Montana's Longest Drive

“A Wasteland No More” at Old Works

On the once contaminated hillside above Anaconda, Montana sits Old Works Golf Course, one of the best golf courses in the state. A Jack Nicklaus Signature Design that just celebrated its 25th anniversary a year ago, this golf course is one of my favorites.

With five different sets of tees the course can play from 7,705-yards to 5,348-yards depending on whether or not you choose to play the correct tees. A challenging links style layout in southwest Montana, Old Works is and has always been a real work of genius by Jack Nicklaus and the group who came up with the idea for Old Works.

Sparkey McLean was one of those people who worked on Old Works when it was just an idea on how to treat an environmentally contaminated area. “I remember, we used to play army and all sorts of games on these hills and in the old tunnels,” Sparkey recalled. “It was probably as contaminated as all hell, but it was a great spot to play as a kid.”

The 1st hole at Old Works is a challenging par 4 playing 451-yards from the tips and turning left toward a large green past the 150 stake. A creek runs the length of the hole on the left and tall fescue lines the right-hand side. The unique black sand in the bunkers is dense enough to keep from blowing away in the windy Anaconda area and protects the first hole with a long bunker along the left side of this wide kidney bean shaped green.

The greens at Old Works are gigantic. Usually featuring a couple of tiers and large undulating humps they make for a heck of a time putting if your shots are placed in the right area.

As the former Copperhead Golf Coach and current Montana State Golf Association Junior Program Director and I played Old Works the large smelting stack on the hillside across town was another reminder of the mining and smelting past of Anaconda. The 3rd hole at Old Works is a reminder as well as this dogleg right par 5 that plays 587-yards from the tips has you aiming at some old flues made from brick on your tee shot before turning toward an elevated green that has a top tier before sloping toward the back of the green and creating a small bowl on this monstrous green.

This Nicklaus Course is as good as it gets when it comes to blending history and golf. Small plaques stand in areas near most tees and greens giving a history of what part of the smelting operation that portion of the golf course used to be used for.

For Sparkey his favorite hole at Old Works is the 463-yard par 4 5th hole that tees off from an elevated box and heads down the hill to a large fairway with fescue right and water to the left before an undulating back-to-front sloping green protected by one bunker awaits the second shots. Sparkey said he loves that hole the most because of the view you have from the tee box of his whole hometown.

“I just love looking back across this valley and seeing this great town that holds so many memories for me,” Sparkey said. “This was where I grew up, and I never thought in a million years we would end up being able to turn this wasteland into something the public can enjoy. It makes me so proud.”

As he should be, Old Works is a one of a kind Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course in southwestern Montana. It blends history with wide fairways and breathtaking views of this former smelting town in a way that only Jack could have imagined.

I doubt a young Sparkey McLean would have ever thought his childhood army fort on contaminated ground would be a golf course 50 years in the future, but I know today’s Sparkey feels like a kid again when he gets to play golf on his old stomping grounds.

Thanks to Sparkey McLean and Mark and Lisa Savoy for hosting me for a round at this amazing golf course in Anaconda, Montana.

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