As if there weren’t enough reasons to already hate the Federal Aviation Administration the Airport Golf Club in Wolf Point, Montana gave me one more.
Just past the small airport in Wolf Point there’s a sign leading you down a dirt road toward a clubhouse with a high-pitched roof surrounded by lilac bushes. The drive itself down the dirt road is a bit mesmerizing as you suddenly turn off the open highway road and into the shade of age old trees that line both sides of the driveway.
It was at the Airport Golf Club that I met my playing partners and tour guides, Brock Copenhaver and Rodney Paulson. Brock and Rodney explained the layout of the course to me as we teed it up on the dogleg left first hole that is walled by the highest of cottonwood trees. These trees would prove to be more of a problem as the day went on for myself, but I’ll get to that. Approaching the green at the end of the first hole I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and consistency of the putting surfaces. The greens at Airport GC have some big undulations, usually pitched from back to front, that make no two putts on the short grass the same.
Now let’s get on to the trees and my distrust of the FAA.
The second hole at the Airport Golf Club is a dogleg right with a line of hundred-foot-tall cottonwoods suffocating your tee shot and any chance of cutting the corner. However, on the other side of the fairway is the fence the FAA placed not ten paces off the left-hand side of the fairway that marks the out of bounds.
It is the type of fence that if you hit your ball over it, it will never be seen again. The approximately nine-foot-high fence constricts your tee shot to find a narrow sliver of fairway on the long par 4 so you can at least have a long iron into the green.
As for my tee shot, I sent it crashing into the cottonwoods for fear of getting too close to that fence. As I trudged along in search of where my Titleist may have scattered off too, Rodney joked, “I blame the damn terrorists.”
We laughed as I made a mess of the hardest hole on the golf course in Wolf Point and walked away with my first eight of this long trip. Looking back on hole number 2, I’m still bamboozled as to how I should have play it.
Brock and Rodney agreed the hole played much easier without the fence there, and it was about eight years ago that the government came in and wanted to infringe on the golf course property.
“We had some people who fought them because they were originally supposed to put the fence another 50 feet onto the golf course,” said Rodney. “And they weren’t going to have that.”
Another hole that caught my attention was the unique par 3 fourth hole that played at only 119 yards that day. It was 119 yards uphill to an elevated green protected by a large tree on the left and a harsh hill that would send your ball back to your feet if you ended up short. It also played into the teeth of the wind. Not every hole has to be long to be challenging, and the fourth at Airport Golf Club proves that.
Brock’s favorite hole was number 5, because of the changes that have been made to it.
“I helped build out this green when we expanded it” said Brock. “That was really a cool to get your hands dirty and improve the golf course yourself.”
The fifth is a straightforward par 4 playing around 390 yards with a cutting wind from left to right, but it is the expanded green that gives it character. What used to be a mounded and crowned green now has two tears thanks to the expanded right-hand side that Brock and others worked on. The green has character and the potential to give you a scare if you’re on top of the hill putting down towards the bottom.
After the round at Airport Golf Club with Brock and Rodney, we sat around and talked a little bit about the history of the course and golf in the area. They told me about a spot called Harry’s Nite Club just on the other side of the Missouri River where I could get a great burger, and they weren’t lying.
Harry’s was a quant little bar with an old screen door in the front with a few bodies sitting at the corner of the bar talking about who they knew that knew each other. I ordered the double-bacon cheeseburger and grabbed a beer while I sat at the counter and watched a nondescript sporting event on the old TV hanging on the wall. Adorning the walls were old photos of bar patrons, area landmarks, and the fliers for community fundraising efforts that were upcoming.
The double-bacon cheeseburger arrived with a mound of fries accompanying it and I fell into a cholesterol driven food coma for awhile after I finished it. After Harry’s I ventured into town to visit with a Duane “Punky” Kurokawa who was the president of Western Bank of Wolf Point and an avid golfer himself. We visited for an hour in his office as he told me how his father and his friends helped build and start Airport Golf Club a half century ago.
“You ever played sand greens?” Duane asked. “Because that’s what we had. Back in the day the guys working on the course would meet up and bring their push lawnmowers and stand side-by-side walking down the holes to cut a fairway.”
After that visit, I stopped in to a brewery my distant cousin’s have in Wolf Point called Doc’z and sampled their IPA on the back atrium. I sat in the shade and swapped stories with relatives who I hadn’t seen in years and fell in love with the community of Wolf Point.
I leaned back my chair, with a cold beer in my hand, surrounded by family and friends who welcomed me in, and couldn’t help but think about how today would’ve been a perfect day if it weren’t for that fence put up by the damn FAA.