The top-rated golf course in Montana isn’t down some fancy driveway, it isn’t near any major airports, and it isn’t easy to find, but boy is it something special. I’m talking of course about the Rock Creek Cattle Company outside of Deer Lodge.
High up in the hills west of Deer Lodge, is a course I have been fortunate enough to have play a few times before that weaves it’s way up and around the mountainside of western Montana. With sprawling fairways that appear out of the sagebrush covered hillsides once you come around the cart path, Rock Creek is a hidden gem. With fantastic undulating greens, blind tee shots, and deep bunkers sporadically placed around the course this ranch themed golf course has always been at the top of my list of courses around Montana.
With holes named after famous western films and tee markers made out of old branded farm wood, the Rock Creek Cattle Company is Montana’s best version of a true Montana golf course. Rugged wilderness and grassland borders every fairway and large rocks and tall pines dot the property throughout the ranch and golf course.
Playing with Scott Meissner, his brother-in-law Mike Spencer, and Mike’s son Landon, the four of us had a perfect weather day at Rock Creek Cattle Company. The sun was shining as we ventured out to the 10th hole to begin our round on the back-nine. The 10th hole at Rock Creek Cattle Company is called “High Noon” and marks the midway part of the round, with an elevated tee on the 632-yard par 5. The tee shot must carry over the bunkers on the left just short of the landing area to give players a chance at going after this long hole in two. The fairway dips down midway through the hole and then starts a steady climb back up the hill to an elevated and undulating green protected by a bunker in the front right. Trees and a hazard line the right side of this hole and can gobble up any shots left to out to the right of the green.
“The Good…, The Bad…, and The Ugly” are the aptly named 12th, 13th, and 14th holes at Rock Creek Cattle Company. An homage to the Clint Eastwood Classic, this string of holes features back-to-back par 3s and a tough par 548-yard par 4. “The Bad…” is a 265-yard par 3 that plays uphill and usually into the wind to a large but difficult to hit green. “The Ugly…” caps off this difficult stretch of golf holes with a downhill tee shot to a large landing area with the best play being the center of the fairway so that the twin mounds that can make second shots blind from the sides of the landing area don’t block out the golfer’s view of the green. Requiring another long iron shot in to this undulating green with a bunker on the right and a large false front, this is one of the most difficult par 4s on the course.
The most beautiful tee shot on the course at Rock Creek Cattle Company has to be the one from the 17th hole called “Rio Bravo”. From an elevated tee, this par 3 plays shorter than the 191-yards listed from the back tees but players must be careful to hit it over Rock Creek which weaves its way in front of this green and will surely swallow up any shots left hanging in the wind or hit without confidence.
As Scott cracked jokes throughout our round at Rock Creek and Mike and Landon and I did our best not to bust a gut laughing at some of his one liners, the shot of the day was Scott’s. On the 17th, Scott hit his first ball into the water and reluctantly teed it up again. As he cracked another joke in the middle of his backswing, he sent his ball on the perfect line right at the pin. The group of us watched as Scott’s ball bounced a foot in front of the hole and hit the pin only to sit a foot or so to the side of the hole. Collectively we laughed and lauded Scott for his best effort to almost par the hole after hitting his first into the creek. As Scott tapped in his bogey putt, the three of congratulated him on his best shot of the day but joked about the ball he had to get rid of in order for it to happen.
The Rock Creek Cattle Company is one of those courses I could go on and on about. It perfectly blends the frontier of Montana with championship quality golf at the highest level. There isn’t hole that is similar to another at Rock Creek and every tee box and green offers a new challenge and requires a different strategy. That’s the sign of a world class golf course.
As we sat around the bar just off the 18th green at Rock Creek having a beer and sharing stories, Rock Creek’s General Manager Louie Bartoletti introduced himself to us. A Butte native, Louie welcomed us to the course and asked how we liked it, to which we all responded with nothing but praise.
Sitting there watching a group hit shots into the 18th green and drinking my post round beer, I thought about how I would explain Rock Creek. How do you describe a course as wonderful and challenging as this one?
Simply put, the Rock Creek Cattle Company is as good as golf in Montana can get. And that’s pretty damn good.