself. In 2007, he donated $700 million to combat the disease.
Huntsman is quick to donate to numerous causes. He was born and spent his pre-teen years in the nearby Idaho towns of Thomas and Blackfoot. In this project, and dealing with Teton County, which Huntsman proudly says has just one stoplight, he was told of a need of a new courthouse. Out came his checkbook and a $5 million donation.
In the sports world, there is the Huntsman Special Events Center, where the University of Utah plays basketball. Huntsman donated $5 million to the project and he said he didn’t want his name on the building, but university officials insisted. On a smaller scale, when the high school football stadium in Driggs needed new lights,
Huntsman was there.
And with this kind of approach, we have a feeling that for many years to come, Huntsman Springs will be there.
Paul Ramsdell has been a sportswriter for the Tacoma News Tribune, the Seattle Times and the Eugene Register-Guard, an online editor for ESPN.com, and is a past editorial director of this magazine.