Montana's Longest Drive

“A Trip Down Memory Lane” at Colstrip’s Ponderosa Butte Golf Course

High above the rocky outcroppings of Southeastern Montana loom the towers of the four Colstrip Power Plants. Seeing those towers over the horizon on my drive into Colstrip reminded me of when I was a kid going to visit my grandparents. With my face pressed against the glass of the minivan windows I would try so hard to see the towers because it meant we were getting closer to seeing grandpa and grandma.

When I got to Colstrip I decided to take a trip down memory lane and try and find their old house and some other familiar sights. Driving through the streets of Colstrip, I came upon their old house. It was painted a different color than it used to be but still had the same large shop my Grandpa Richard used to go work in for hours and hours on end. It made sense why he was always working on projects out there, so he could be out of earshot of my Grandma Marilyn.

As I pulled over and got out of my car to see the old Boese house, I could faintly hear my Grandma’s patented line, “God damnit Richard” just like the good old days. His pranks and teasing of Grandma always got a reaction like that out of her and a big smile out of us grandkids.

I even stopped by the Colstrip Volunteer Fire Department’s Richard Boese Training Center to walk around and think. It’s been about a half-dozen years now since he passed away, and seeing an American Flag flying in the wind in front of a building bearing his name sure made me miss the old handyman more than ever.

On a perfect May evening I decided to head out to Ponderosa Butte Golf Course and play it for the first time. Still within eyeshot of the four plant towers, Ponderosa Butte was built by the taxpayers of Colstrip to provide recreational opportunities for the citizens of the strip mining town. As a citizen of Colstrip you are a member of Ponderosa Butte and can play the course for free as much as you want. What a great deal!

The first hole at Ponderosa Butte Golf Course is a 144-yard par 3 that has water to the right and a marshy area in front of the green. I can’t think of another non-executive course I’ve ever played that started with a par 3 right off the bat. The greens at Ponderosa Butte are soft and receptive with some slight undulations that can make for hair raising putts when the greens firm up and quicken up later in the summer.

Ponderosa Butte consists of two different loops you take, one below the clubhouse that weaves its way around small frog ponds and creeks and the second one playing up and around the small mountain behind the clubhouse.

On the mountain side of the nine-hole track, after your uphill tee shot into a narrow fairway you begin a steady climb that leaves your heart thumping against the wall of your chest when you finally reach the sixth green. The 380-yard sixth hole provides an opportunity for birdie with a well-placed drive and a second shot into a small green.

After your long ascent up the hill you come to the seventh tee box that inspires a level of fear as you stare at a 187-yard downhill par 3, with little to no room for error. Cut out of the mountain face the green is protected by a steep hill running away from the putting surface on the left and a wall of native grasses on the right. Any shot long will spell disaster as well.

After playing the seventh and eighth, I ventured to the dogleg right par 5 ninth that measures 560-yards with a pond to the right of the fairway. The creeks you came to dread on the front nine have reappeared exactly where you would traditionally like to lay up to and remove any thought of going for it if you happen to spray your woods or long irons. The green on the ninth is a tricky undulating surface that is compounded by the fact you are being watched by everyone sitting on the back deck of the clubhouse.

Talking with the father and son two-some of John and Travis Smith, whom I joined up with mid-round, I had to remark that Ponderosa Butte is a fantastic golf course. It’s a challenging and trying nine-hole track that makes you hit the smart golf shot if you want to score well.

After bidding John and Travis farewell as they ventured back to the first tee to play another nine, I visited with Glenn Godfrey the course pro at Ponderosa Butte and his wife Candice. We talked about the history of the course and all the little trouble spots you can find yourself in if you’re not careful. I admittedly had found a few but survived to tell the tale with some solid comeback shots.

Ponderosa Butte Golf Course is a gem of a track in Rosebud County. Under the eye of those high up towers it’s a treasure the community of Colstrip should be very proud of.

I know it had been awhile since I’d been back to visit Colstrip, but this trip down memory lane made it very much worthwhile. I just wish it could have been nearly 20 years ago and I knew I’d be visiting my Grandma and Grampa when I saw those towers in the distance.

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