Montana's Longest Drive

“Of Loss & Love” at John’s Golf Course

“Hit this one high over the house and drop it on the green,” Steve Espinoza said from the seat of his utility cart. “And make sure you don’t break my windows.”

I steadied myself over the ball and was just about to take the club back when Steve reminded me again with a laugh, “Make sure you don’t break my windows.”

These were the same instructions he’d given to Sir Nick Faldo years ago when he arrived to play an exhibition at John’s Golf Course outside of Eureka, Montana and had given to countless others over the years who’ve played the course surrounding the Espinoza home.

The story of John’s Golf Course begins with a tragedy. In 1993, the Espinoza family was woken up at 3 in the morning by a Highway Patrolman. Michael Espinoza, 20 years old back then, was killed in a car crash outside of Eureka returning from dinner with some friends in a nearby town. Michael was the second of their children that Steve and Juana had lost after losing an infant daughter almost two decades earlier.

For Steve, a disabled Vietnam veteran, the loss was crushing. It broke his heart even more to tell his son John who was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome which is a very rare genetic disorder that causes a range of physical, cognitive, and medical challenges to those diagnosed with it. John had looked up to his older brother Michael with the same loving admiration as all younger brothers do and now he was gone.

About a year later, John walked into Michael’s room and grabbed a golf club of his brother’s and took it downstairs to his parents and asked his dad to teach him how to play golf. Part of John’s disability is a lack of a range of motion in his wrists, so in the front yard of their house Steve teed up a ball for John to hit.

“Not knowing how to teach someone to play, I just told John to hit the ball,” Steve said with a twinkle in his eye. “And he did, he hit it clear across the yard! And I said, ‘John, my god! What a shot! Do it again.’ And he did it again, it was amazing.”

So, Steve took John to a nearby golf course to play but John got too nervous with all the people in front of them and behind them.

“I got so nervous. I got so nervous my very first time. People kept rushing me and telling me to hurry up. I told my dad I wanted to go home,” John recalled.

“On the way home John said, ‘I wish I had my own golf course.’ So, I got home and stepped out of the car and saw the front lawn and said, ‘I’m going put a green right here for my son,’” Steve said of the beginning of John’s Golf Course.

And Steve did just that for his son on his 10-acre property. Asking for help from courses in the area and then eventually all around the world, he got seed, used equipment, and tips for building and maintaining a golf course from course superintendents.

John’s Golf Course played all around the Espinoza home with holes spread around the 10-acres that John could play whenever he wanted, after of course he helped mow the greens and fairways with his father. John would play the course from sun up to sun down and his game showed it as he went on to win 10 Montana State Special Olympic Championships and took home bronze from the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland.

With John and Steve riding in the golf cart and giving me directions on how to play the remnants of the holes left at John’s Golf Course, I played all the holes including the one requiring a shot up and over the house. I was extra careful to not break any of Steve’s windows on this over-the-house par 4.

Leaving John’s Golf Course was tougher than I thought it would be because it had warmed my heart. Meeting Steve and John and having them show me their course and tell me their story was something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

John’s Golf Course was built in a front yard using earth, sand, and seed, but it was really built with love. The love of a mourning father who wanted to give his special needs son a place to learn to play the greatest game on earth.

That’s what love is. Love is John’s Golf Course.

Thanks to the Espinoza Family for having me out to play John’s Golf Course and for sharing your stories with me. It is a memory I won’t forget.

Montana's Longest Drive

“You’ll Leave There Inspired” at Polson Bay

It isn’t every day you get to play with a champion, but at Polson Bay Golf Course I got to do just that when I teed it up with 4-time Montana State Special Olympics Champion Robbie Hayes and his stepfather Roger Wallace.

The Championship Course at Polson Bay is an amazing track that stretches down near Flathead Lake and offers up some of the best views in Montana from a number of tee boxes including the opening hole. The 1st at Polson Bay is a 404-yard par 4 that doglegs left past high cottonwoods and a bunker on the left corner of the fairway. From an elevated tee box, this picture-perfect opening hole requires a solid opening tee shot to set up a mid-iron into an undulating green protected by a bunker in the front left.

As Robbie, Roger, and I played our way around the front nine at Polson Bay, Robbie told me all about all the medals he’s won in Special Olympics. Not just a golfer, Robbie has also won medals in a variety of track events at the Special Olympics State Games.

“I’m super fast,” Robby explained on the 3rd hole after using his lefty swing to hit one down the fairway. It caught me off guard that Robbie hits the ball left handed but putts right handed.

Roger laughed as he explained, “Robbie used to really slice his putts when he putted left handed. It was just something we noticed when Robbie was putting around in the pro shop. He actually putted the ball better from the other side.”

So, with 13 left handed clubs, one right handed putter, and with his stepfather Roger as his caddy, Robbie has proven to be quite the player. He’s also proven to be quite the inspiration. I can’t be sure there are more people I admire in golf than Robbie, or Roger for that matter who has taught Robbie everything he knows about the game.

The par 5 6th hole at Polson is as great a visual hole as it is playable. A long dogleg left along the lake, this par 5 can be reached in two but traditionally plays as a three-shot hole. A narrow landing area lined on the left by hazard and a pair of bunkers along the right demands an accurate tee shot before the hole turns left and plays uphill to a green protected by bunkers on both sides.

Finishing our round on the Championship Course on the 528-yard 18th hole that bends slightly right-to-left, Robbie, Roger, and I capped off a perfect morning in Polson. Reachable in two, the green is protected by a large bunker in the front right of the undulating putting surface.

After the round, Robbie and I had lunch and visited about golf and his favorite holes on the Championship Course before he and Roger left to go camping for the weekend and I headed out to the Olde Course.

My playing partner for the Olde Course was 8-year old Max Milton. Max is the son of Polson’s Head Golf Pro Cameron Milton and a pretty darn good stick. He recently won the state competition for the Drive, Chip, and Putt competition in Missoula and as we played the first couple of holes on the Olde 9 Max told me he wants to play on the PGA Tour and eventually win a major.

Being a betting man, I made a wager with Max who was raising funds for his trip to Washington to compete in the regional Drive, Chip, and Putt competition. The deal was, I would play the tips and Max would play the junior tees and we’d play straight up. If he beat me, I’d give him $100 for his trip but if I beat him I’d give him $50.

Early in the round at the Olde 9, Max might’ve had me on the ropes as his game was as consistent as it gets. With the straps of his small golf bag draped across his shoulders the aspiring major winner played down the center of every fairway while I had to wrangle with my drive on a few holes.

Luckily, I made a few putts and tossed in a birdie or two against the 8-year old who was able to brag in the clubhouse about the $50 he won in our match. I was just relieved I could register a win against a future major winner.

Hours later I was driving around Polson and decided to head by the course and work on my putting on the practice green. I found Max on the putting green, practicing his short game late into the evening and he and I played a few putting games for about an hour before the street lights came on and he hopped on his bike to head home.

Looking across the course at Polson Bay Golf Course and seeing Max ride his bike down the cart path, I don’t think I could’ve had a better day of golf. In such a spectacularly beautiful place I found some amazing and inspiring people in Robbie, Roger, and young Max.

If you’re looking for a place to inspire your golf game, Polson Bay is that place.

Thanks to Cameron Milton, Roger Wallace, and the rest of the staff at Polson Bay for a fantastic day of golf and memories at such a great course.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“The Links” at Northern Pines Golf Club

Growing up in Great Falls I know a thing or two about the wind.

First things first, it sucks. Secondly, it can wreak havoc on golf shots if you’re not prepared. Always feeling like the wind in your face was a common theme in my youth and I think it prepared me for links golf.

Northern Pines in Kalispell is as good a links golf course as I’ve come across on this trip. At over 7,000 yards from the tips, this Andy North design has long fescue rough bordering every hole and large greens protected by deep bunkers that require flighted irons and creative plays around the greens to score well.

With the breeze into your face on the 384-yard 1st hole that bends left past some rolling hills that hide the fescue rough that sits through the fairway ready to eat any tee shots running through the short grass. A low spot along the fairway on the left serves as a collection area for tee shots leaving a slightly uphill second shot into a green that slopes from back right to front left an dis protected by a deep bunker in the front of the putting surface.

An excellent links course presents challenges to golfers that in turn have to use creativity to carve their way through the rolling hills and fescue with success. Northern Pines is a links course that gets the little imagination working while you play the course by presenting multiple ways to play some of the shorter holes.

An example of this is the par 4 9th that plays 430-yards, usually downwind, but has dangers all down the right side of the fairway. If the deep bunker at 260-yards down the right side doesn’t dispel players from taking an aggressive line on this hole that doglegs slightly to the right, the deep grass bunker past the sand bunker will leave you sorry you didn’t play it out safely into the left side of the fairway. A pair of bunkers in the front left are to be avoided when hitting into this undulating and tiered green.

The 404-yard 14th at Northern Pines is my favorite hole on the course. A slight dogleg right from an elevated tee box, this hole has a string of bunkers running down the right side of the fairway and a hazard running down the left. A lone bunker in the front right protects this green that slopes harshly from back right to front left that sits near the meandering river and in the shade of some tall trees in the backdrop.

Battling wind and fescue, my first time playing Northern Pines was an absolute treat. Links style golf courses will always hold a special place in my heart because of the shots they require and the elements you are forced to battle.

The wind of course is old hat for a guy who grew up in windy Great Falls, but the dangers of Northern Pines were a new and exciting challenge I would take up any day.

Thanks to Northern Pines Golf Club for a wonderful day of golf on this great links style track.

Montana's Longest Drive

“An Evening 18” at Village Greens Golf Course

Evening golf is sometimes the best golf, and at Village Greens that was just the case. A par 70 course in Kalispell, this wonderful course that features rolling fairway hills and small lakes around a track that stretches to 6,401 yards from the tips, Village Greens is an enjoyable course.

The opening hole at Village Greens is a 586-yard par 5 and is listed as the toughest hole on the course. A dogleg right with a lake to the right of the fairway, twin bunkers midway through the fairway after the dogleg narrow the apron of the undulating green that is protected by a bunker in the front left.

The 4th and 5th holes at Village Greens are back-to-back par 3s playing 180 and 140-yards apiece. The 180-yard 4th plays to an undulating green protected by long rough on all sides while the 5th requires the golfer to carry the water that protects the front of this green slopes from back-to-front and will feed shots hit too short down the hill and into the water.

On the beautiful summer evening, my playing partner Shay Smithwick-Hann and I were playing at a great pace. It wasn’t too long until we had made our way onto the back nine in less than an hour-and-a-half and stood on the tee on the tough par 4 13th.

A 467-yard hole that plays from an elevated tee down the hill and back up to an elevated green, this challenging hole has a fairway that is sandwiched in between a large pond on the right side and a diabolical bunker on the left.

After such a tough par 4, the reward is a short par 4 that plays 387-yards from an elevated tee and meanders to the right past the same pond, this time on your right, to a green stuck on the sidehill above 13th tee.

Village Greens plays to a par 70 because it has five par 3s and only three par 5s on the course. It was a perfect course to play in the evening with quick greens, a variety of different and challenging holes, and a great pace of play.

Thanks to Village Greens for a great evening of golf on such a fun and enjoyable course in Kalispell.

Montana's Longest Drive

“I’m Framing That $15” at Eagle Bend Golf Club

Eagle Bend Golf Club

I’ve never framed money before, but the $15 I won at Eagle Bend might just have to hang on my wall for some time. Golfers always seem to have a game going. A skins game, a best ball, a Nassau, or what have you. Contrary to what Judge Smails said in Caddyshack, there is gambling at Bushwood Country Club and everywhere else for that matter.

The game at Eagle Bend was a 2-man best ball $5-dollar Nassau, with $5 going to the winning team on the front nine, on the back nine, and for the 18 hole round.

The partners for the match at the magnificent Eagle Bend Golf Club were my host Greg Barkus and his partner Lon Hinkle. Hinkle, 68, played professionally on the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour where he accumulated six professional wins. Taking on the Eagle Bend members with me was my friend Jim Hann.

The first hole at Eagle Bend is a dogleg right with trees lining the right side that can block out second shots if the tee shot doesn’t carry far enough to the corner of the fairway. A pond sits through the fairway past the corner of the dogleg leading up to a kidney bean shaped green with a deep bunker in the front left on this 413-yard par 4.

The finishing hole on the Eagle nine is a is a 461-yard downhill par 4. A blind tee shot that will chase down the hill if hit far enough, the hole bends slightly right-to-left with a wide fairway. The large green is protected by a bunker left, right, and behind.

One of the best holes on the course is the par 4 14th that plays 416-yards uphill and past a bevy of bunkers along the left side of the fairway. After the first trio of bunkers, a pond sits in front of the deep greenside bunker below the elevated green that has a number of swales running through it.

After playing the Eagle and Bear nines at Eagle Bend with Lon, Greg, Jim, and myself, we settled up our bet. Luck was on our side as Jim and I made a number of birdies and ham-and-egged our way around the course to finish ahead in the match on both the front and back nines and win the total match.

After a quick lunch with Greg, Jim and I finished the day playing the Osprey nine at Eagle Bend. Making its way around the lake and the meadows near Flathead Lake, the Osprey nine is one of my favorites. It begins with a 347-yard par 4 with water all along the right side of a fairway that bends to the left and is lined by trees on the left. A deep bunker on the right side protects this opening hole on the lakeside nine at Eagle Bend.

Perhaps my favorite hole on the Osprey is the 412-yard par 4 7th hole that plays along an inlet of the lake. To the left of the fairway that doglegs from right-to-left sits a marina filled with boats and yachts in the crystal blue water. The best tee shot is just to the right of the tree along the lake on the left of the fairway and will set up a wedge or mid-iron into this large green that slopes back-to-front and is protected by three greenside bunkers.

After finishing the 27 holes at Eagle Bend, I was asked by someone what my favorite course in Montana might be. I think out of all the courses I have played Eagle Bend might hold that distinction. With three different nines to choose from and perhaps the best greens in the state, Eagle Bend is a course I would play every day if I had the chance.

Some years from now, I think someone might ask me why I have $15 framed on my wall and I’ll have to tell them the story of playing my favorite course in Montana and taking some money off a retired 3-time PGA tour winner.

Thanks to Greg Barkus, Head Golf Professional Michael Wynne, Lon Hinkle, and the rest of the great people at Eagle Bend for a wonderful day of golf on this fantastic course.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Better Than a Swim Meet” at Meadow Lake Golf Course

Standing on the 16th tee at Meadow Lake Golf Course, there aren’t many prettier holes in Montana. This par 3 plays at 161-yards from the tips and is all carry over a beautiful pond that looks like glass early in the morning. Behind the green, the 16th is protected by a pair of bunkers that will penalize any shots that are too long on this short hole.

Overall, Meadow Lake is one of the most beautiful courses in the Flathead Valley. With half of the holes playing in the open meadow and the other half of the holes playing into the forest. The 1st hole at Meadow Lake is a 418-yard par 4 that turns slightly right-to-left with a pond running the length of the right side of the fairway.

The par 5 3rd hole is the first on the course to make its way into the forest of pine trees. Playing 579-yards this tight fairway is lined with skyscraping pine trees and bends to the right before a slightly elevated green is protected by a bunker in the front right.

My playing partner for the round at Meadow Lake was my cousin Pat. Earlier in the week before I had s set schedule for Kalispell, Pat texted me and explained he was in Columbia Falls for a swim meet but would like to sneak away to get some golf in during the long days of watching heats in the pool. Well, it was more of a “I don’t want to sit in the hot sun watching swimming all day, let’s play some golf.”

One of the best holes on the course at Meadow Lake Golf Course is the uphill 613-yard par 5. A true three shot hole, this uphill monster plays slightly left towards the hole and if played correctly can give golfers a wedge in from a relatively flat landing area on the fairway. This long sloping green is protected by a pair of bunkers in the front left.

Of all the beautiful courses I’ve played, Meadow Lake Golf Course might just be the most gorgeous. In a beautiful setting, this course contours both the meadow and the forest on every hole and leaves you immersed in the round without distractions.

Just take a moment when you get to the 16th hole and watch the reflection of the flagstick in the water. That’ll beat the hell out of a swim meet any day.

Thanks to Meadow Lake Golf Course for a wonderful day of golf in such a beautiful area.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Behind Jerry’s Saloon” at Meadow Creek Golf Course in Fortine, MT

Meadow Creek Golf Course

A large billboard for Jerry’s Saloon greets drivers along the highway as they head north from Whitefish. Promoting golf, a restaurant, and an RV Park, one has to think, what more could you need in Fortine, Montana?

Down a dirt road in Fortine, the log cabin exterior of Jerry’s Saloon and a pair of flags both blowing in the wind, one Canadian and one American invite you into this rustic bar. For just 15 dollars, that you conveniently pay at the bar, you can head out behind the bar and begin your round on the nine hole Meadow Creek Golf Course.

Beginning with a 125-yard downhill par 3 past a tall pine tree on the right from a tee box that is just paces away from the back deck the Meadow Creek Golf Course has something for everybody. A short course that will be perfect for newcomers or the settle bets made inside the bar, Meadow Creek and Jerry’s Saloon are a hidden treasure along Highway 93.

Working my way around the par 3 course in a short amount of time, I finished my round on the 145-yard par 3 9th which heads up a hill toward the side of the bar. A turtleback green awaits your wedge shot on this closing hole where bets can be settled before heading back into Jerry’s Saloon.

Meadow Creek Golf Course behind Jerry’s Saloon is worth a stop for just the story of playing golf behind a bar in Fortine, Montana. Just watch for the billboard promising golf, a restaurant, and an RV park and you’ll be on your way to a great par 3 course.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Simply Spectacular” at Wilderness Club

Designed by Sir Nick Faldo, the Wilderness Club in Eureka, Montana, is rated as the #1 Course You Can Play in Montana by GolfWeek Magazine.

In the wild landscape of northwestern Montana, the Wilderness Club has sprawling fairways cut out of the tall pines and deep bunkers that will penalize errant shots from both off the tee and near the greens. A few years back I made the long drive north from Great Falls to play the Wilderness Club for the first time and the long day in the car was made worth it by this spectacular golf course.

Coming back to the Wilderness Club, I was with my friends Scott Meissner, Mike Spencer, and Landon Spencer who had played it a few times before I made it to Eureka to meet up with them. Their recent experience on the course had them prepped and ready to go from the first tee where Landon and I decided to play the tips that stretch the course out to 7,207 yards.

The opening hole at the Wilderness Club is a 389-yard par 4 that plays up hill from near the driving range and putting green and bends slightly right-to-left. A trio of bunkers occupy the left side of the fairway before the elevated and undulating green that has a pair of bunkers on the right and one in the back left.

As I made my way across the native grasses that stretch across the fairway everywhere the fairways and pine trees don’t occupy, I was regretting playing the tips as I slashed my ball out of a few bunkers on the 2nd hole.

The 161-yard 3rd hole is beautiful as they get. An over water par 3 with mountain peaks in the backdrop and three deep bunkers surrounding this wide turtleback green make it a challenging par if you can’t find the putting surface.

The 10th hole at Wilderness Club is a downhill 320-yard par 4 with a fairway that is shortened along the left side by a deep blue pond that protects the front of a green with steep slopes near the sides. An old dead tree along the right side 200-yards from the tee provides a great visual for this dastardly hole to open up the back nine.

The back nine at the Wilderness Club takes you back into the meadowlands of beautiful countryside outside of Eureka. The finishing hole plays at 593-yards along a lake where canoes are paddled around the calm water to the left of the fairway that slopes from right-to-left for the entirety of the hole. A par 5 that can be reached with a long drive that runs past a hill with bunkers on both sides or can be wisely played out right of lake to make it a three-shot hole. The 18th green slopes from right-to-left and from front-to-back with a ridge that divides the green and can make for long and challenging putts to complete the round.

The Wilderness Club is a fantastic track in northwest Montana. A unique and challenging course in a gorgeous area this is one of the best around and a refreshing course that anyone can make a tee time and play at.

Thanks to Anthony Sable and to the staff at the Wilderness Club for a spectacular day of golf in Eureka  

Montana's Longest Drive

“Between a Bar and an RV Park” at Buckwood Country Club

From the beginning of this trip, I was figuring I would find a golf course that perhaps I had missed during my research. That was just the case of Buckwood Country Club a par 3 course in Eureka, Montana. Located right behind the Silverado Motel & Bar and in front of an RV Park this par 3 was an easy way to spend an evening in Eureka.

With Scott Meissner and Mike and Landon Spencer, I ventured out to play Buckwood Country Club on a sunny Friday evening in Eureka.

The four of us began our round on the course that plays 1,278 yards from the back tees on the 100-yard down hill par 3 hole that plays alongside the access road to the RV park and back to a relatively flat green.

The 5th hole is a 135-yard par 3 that plays past a pumphouse on the right to an elevated green with a rock wall protecting the front of the putting surface.

The small course at Buckwood Country Club is an entertaining place for quick nine. The longest hole at Buckwood is the 260-yard par 4 9th hole that plays over the top of some small trees and back alongside the Silverado Motel & Bar to a slightly elevated green.

Playing the nine holes in about a hour, Scott, Mike, Landon, and I had more laughs than I could count. The short course proved challenging and exciting for the wager we had put on this round after we picked our partners.

If you’re looking for a fun little nine hole experience that won’t take you too long to play, Buckwood might just be the place for you.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Shot-Maker’s Course” at Cabinet View Golf Club

Cabinet View Golf Club in Libby can be described as a shot-maker’s course. Carved out of the pines of northwest Montana, Cabinet View has a reputation for being a challenging track and I put that reputation to test when I played it on Friday.

On Friday, I hopped in the car and headed toward Libby to meet up with Libby golfers Gary Peck and Wayne Haines. In the pro shop I visited with the course pro Jeff Dooley who said, “If you want the real scoop on this course, you picked the right group to play with. These guys play here every day.”

Gary Peck is a bit of a Libby legend and played basketball and golf at the University of Montana in the 1960s. As we played our round, Gary told the story of his Griz team winning the school’s first Big Sky Conference Championship in golf.

Wayne Haines is a tremendous golfer himself having shot his age nearly 130 times and still playing to a low handicap. Wayne was instrumental in building the expansion of Cabinet View Golf Club from a 9-hole course to a championship quality 18-hole course. When the back nine was built, Gary worked six days a week and even has a pond on the new nine named for him.

The front nine at Cabinet View starts with a 513-yard par 5 that is tree lined on both sides of the fairway. The fairway turns up the hill and to the left past some tall pines before a bunker protects the large sloping green.

The course at Cabinet View is as fantastic as the reputation it has. The greens at this course are as nice as I have putted on during this trip, they are quick and roll true, the kind of greens that inspire confidence that often isn’t there with the putter in your hand.

The best view of the Cabinet View Mountains that sit high above Libby and the Kootenai River comes from the 5th hole. Slightly turning right from the tee box with the pine trees perfectly framing the green and greenside bunker in the foreground with the mountains in the back, this is a gorgeous 417-yard par 4.

The back at Cabinet View is a shot-maker’s course. Carved out of the mountain hillside by Wayne and others, this course cannot be overpowered but instead must be played. It is a nine that reminds you of the precision that golf requires.

One of the most beautiful holes on the course is the par 3 11th that plays 150-yards from the tips. A With a small pond to the right of the hole and bunkers on each side of this undulating green that slopes from back-to-front and from left-to-right it is a fantastic short par 3.

Throughout the round at Cabinet View, Gary and Wayne told me about the history of the course. Gary spoke mostly about the front nine while Wayne talked about the back nine he helped construct.

In fact, Libby has a tremendous history of golf in Montana. At one point, Libby has been the home course of one of the best professionals in Montana Jim Mee, the best amateur, Arizona State commit Ryggs Johnston, and Joe Cielak who is the reigning Montana State Mid-Amateur Champion. It isn’t a wonder why this course has produced so many fine golfers.

Libby’s Cabinet View Golf Club is an amazing course in northwest Montana that lives up to its reputation for being a great but challenging track.

Thanks to Cabinet View Golf Club and their PGA Professional Jeff Dooley for a fantastic day of golf in Libby.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Scared to Death by a Snake” at Indian Springs Ranch

After a long drive up the western side of the state, I pulled into the parking lot at Indian Springs Ranch in Eureka, Montana. Five hours in the car left me eager to get out on this links style course in the late afternoon.

Tall fescue rough and green fairways abound on this links style golf course in northwest corner of the state. At 6,677 yards, this tight golf course offers up a great challenge to anyone who ventures out to play it.

Opening with a 410-yard par 4, Indian Springs Ranch has a narrow fairway with mounds along the right of the rough and fescue lining the second cut on this hole that slightly turns to the left and plays uphill to a green that is two tiered and slopes back-to-front.

Making my way around this challenging course, one of the best views was from the par 3 6th hole that sits high on the hillside and requires a long tee shot to cover the gully that runs between the tees and the green. A deep sand trap sits in front of this undulating green and anything short of the bunker will be lost to the gully.

The scariest moment of my trip was walking to the par 3 8th hole from the 7th green. Walking down the cart path I took a slight shortcut through a small patch of fescue and onto the 8th tee when I felt something under my foot. The “Fight or Flight” response kicked in as I high-stepped my way out of the tall grass and onto the tee. I tried to scream but like in a nightmare when you try to cry out and can’t muster a sound, I was even too frightened to make a noise when I looked down and saw the snake at my feet.

Standing on the 8th tee after my encounter with the snake, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. Panting and winded, I quickly took an inventory and reassured myself that I was in fact, okay. Amazingly I hadn’t messed my shorts when I was almost scared s@#$-less by the snake.

Calming my nerves, it must have been the adrenaline coursing through my veins that helped me stick an iron close to the downhill 182-yard 8th hole that has a pond to the left and a green that slopes from front-to-back and from right-to-left and make a very memorable birdie.

My favorite hole at Indian Springs Ranch Golf Course was the par 4 14th hole that plays uphill for the duration. Playing 355-yards from the tips, a cross bunker sits in the middle of the fairway at 235-yards and another fairway bunker anchors the right side. A small creek runs the length of the right of the hole and the elevated green sits protected with a bunker in the front left.

After my round I visited with Indian Springs Ranch’s Head Golf Professional Mark Fenech. We talked about our favorite holes, some of the challenges around this track, and how tight of a links style course this one can play like.

If you want to be tested by gorgeous links course in northwest Montana, make your way up to Eureka and play Indian Springs Ranch. Just watch out for the snakes.

Thanks to Mark Fenech and the staff at Indian Springs Ranch for a wonderful afternoon of golf in Eureka.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Aiming for the Middle” at Linda Vista Golf Course

It was a strange feeling playing a hole without a flagstick, but it might have helped my game. Instead of taking aim at a pin, I had to hit toward the center of the green.

This was the case on the 8th and 9th holes at Linda Vista Golf Course. With high waters earlier in the year, Linda Vista is recovered from the flooding that affected Missoula quite well. Talking with Linda Vista’s Pro Charles G. Miller in the clubhouse before I went out to play, he gave me permission to go play the 8th and 9th holes even though they weren’t open to the public yet.

I set out on to play the par 29 Linda Vista Golf Course on a beautiful morning. Weaving its way back through the low meadow off of Lower Miller Creek Road near the Bitterroot River, Linda Vista plays to 1,815-yards with two par 4s and seven par 3s.

The opening hole at Linda Vista is a 350-yard par 4 that doglegs slightly right past a fairway bunker on the right corner of the hole. Trees and bushes line the left side of the rough along the hole before a turtleback green that sits protected by a pair of bunkers completes the whole.

One of the most beautiful holes at Linda Vista is the par 3 4th hole that plays 137-yards from the back tees. An over water tee shot awaits the player from the back tee where you must walk down a small corridor through the bushes to find an isolated tee box. The green on the 4th is a large surface with a deep bunker in front of the undulating green.

After making my way through the next few holes at Linda Vista, I crossed under the caution tape and went to the 8th and 9th holes that hadn’t been opened to the public yet. It was an interesting feeling on the 9th tee hitting back toward the clubhouse on the 145-yard hole protected by three bunkers and having to just take a guess at where the hole might be.

After finding the middle of the green with my tee shot, I found the hole located in the back-left corner of the green. Not being able to see the pin on the hole really changes the way you play golf. It might be an improvement for my game to just hit for the middle of the green and like I had to playing Linda Vista’s 8th and 9th holes.

Linda Vista Golf Course in Missoula is a great executive course that is a nice fit for people who don’t hit the ball too far off the tee, younger people learning the game, and for someone who wants to work on their irons and wedge game.

Thanks to Charles Miller and the staff at Linda Vista Golf Course for having me out to play this great course and letting me get the 8th and 9th holes in.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Along the Clark Fork” at River’s Bend Golf Course

Along the beautiful Clark Fork River is a great nine-hole golf course that weaves its way along the river and through the trees and offers tremendous views of the scenic mountain valley that Thompson Falls sits in.

Arriving at River’s Bend on Tuesday afternoon, I started my round on the dogleg right par 4 that plays right along the bend in the Clark Fork River. From an elevated tee this hole plays 338-yards and is lined down the right side by pine trees and on the left by the driving range which gives way to the river. After hitting down the hill to the landing area, the second shot at River’s Bend is into a turtleback green along the tree line.

Throughout this course, every tee shot requires something different. The 2nd hole for example is a par 5 begins along the river and then works back up a hill and toward the trees. On this 500-yard par 5, the safest play is to hit to the base of the hill with an iron and then layup to a wedge to attack this back-to-front sloping green.

The course at River’s Bend then begins to get tighter as the holes delve deeper into the rows of pine trees. One of the toughest holes on the course is the 410-yard slight dogleg right par 4 4th hole. Trees line the left and right of this fairway that bends slowly to a small slightly elevated green.

Sitting in the clubhouse after the round and looking out the window at the Clark Fork River and the high mountain face that watches over the river and the course I visited with the lady working the bar at the clubhouse. We visited for a short while about River’s Bend and then about this beautiful little northwest stretch of Montana.

River’s Bend is a beautiful and wonderful little nine-hole golf course that truly does bend along the scenic Clark Fork River.

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Nine Through the Pines” at Trestle Creek

Trestle Creek Golf Club

I found out that there are two people who would drive a couple of hundred miles to play golf with me last Tuesday morning when my uncle Bill Ryan and Jerry Hystad each met me in St. Regis, Montana.

Early that morning, Jerry drove to Trestle Creek from Helena, Montana to meet up with my uncle Bill and I while my uncle Bill drove from Moscow, Idaho where he was at some work meetings.

“Actually, I took a wrong turn out of Moscow, so I really drove over from Washington to be here this morning,” Bill joked.

After that slight detour through the Apple State, Bill and Jerry were waiting for me at Trestle Creek when I made my way off the Interstate and into the clubhouse at Trestle Creek. Trestle Creek has always been one of those golf courses I’ve thought about playing as I cruised by on the highway. From the Interstate, the sight of greens and fairways always catches a golfer’s eye.

Trestle Creek is a relatively young course in Montana’s golf landscape. A photo album sits on the glass-plated countertop filled with golf balls and sand that shows photos of the construction of Trestle Creek in 1994.

Weaving its ways through the trees, Trestle Creek is a tree-lined nine-hole track. The opening hole at Trestle Creek is a 354-yard dogleg right par 4 lined by tall pines on the both the left and right side of the fairway that narrows near the green that slopes back-to-front.

The 3rd hole is the one most visible from the Interstate and will make any golf junkie want to take the exit and get a quick nine in while on a road trip. What better way to stretch the legs on a long drive than to stop and play some golf. The third is a slight dogleg left with trees on the left of the fairway and out-of-bounds along the right. Three bunkers line the landing area of the fairway 250-yards or so off the tee right at the corner of this hole and a large bunker in the front left of the green protects an undulating back-to-front putting surface.

Trestle Creek has an abundance of challenging and scenic holes on the course like the 356-yard par 4 4th that plays down a tight corridor of a fairway lined by tall pines on both sides and with a pair of pine trees in the fairway down the left-hand side. A large green that slopes back-to-front slopes away from the players has a bunker on the right completing this challenging par 4.

The next memorable hole at Trestle Creek is an over water par 3 that plays 143-yards to a green shaded by a tall pine behind the left of the green and a small flowering tree in the front left. Countless golf balls are visible under the pond and serve as a reminder that being short isn’t an option on this hole.

After our round, Bill, Jerry, and I made our way into the clubhouse and sat down for a beer. Throughout our round we had laughs, told stories, and perhaps hit a few pine trees on this tight course. The stories of trying to carve a ball through the narrowest of windows in the trees made for plenty of material for laughs and storytelling as we sat around a buddy bar.

As my uncle Bill, Jerry, and I said our goodbyes in the parking lot after shooting the breeze we each pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the highway.

I’m a pretty lucky guy to have an uncle and a friend like Bill and Jerry who would each drive a couple of hundred miles to play golf with me in St. Regis.

Thanks to Dan Park and Trestle Creek Golf Course for a wonderful day of golf in St. Regis, Montana.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Watching M*A*S*H in the Shade” at Wild Horse Plains Golf Course

There are moments on this trip that have stuck with me. Moments that are as distinctly Montana as anything I’ve ever come across that I’m sure I will never forget.

On a hot Monday afternoon, I sped up the highway past Plains, Montana and turned down a gravel road just past the large white sign showing the way to the course. With only one truck on the parking lot, I grabbed my clubs and headed toward the clubhouse to see if I could go out and get nine holes in in the 95-degree heat.

I opened an old green screen door and went into the small shop that sells golf balls, tees, and drinks but couldn’t find anyone behind the counter. I looked around at the trophies and pictures hanging on the wall for a few minutes until I finally heard something coming from the cart shed.

I rounded the corner outside of the shop to find the old guy working the course that afternoon sitting back with his feet kicked up on another chair watching M*A*S*H reruns. It was the perfect spot where he could stay out of the sun and get a slight breeze to roll through the open garage door.

I think I might have half startled him as I rounded the corner and asked to play golf.

“Shoot, you’re crazy to want to go play in this heat,” he said. “It’s just too damn hot today for me.”

We visited for a short while in the shade of the cart barn as Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce made wise cracks in the background before I eventually made my way out into the heat.

The course at Plains is a beautiful track just to the east of Highway 200 that climbs a high hill and overlooks the town of Plains and the Clark Fork River. Gigantic powerlines hang above the course as they supply power westward.

The opening hole at Wild Horse Plains Golf Course is a 332-yard par 4 that tees off from the hill near the gravel road you travel into the course on. It slightly doglegs right past the row of trees that protect the clubhouse and cart barn and leads to a small turtleback green protected by a small bunker in the front left.

The most challenging hole both to walk and to play is the par 5 2nd hole that clocks in at 444-yards. An opening shot needs to be in the fairway that slightly turns left to make way for an extremely uphill second shot that must be careful to miss the trees lining the fairway on both sides before the green that sits behind a small hill.

It wasn’t until I got to the top of this hill that I realized how ungodly hot it really was. The uphill climb along the second hole had me remembering what the older guy watching the shop had said, “It’s just too damn hot today”.

With the heat on top of the hill came a spectacular view of the countryside surrounding the town of Plains and the whole valley. The best view of the valley came from the 6th tee along the northwest side of the course. From this high vantage point on the par 3 151-yard hole, you could see almost forever with the only sounds being the popping of the electricity along the power lines.

After finishing up on the ninth green, I sauntered my way down the hill to find my friend watching another rerun of M*A*S*H on the TV inside the cart shed.

“You survived the heat,” he said. “Pretty darn hot out there wasn’t it?”

“Almost too hot for golf, but you’re in the right spot to stay out of the heat,” I replied.

“Yes sir, and the best part is, I’m getting so old I can’t remember any of these episodes anymore,” he said as he muted the TV.

Not wanting to interrupt his programs, I thanked him and walked out the cart barn. I could hear him unmute the TV and rest his feet back up on the chair in front of him as the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital went back to work.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Dillon Hit a House” at Mission Mountain Golf Course

On a quiet morning in Ronan, Dillon Delaney and I stood on the first tee at Mission Mountain Golf Course praying.

It wasn’t a religious experience happening on the first tee, but it was out of necessity. Starting off our round on the 543-yard par 5, Dillon had made his first swing of the day and hit his golf ball on a bullet like trajectory straight toward a house.

The ball hung in the air for what seemed like an unusual amount of time making us think that it perhaps had missed the house. Then we heard the distinct WHACK that comes from driving a little white golf ball right into vinyl siding.

“Well, I wonder if anyone is still sleeping in that house?” I joked.

That’s one way to start a morning.

As Dillon and I made our way around the track at Mission Mountain Golf Course we met a 6,700-yard layout that requires every type of shot. After the opening par 5 that has a row of trees protecting the right rough from 100-yards of the green and three bunkers around the putting surface, we settled in really nicely to our round.

One of the best holes at Mission Mountain is the par 4 10th hole that plays 399-yards. Slightly doglegging right after the landing area, a downhill second shot awaits players that forces them to fly a cattail lined pond and onto a back-to-front sloping green.

Back-to-back-to-back par 4s make up the 12th, 13th, and 14th holes. The 12th is a rolling dogleg left that plays 395-yards into a green that has bunker on the left. The 13th is a long and challenging par 4 that is treelined along the right and has trouble along the left before an undulating green sits protected by a bunker in the front left. The 14th at Mission Mountain is a very gettable 288-yard uphill par 4 that has a trio of bunkers short of the green that slopes back-to-front forcing players to either try and drive the green or lay up short of the trouble.

The most challenging hole at Mission however, is the par 5 15th that is rated the hardest hole on the course. At 616-yards this beast of a hole plays between a creek on the left and trees on the right. The creek meanders in front and to the right of the green making it a truly three-shot hole.

Surprisingly, Dillon and I finished our round without hitting any more siding and went and grabbed a bite of lunch before heading our separate ways.

At lunch Dillon said, “I didn’t play too bad today, if you don’t count the first swing”.

“You need to go tell that to those nice people whose house you hit.”

Thanks to the staff at Mission Mountain Golf Course for a great day of golf in Ronan.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Turning 25” at Silver Fox Golf Course

Sunday was my birthday. Turning 25 was something that sort of caught me by surprise on this trip. Another surprise of this trip was being able to golf with my friend Dillon Delaney.

Dillon is going to school to be a dentist in Minnesota and after 10 months of school in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, he is finally home to enjoy his summer. Naturally, he was on the hook to play some golf with me.

At Silver Fox Golf Course in Pablo, Montana, Dillon and I made our way around the nine hole executive course on a beautiful summer day.

“25 today huh?” Dillon asked dryly. “Your best years are probably behind ya.”

Dillon was my roommate in college at Montana Tech. We lived in the dorms together as freshmen and then had a house we rented our junior and senior years. At first, Dillon’s dry sense of humor took me some time to get used to. In the beginning weeks of school, we both drove each other nuts. When he would be going to bed, I would watch a funny movie late into the night. When I was trying to sleep in, Dillon would make the most noise on the planet while getting dressed.

After about a month, he and I finally figured it out and became great friends. Sure, we might’ve tormented each other incessantly, but it was wonderful.

It was wonderful to torment each other on the golf course as well when we played Silver Fox. There was plenty of opportunity to do this on the par 3 course.

Starting on the 104-yard par 3 that plays up a small hill with the driving range to the right and a bunker to the left to the green.

The longest hole at Silver Fox Golf Course is the 235-yard par 4 6th. Interestingly, this was the only hole on the course where I lost a ball. Well actually, my ball was stolen. Dillon and I had decided to let a single play through after hitting our tee shots on the hole with water along the right and a bunker in the middle of the fairway leading up to small green with a bunker in the front left.

As the single in a cart drove up to hit his second shot as Dillon and I watched from the tee box I remarked, “I don’t think that’s where he hit his ball.”

Dillon laughed, “Nope. He’s definitely playing yours.”

Sure thing, walking up the fairway, Dillon and I never found my ball, but we did find an old and beaten up Titleist that I’m sure the single was sadly missing.

After our round concluded at Silver Fox, Dillon and I enjoyed the rest of my birthday by playing at the KwaTaqNuk Casino in Polson and then finished our night fishing up at a mountain lake by his house.

Year 25 was off to a pretty good start.

Montana's Longest Drive

“An Afternoon in the Sun” at Larchmont Golf Course

I remember playing golf through all four seasons in one day. Having to clear a path through the snow that had fallen in late April to putt my ball at the Frontier Conference Championships when I was a sophomore in college.

The weather was a bit better this time around when I got to play Larchmont Golf Course in Missoula on a hot Saturday afternoon. With temperatures in the low 90s, I met up with someone who remembered the cold rounds at Larchmont just as well as I did, former Carroll College golfer Justin Galiher.

There aren’t many people who have spent more time at Larchmont than Justin who has worked and played out there for as long as he can remember. With a father who is the golf pro at Larchmont, Justin knows Larchmont like the back of his hand from countless rounds at this public course in Missoula.

Larchmont is usually a busy track filled with foursomes at all hours of the day, but on Saturday afternoon the course seemed uncharacteristically empty. Perhaps the first hot day of the summer was scaring off some of the usual crowd, or the lakes and rivers of western Montana were beckoning folks to come cool off, but either way Justin and I flew around the course at Larchmont in record time.

A fantastic track that plays between 7,000 and 6,400 yards from the different sets of tees, Larchmont has grown into a mature golf course. With wide fairways lined by tall trees, Larchmont is gettable if you stay in the fairway off the tee.

Opening with a 504-yard par 5 that meanders past a bank of trees in the right rough just past the wide landing area 250-yards from the tee. An uphill second shot can reach the green if it avoids the twin bunkers in front of this undulating and large green.

As Justin and I enjoyed the heat, we had to reminisce about the much colder rounds we’d played on this course. We talked about old teams we played against, courses we remembered, and how suspect the weather usually was when you had to play golf in the fall and spring in Montana.

While setting our record pace and playing the front nine in an hour-and-fifteen minutes, we teed off on the par 4 8th hole. This 335-yard dogleg right is one of my favorites on this great course. A high wall of trees along the right rough forces players to decide whether to play it smart by laying up short of the trees through the fairway with a 240-yard shot just past the corner or to make the riskier choice and try to cut the corner with a tee shot that has to carry the trees. Another set of bunkers protects this small back-to-front sloping green on this fantastic hole.

On the back nine, Justin said his favorite hole was the par 5 16th. At 493-yards this par 5 doesn’t seem too daunting on the scorecard, but as it slightly turns right midway down the fairway the left side of the hole is lined by a pond and the green is protected by a monstrous tree in front of the left side of the putting surface while trees line the right side of the rough. This undulating and challenging green is out on a small peninsula that consistently reminds players that you’re just a few feet away from digging in your bag for a new golf ball.

After finishing our round on the 381-yard par 4 18th hole that becomes tight and tree lined around 270-yards from the tee and with a green with water on the right and a deep bunker on the left, Justin and I grabbed a beer and sat on the patio after our round.

As the heat faded and made for a beautiful late afternoon in Missoula, I was sure that this beat the heck out of playing through a snowstorm so years ago.

Thanks to Larchmont Golf Course and the Justin Galiher for a great afternoon of golf at this great track in Missoula!

Montana's Longest Drive

“Open for Business” at King Ranch Golf Course

Northwest of Missoula, sits an area the Indians used to call qua elth which translates to “state of tranquility”. Tranquil is an apt way of explaining the valley where French Canadians settled in 1864 called Frenchtown.

In Frenchtown, King Ranch Golf Course offers a round of golf along the rolling Mill Creek that feeds into the Clark Fork. The wetland area surrounding Mill Creek is a great place for a golf course with tall cottonwood trees and cattails lining a number of the fairways.

It was at King Ranch Golf Course that I met up with my old college teammate Troy Wolff and his younger brother Derek. Cruising down the road toward the golf course, I almost didn’t see Troy waving at me from his front porch not more than 100-yards from the entrance to King Ranch.

After a tough spring due to the above average rainfall and high-water levels, King Ranch was finally able to open up the old 9 holes on this 18 hole course. Talking with King Ranch’s Pro Tim Bakker he said, “We’re open. For a long time, we weren’t sure when that was going to happen. But we’re open for business!”

Starting on the 10th hole at King Ranch, Troy, Derek, and I made our way through a few of the holes on the back nine. The 365-yard par 4 hole has a steep left-to-right slope throughout the fairway before the long back-to-front sloping green.

On the 13th hole, an elevated tee box awaits players on this 218-yard par 3. Midway between the tee and the green sits a cattail lined pond where ducks and geese swim in high volume in front of this wide turtleback green.

One of my favorite holes at King Ranch was the very gettable par 5 14th hole. As long as your tee shot doesn’t find the large pond running through the fairway, this short par 5 is reachable with a long or mid iron. The green on the 14th is a small putting surface that slopes from back-to-front.

Throughout the round, the rushing water of Mill Creek and the waterfowl of this low-lying land northwest of Missoula provided a great backdrop for a peaceful round of golf at King Ranch. I’m thankful this course was able to have at least nine holes open for me to play on a beautiful morning.

The word tranquil came to mind, but I guess I wasn’t the first one to think that about Frenchtown.

Thanks to Tim Bakker and King Ranch Golf Course for a wonderful day of golf in Frenchtown. 

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“I Witnessed a One” at The Ranch Club

On a warm Thursday morning, I was a witness. High on a hillside overlooking a 138-yard par 3 at the Ranch Club, I saw my friend Harley Paugh make a one.

With a wedge he landed his golf ball a few feet left of the pin along a little ridge in the green and spun it to the right. With eyes wide, we all saw it track its way toward the hole and teeter on the edge of the cup before dramatically dropping in.

Instinctually the yelling and cheering started, creating an epic din that could be heard all throughout the Ranch Club. High fives were exchanged, quite a few expletives were dropped in disbelief, and we all gut laughed and cheered long after the ball hit the bottom of the cup.

Then it was my turn to hit and I joked, “How am I supposed to follow that?”

The Ranch Club is a links style golf course that protects its greens with deep pot bunkers and long fescue rough. If your tee shot finds the fescue in some of the areas at the Ranch Club, the ball is as good as gone.

The 7th hole at the Ranch Club is a 585-yard par 5 that seems to have more water than land as you stand on the tee and survey the landscape. A large pond runs the length of the hole and cuts across the fairway midway through the hole forcing players to consistently be wary of the hazard before approaching the large greens of the Ranch Club.

One of my favorite holes at the Ranch Club was the par 4 10th that plays 383-yards from the tips. A sharp dogleg left, the tee shot needs to negotiate the dangerous bunkers along the right of the fairway and sets up a downhill shot to the protected green that slopes from back-to-front.

After Harley had made a one at the 4th hole, the rest of our round was spent focusing on the upcoming shot and then reminding ourselves with a, “Did that really happen?”

The par 5 17th hole at the Ranch Club is a 544-yard hole with a landing area along the left of the fairway on that will shoot your ball down the fairway and bring the green into play on the second shot. A slightly downhill shot protected by a pond to the right of the green and bunkers surrounding the putting surface faces the golfer if their drive is long enough.

After our round, Harley, his buddy Will, and I, had to go into the clubhouse to tell our tale. Each version of the hole-in-one we all saw was even more dramatic than the previous. Sitting at the bar in the clubhouse of the Ranch Club having a beer compliments of the hole-in-one hitter himself, I even told a tale or two about the epic shot to anyone who would listen.

My first trip around the Ranch Club was a phenomenal experience highlighted by seeing someone make a one.

Because, I was a witness.

Thanks to Harley Paugh and the Ranch Club for a great day of golf in Missoula. This is a fantastic golf course I am eager to play again.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Fantastic 4th of July” at The Highlands Golf Club

“We’re a drinking club with a golfing problem,” was the way Mike O’Connell described The Highlands Golf Club to me as I toured the old mansion style restaurant called The Keep before our round.

A building with high vaulted ceilings, old stone fireplaces, and old wooden beams, the clubhouse of The Highlands Golf Club is housed downstairs while the restaurant is up above offering amazing views of the whole Missoula valley.

The Highlands Golf Club begins with a 380-yard downhill par 4 that turns slightly right-to-left. With a pair of bunkers midway through the fairway and another bunker farther down the right side this downhill par 4 is a challenging opening hole. The fairways at Highlands are very tough because of the sidehill lies you get on every one of the holes.

Another downhill par 4, the 2nd hole at Highlands Golf Club is a challenging tee shot through a narrow corridor of trees. This rolling fairway has out-of-bounds to the left of the rough and leads to an undulating and extremely sloped green.

As Mike and Mike’s friends Will and Andrew and I walked our way around this unique little golf course, one of the most surprising things was the number of deer and fawns on the course. Not at all timid these deer would watch you hit shots from within feet away.

The 9th hole at Highlands plays as a par 4 on the front nine but a par 5 on the back. From the tips it measures 515-yards up a steep hill toward a green near the clubhouse. A steady climb with a pair of bunkers on both sides of the fairway in the landing area. The ninth green is a turtleback with a large ridge running down the middle of the putting surface that also has a pair of bunkers surround it.

After we had finished our nine and before Mike and his buddies continued their round we sat on the patio and had a drink to celebrate our round. As we visited and looked out on the backdrop that is the greater Missoula area, Mike invited all of us over for a 4th of July barbecue later in the day.

In true 4th of July style, hot dogs and hamburgers were cooked on the grill and beers were put on ice in the cooler. A number of my cousins and extended family showed up and we sat in lawn chairs in the sun on a great day and visited.

It was a great day for golf, for a barbecue, and to see family and friends. And it got off to a great start at The Highlands Golf Club, “a drinking club with a golfing problem”.

Thanks to Mike O’Connell and his family and the staff at The Highlands Golf Club for a great 4th of July

Montana's Longest Drive

“It Will Always Beat Fishing” at Canyon River Golf Club

East of Missoula, there is a golf course just barely visible from the Interstate. At 80 miles per hour, if you blink you might miss the wide fairways or tall fescue rough that combine to create an amazing golf experience at Canyon River Golf Club.

The fairways at Canyon River are the first part of the course to catch your eye, as these sprawling stretches of green grass seem to meander on endlessly as you stand on the opening tee. There is of course the deep fescue rough at Canyon River that lines every hole and can quickly steal a ball away from you after any wayward shots find their way into it. What Canyon River also has are gigantic undulating greens, the kind of greens that can leave you with putts of over 50-feet if you find yourself in the wrong quadrant.

It is on this gorgeous golf course that is nestled along the Blackfoot River among the mountains that encapsulate this immaculate valley that I met my playing partners just off the 1st tee Gary Chumrau and Bill Hill. Gary and Bill were gracious enough to join me on a windy day that made Canyon River an even tougher track rather than go fishing as they had originally planned.

“I’m not sure I would want to be on a boat right now with this wind,” Gary said as we began our walk down the first fairway. “The fishing is probably terrible today anyhow.”

The opening hole at Canyon River slightly turns right-to-left past a bunker on the left side of the fairway. A slow rolling hill will catch longer tee shots and bring the ball past the cart path leaving less than 80-yards into a pin that can be tucked behind the deep front right bunker. This 398-yard hole is an early opportunity to make birdie if your game is strong off the tee to begin the round.

One of the most exciting holes at Canyon River is the drivable 338-yard 8th hole that turns slowly right-to-left past a deep fairway bunker. This risk/reward hole is best played by flying the bunker on the left to leave a short approach up the hill to a sloping green. Staying to the left side of this fairway will also help players avoid the dangerous and deep greenside bunker to the right of the putting surface that will leave you short-sided for this green that slopes away.

As Gary, Bill, and I battled the wind that was sweeping through the canyon east of Missoula we came to one of Canyon River’s signature holes, the par 3 12th hole that catches of the eye of people traveling along the Interstate. This downhill 190-yard par 3 plays a club or two shorter than listed to a green protected by a handful of bunkers left of the subtly front-to-back sloping green.

After battling the wind and the fescue at Canyon River Golf Club, Gary, Bill, and I went inside to grab a beer as a reward for finishing our long walk across this great course. The three of us clinked our glasses together as Gary joked, “There is no way the fishing would have been better than this.”

Canyon River is one of the best golf courses in Montana and one of my favorite tracks to play. If you’re driving on the Interstate heading north into Missoula, don’t forget to look for Canyon River Golf Club.

Thanks to Canyon River, PGA Professional Edward Bezanson, and the rest of the staff for a wonderful day at such a fantastic golf course.  

Montana's Longest Drive

“The Oldest Green and a Mo Burger” at The Missoula Country Club

The 16th hole at the Missoula Country Club is a historic place for golf in Montana. A white sign with green lettering hangs on a tree behind the green and reads:

16 GREEN

Was Constructed in 1931

It Is The First Grass Green

In The State Of Montana

This historic and wonderful golf course is a tight track lined by countless trees that drape over the fairway and can block out shots into greens if you’re not on the correct side of the fairway. It’s a challenging test of shot making at such a wonderful course.

My host for my round at the Missoula Country Club was my friend Bryan Porch who I’ve known from refereeing basketball all around the state. Porchy, as he’s called, is as fun as it gets. Originally from Florence, he’s a fast talker full of jokes and one-liners. Joining us for the round of golf was Bryan’s older brother Robby who I played golf with in Hamilton.

The 362-yard 1st hole at the Missoula Country Club is a perfect example of the type of golf you’ll be playing at the MCC. A straightforward par 4 lined by trees on both sides of the rough your tee shot has to be far enough back and favor the right side to be able to dodge the limbs on a tall deciduous tree that hangs over the left-hand side of the fairway the runs up to a green protected by a bunker on the right and one behind the back-to-front sloping green.

Robby joked, “I’m just here so the conversation isn’t completely one-sided,” after Bryan had made a great up-and-down and congratulated himself before we had the chance. “But it doesn’t look like I’m going to be much good.”

Playing with these two brothers was as much fun as you could imagine. Listening to them tell different versions of the same stories throughout the round had me laughing all afternoon.

The 10th hole is a 468-yard par 5 that runs down between banks of trees toward a gorgeous pond with a rock wall in front of the green. A bunker on the side of the fairway completely wraps its way around a tall ponderosa pine tree ready to make shots into this well protected green even more difficult. An undulating and elevated green the 10th can be a challenging place to make birdie depending on the position of the pin.

With Bryan and Robby providing the humor as made our way through the back nine at the Missoula Country Club, we found ourselves at the gorgeous 17th hole. From an elevated tee this 150-yard hole has water to the right and left and a set of bunkers protecting it as well. Playing a club shorter than the scorecard would recommend, this is an excellent par 3 that demands precision.

The closing hole at the Missoula Country Club is a 502-yard par 5 that heads back up the hill toward the clubhouse. With trees lining the left of the fairway and a pair of bunkers on the right the real danger on this hole is the out-of-bounds on the right of the rough all along this hole. Reachable in two, the green on this hole is protected by a trio of bunkers in the front left, the right, and behind the putting surface.

As the three of us finished our round and the two Porchs and I walked off the green, I had the last laugh. I said, “After playing golf with both of you guys, I’m pretty sure I know who my favorite Porch is… It’s Brad.”

We were rolling with laughter once again as we decided on dinner plans and headed downtown to the Mo Club to get a Mo Burger and a beer to complete a “real Missoula experience” as Bryan called it. Inside The Missoula Club the three of us looked up at the walls adorned by all the team pictures and action shots of great teams and players from Montana.

Eating my Mo Burger and having a cold one with the Porch brothers talking about my golfing plans all around Missoula, I figured I had had a pretty great day of golf.

It isn’t every day you get to play the first grass green in Montana and then reminisce about it with a Mo Burger and a cold one.

Thanks to the Missoula Country Club and to the Porch brothers for a fantastic day in Missoula playing golf

 

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Like a Copper King” at Stock Farm

In the Bitterroot Valley sits an exclusive and wonderful golf club just outside of Hamilton, Montana called the Stock Farm Club.

The long roadway out to Stock Farm is lined by tall cottonwoods that the Copper King Marcus Daly planted so his buggy rides could be in the shade and not under the hot sun. It was at Stock Farm where Daly began breeding champion race horses like Scottish Chieftain who was the only horse bred in Montana to win the Belmont Stakes in 1897.

On this treasured land rich with Montana history is the Stock Farm Club. While staying true to its historic roots with homes in the classic red barn style and a gorgeous log and stone clubhouse, the Stock Farm is home to a championship golf course designed by Tom Fazio.

With my host Mr. Chuck Shonkwiler, his son-in-law Harley Paugh, and Dave Pyrone, our foursome put down some putts on the fast-paced practice green before we found our way to the back tees that are near the clubhouse deck. From high on the beautiful hill the 1st hole at Stock Farm is a 420-yard par 4 down a hill that with a deep bunker on the right-hand side of the fairway that slopes from left-to-right. A two-tiered green slopes from back-to-front and demands an on target second shot below the hole for a any real chance of making a birdie.

The signature hole at Stock Farm is the 356-yard par 4 3rd that tees off from an elevated tee box and then crosses a wide ravine to a fairway that has a steep hillside of sagebrush to the left and a large bunker 250-yards from the tee box. Requiring a precise tee shot with the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains and Blodgett Canyon in the backdrop, the second shot on this hole doesn’t get any easier as a turtleback green built out near the edge of the hillside is protected by a large bunker on the left and a deep bunker on the right.

As Chuck, Harley, Dave, and I made our way around the Stock Farm Club, I was instantly overtaken by the beautiful surroundings that Stock Farm is nestled in. With ponderosa pine trees and sagebrush lining the periphery of every fairway and green, and deep high lipped pot bunkers scattered around the property this course is as challenging as it is beautiful.

After the turn, we were greeted by the exciting and challenging 375-yard par 4 11th hole that again demands accuracy with not only the tee shot but also the shot into the green for any hope at birdie. A narrow fairway with a bunker on the right ends as a small creek runs in front of the green that is protected by a deep bunker in the front right. The small putting surface is two-tiered and slopes from right-to-left with a dramatic slope running through the center of the green.

On a beautiful afternoon Stock Farm was more magnificent as I could have imagined and the company I had couldn’t have been better. As Harley and Dave rode in a cart together, Chuck drove alongside me, and we visited throughout the round. He explained the design ideas behind every hole and even read a few putts on the tricky Fazio greens for me.

The finishing hole at Stock Farm is one to remember, playing 436-yards from an elevated tee to a downhill fairway with three bunkers protecting the landing area that slopes from left-to-right before climbing back up the hill. With a second shot playing a club longer than it says due to the slope a large bunker sits in front of the green ready to snag any shots that aren’t carefully thought out or executed into this sloping and challenging green with a ridge in the right third.

After our round, our foursome went into the men’s locker room area of Stock Farm that was decorated with some big game trophies that filled the vaulted ceiling room. Complete with a full bar, leather couches, a card table, and an attendant that greeted us, we sat around and reminisced about our round and my first time playing Stock Farm.

Leaving the property in the shade of those mile-high cottonwoods that Marcus Daly rode his buggy under around 120 years ago, I was enthralled by the majestic course and great hospitality at Stock Farm. I’m not sure if it can get any better than playing golf in the Bitterroot Valley on a sunny day.

Something about playing golf at Stock Farm made me think that I would’ve enjoyed being a Copper King.

Thanks to PGA Professional Gary Nye, Chuck Shonkwiler, and the staff at Stock Farm for a wonderful day of golf. 

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Fun Friday Evening” at Whitetail Golf Course

On a beautiful Friday evening I headed out for a quick-nine holes at Whitetail Golf Course and ended up spending the evening playing the course with a group of newfound friends.

They were waiting in the clubhouse for the rest of their group to arrive, so they could play a couples best-ball but ended up being a player short, so I offered to play along with them and we headed out to the 1st tee at Whitetail Golf Course.

The aptly named Whitetail Golf Course sits in a beautiful river bottom near the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge where whitetail deer bound out of the underbrush and seem to be around every corner of the golf course.

The 1st hole at Whitetail Golf Course is a 315-yard par 4 that begins near the clubhouse and goes toward the middle of the property. Trees line the fairway on both sides midway through the hole before a small back-to-front sloping green finishes the hole. A bunker sits behind the green to collect any shots that run too far through the putting surface.

A unique aspect of the Whitetail Golf Course is that it has back-to-back par 3s and back-to-back par 5s on the scorecard. The 4th hole is a 166-yard hole with another small crowned green while the 5th hole is a 145-yard par 3 with a bunker on the right side.

After the dogleg left 344-yard par 4 6th hole, the 7th and 8th holes at Whitetail are back-to-back par 5s. The 7th is a 502-yard hole that tees off from across a small bridge and past a pair of large trees in the center of the fairway while the 8th heads back toward the other direction 453-yards. A large bunker right of the fairway and trees left confine this small fairway before twin bunkers protect the front of this elevated green.

Finishing our couples best ball and having more fun than I ever expected when I planned on a quick nine in Stevensville, I drove out the gravel driveway and past a field full of whitetail deer. Getting to join in with these fantastic couples was an absolute blast. We drank beers and laughed the whole round on a perfect Friday evening.

Thanks to the staff at Stevensville’s Whitetail Golf Course for a fantastic evening and for so many laughs

Montana's Longest Drive

“Across the Sapphires and into the Bitterroot” at Hamilton Golf Club

High in the Sapphire Mountains where the clouds blanket the pine trees, I stood atop the Skalkaho pass and watched the water thunder down the rocks of a magnificent waterfall. The dirt road leading from Philipsburg across to Hamilton was a shortcut of sorts, even though I spent a great deal of time outside my car gazing at the amazing scenery.

Descending the mountainside and out of the clouds I entered the Bitterroot Valley and into Hamilton just in time to play the Hamilton Golf Club with Robby Porch Jr. Introducing myself to Robby and heading toward the 1st tee at the HGC, we were greeted by a downhill dogleg left par 4 with a tall bank of cottonwoods lining the left rough just past a pond. The green at the 1st is protected by a bunker in the right front and slopes from back-to-front.

The course at Hamilton Golf Club is a beautiful parkland style track. With beautiful trees lining all the fairways and greens. A small creek runs through the front nine and cuts across the fairways of the some of the holes.

The par 5 7th hole is one of the fairways that is divided by the creek which runs at a diagonal from 300-yards on the right rough to about 240-yards as it crosses the left rough. Making long tee shots dangerous this creek can force longer hitters to lay back from it and then attack this par 5 with a smart second shot and then a wedge in. Another undulating and quick green greets the golfer and can make for a difficult birdie putt.

On the back nine at Hamilton Golf Club is where the Bitterroot Mountain Range offers a fantastic backdrop on every hole. Stepping across the road and onto the 10th tee a 414-yard par 4 that doglegs right greets the players. You must place your shot in between the trees on the right and ponds on the left that will catch anything that runs too far through the fairway. A small bunker protects the green in the front left that slopes back-to-front.

As Robby and I played our way in toward the clubhouse, the finishing stretch at Hamilton Golf Club is an amazing trio of holes. The 16th is a dogleg right drivable par 4 that plays 363-yards but the tee shot must carry the large pond on the right and miss the bunker in the front left of this green. The 17th is a 167-yard par 3 with a large bunker in the front right with a wide green and the 18th is a narrow 430-yard par 4 with ponds to the left and out of bounds past the tree lined right rough.

After wrapping up our round at Hamilton Golf Club, Robby and I headed into downtown Hamilton and stopped at Nap’s Grill for a burger. Diving into a fantastic 2/3 LB burger and talking about our round, Robby and I were quickly in a food coma as we sank deeper into our booth seats.

As we said our goodbyes and I headed down the road, I took another look at the Sapphire Mountains which I had traversed earlier that morning. Near dawn I was gazing at the Skalkaho Falls and in the afternoon,  I had already played the spectacular Hamilton Golf Club and had one of the best burgers on my trip.

My trip across the Mountains into Hamilton was one I will surely be making again.

Thanks to the Hamilton Golf Club and Robby Porch Jr. for a wonderful day of golf in the Bitterroot Valley 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Montana’s Golf Experience” at Rock Creek Cattle Company

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.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Golf and an Old Prison” at Deer Park Golf Course

I may have had the most perfect day in Deer Lodge, Montana on Wednesday and it all started at the Deer Park Golf Course.

A modest nine-hole public course just west of town, Deer Park is down a winding little road where you pass under some tall cottonwood trees to find a white clubhouse with a small putting green nearby. Inside hang trophies from past high school state championship teams from the mid-2000s who called this course home and a small bar where a couple of old-timers were grabbing a quick drink before continuing their round.

I BS-ed with the two men at the bar and grabbed a scorecard to play Deer Park in the mid-morning sun. As I was walking out the door I was warned to stay out of the ponds that were on the course that weren’t on the scorecard because of all the flooding trouble Deer Park had had over the beginning of the season. Apparently, the course was under quite a bit of water until just a few days before I rolled into town.

This nine-hole course plays 3,184-yards from the white tees and features a number of fun holes throughout the track. The 1st hole is a fun par 4 measuring 392-yards that tees of from right by the clubhouse. A small channel runs the right rough while bushes cover the left side of the rough. Anything right of the fairway is a dangerous play leading up to the crowned green that slopes back-to-front.

As I made my way through my round at Deer Park, I was astonished at the number of people out playing it in the middle of the day. There were elderly couples out with their push carts and young guys out with their golf carts having a ball at the course.

After crossing back in front of the clubhouse, I hit the 476-yard 5th hole that runs east toward the town. A relatively straightforward par 5, left brings the small creek into play on all three shots while right can leave you in the long grass or near some bushes that can block out your path to the green. The initial tee shot has to cover a small pond just a short distance in front of the tee. This undulating green slopes off in a variety of directions and can leave difficult pin positions if you aren’t on the right area of the putting surface.

My favorite hole for the course was the par 3 7th that plays 131-yards. A small black sand bunker protects the left side of this green that slopes back-to-front. With the wind coming right at the player and the pin being tucked in the back corner of the green, this short par 3 was far more challenging than the scorecard would indicate.

Visiting with the folks at the golf course after I had completed my round, I found out that Deer Park Golf Course is maintained by volunteers. All the mowing and groundskeeping duties are done by members of the community and one prison trustee who comes out and helps. This news only made me enjoy Deer Park even more, because it’s a golf course made by the people and for the people of Deer Lodge to enjoy.

After my round, I was about to head out of town when I decided to peak my head in and tour the Old Montana State Prison and cross it off my bucket list. I had driven by the old prison countless times and seen signs along the highway but had never had the time to go and tour the museum.

The tour and the history of that old building was something else. I took my time and read the stories that were listed at every stop along the way through the old building as families from across the country walked through as well. From the guard towers to the prison yard, the tour was exceptional and something I was so happy I took the time to enjoy.

After playing Deer Park Golf Course that morning, taking a little self-guided tour through this historic Montana landmark was the perfect way to spend the afternoon in Deer Lodge.

Golf and an old prison tour, that sounds like a pretty perfect day in Deer Lodge to me.

 

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.

Montana's Longest Drive

“One of my Favorite Nines” at Anaconda Country Club

Just east of Anaconda sits a small town called Opportunity that his home to the Anaconda Country Club. A white building perfect for wedding receptions sits behind a white picket fence and is shaded by some tall cottonwoods that were in full bloom when I walked toward the clubhouse.

It was in the Anaconda Country Club clubhouse that I met up with my playing partners for my nine-hole round at the ACC, reigning Montana State Amateur Champion Caleb Stetzner, and Jackson Wagner. Both accomplished golfers throughout their careers Wagner and Stetzner both won State Championships for the Copperheads while in high school. Also, in the clubhouse of the ACC was Head Golf Professional, and all around wonderful guy, Mark Torney who sent us out to the first tee after we had BS-ed for long enough.

The ACC is a perfect little nine-hole course that plays at 3020 yards from the white tees and makes its way across a rushing creek a few times and through an outcropping of cottonwoods as well. With cotton flying in the air, Caleb, Jackson, and I teed off on the 1st hole of the Anaconda Country Club.

A straightforward 367-yard par 4 with bushes left and out of bounds right, the perfect shot is anything that stays in the fairway and gives the golfer a wedge into this crowned green. A bush in the middle of the fairway 100-yards from the green can cause problems if your tee shot isn’t far enough back of it.

Caleb, who is going to be a junior playing golf for MSUB in the fall, tends bar and works in the clubhouse at the Anaconda Country Club in the summers while Jackson just graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Journalism and is headed to Oregon for work as the summer wraps.

These two former Copperheads showed me all of the intricacies of the wonderful Anaconda Country Club as we played. With small greens that putt extremely true the ACC provides so many birdie opportunities while large numbers lurk around corners thanks to the high number of cottonwoods that line the roughs.

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th holes at the ACC all play about 378-yards from the white tees. The 3rd is a dogleg right, the 4th is a straightforward par 4 with long rough on both sides of the fairway, and the 5th is another straightforward par 4 with a back-to-front sloping green.

It isn’t a surprise why Anaconda has produced such good golfers with a course like this. The ACC rewards good shots and can penalize the big miss. The picture-perfect greens probably don’t hurt the case either.

After playing the short but challenging 140-yard 8th hole that crosses the creek to a crowned and elevated green offering the player little room for error on their tee shot, the three of us came to the 369-yard 9th hole that doglegs left and goes over the creek. The perfect line is directly over the top of this large tree that sits in front of the fairway 180-yards from the tee box. Taking this line prevents the player from being blocked out by the large cottonwoods on the edge of the opening on the left of this slightly larger than average back-to-front sloping green.

After the round, Caleb, Jackson, and I, made our way back into the ACC clubhouse who tally up our scores and retell some tales of our loop to Mark.

There aren’t many places like the Anaconda Country Club in Opportunity, Montana, and there aren’t many places you’ll find better people than inside that white clubhouse shaded by the cottonwood trees.

Thanks to PGA Professional Mark Torney and the ACC for great hospitality and a great round at their beautiful course.

Montana's Longest Drive

“The Geriatric Coach and I” at Fairmont Hot Springs Golf Course

“WHAT’S THE COURSE RECORD? AND WHERE DO I RENT CLUBS?” is just scratching the surface of the one-liners that Coach Bob Green has in his repertoire. The self-described geriatric football coach who was once dubbed “the Best Quote in College Football” had me doubled over laughing throughout our round at Fairmont Hot Springs Golf Course.

Coach Green, who recently re-retired from Montana Tech was more than ready to go for a round of golf at Fairmont on Monday morning when I met up with him. Dressed in an Oredigger golf shirt and hat, khaki shorts, and his rolled white socks, Coach Green was chomping at the bit to play a warmup round with me before his schedule 12:20 money game with his regular group of pals.

“THEY WON’T KNOW WHAT HIT EM’ I TELL YOU WHAT! I’LL BE DIALED IN AND READY TO TAKE SOME BUCKS OFF THOSE MEN AFTER THIS!” Green proclaimed. “THEN I’LL BE ABLE TO TAKE PAM GREEN OUT FOR A NICE MEAL, WHICHEVER DRIVE-THRU SHE WANTS!”

Bob Green is one of those people in the world who has never needed an energy drink. At 70 years old, the Marine Corp Veteran is always chomping at the bit, getting the most out of every day, and telling jokes whenever he can. Spend five minutes with the man and you can see why so many former Orediggers were willing to run through brick walls for the guy. He’s infectious, he’s fun, and he’s not a bad golfer for a “geriatric”.

Fairmont is Coach Green’s home course and one he plays quite well. The most famous hole at Fairmont is the “Mile High, Mile Long” par 5 5th hole that stands exactly one mile above sea level and plays at a staggering 649-yards into a steady breeze coming out of the west. As long a hole as you might come across, this true three-shot par 5 features a crowned green as a reward for making your way down this long and impressive par 5.

For Coach Green, his favorite hole on the course has to be the par 3 12th hole that plays an uphill 214-yards. Coach aced this hole this spring and wasn’t too proud to say he hit driver when he did it because of the harsh wind sweeping across the course that day. A wall of trees behind the sloping green can protect it from this harsh wind, but a tee shot needs to find the right spot on this green to prevent a long and turning putt.

As we cruised our way around the course running on Bob Green time, I struggled at times to keep up with the old football coach in his cart. By the time the finishing stretch of holes had arrived Coach was anxiously waiting to go win some dough in his money game.

The last hole at Fairmont is as challenging a hole as there is on the course. A dogleg left par 4 that plays 387-yards over water, it demands an exact tee shot about 240-yards in length to find the landing area just short of the pond at the bottom of the hill. With out-of-bounds right and a high wall of cottonwoods left this tee shot is the most challenging on the course. A crowned green in the shadows of some more cottonwoods awaits the players who can successfully navigate this difficult golf hole.

After the round, Coach Green raced off to go play with his regular crew who was assembled on the 1st tee. The go-go-go nature of Bob Green is as infectious as it is genuine. I’m confident that man has never had a bad day in his life.

Some days are just better than most. I know that because my day golfing with Coach Bob Green was as good as they get.

I just hope the “geriatric” football coach won enough money to let Pam Green get fries with that.

Thanks to Coach Green and the staff at Fairmont for a wonderful day of golf.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Caddy and a Carnivore” at The Yellowstone Club

No one else has ever carried my clubs. Not a soul, other than myself, has ever slung my bag over their shoulder, until I played the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana.

Driving through the gated entrance into the exclusive resort property and up the paved mountain road toward the clubhouse, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the Yellowstone Club. It was a course I had heard of, I had read about, and one I had even Google Earthed a time or two, but what I played was so much more than you could imagine.

In the Pro Shop of the Yellowstone Club I met the Director of Golf William Ciccotti and the Head Golf Professional Drew Glover. It was Drew who promised me that I my experience at the Yellowstone Club would be unlike any other, and he was right as he introduced me to Les, my caddie.

A semi-retired former Yellowstone National Park Ranger, Les wore full length white bibs with YELLOWSTONE CLUB emblazoned across his shoulders in green letters. As we stood on the first tee, I explained to Les that I’d never had a caddie before, let alone someone to carry my bag and he just laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad I’m your guy then.”

I was glad Les was my guy as well. Instead of fore-caddying like he usually does for golfers at the Yellowstone Club, he and I were able to walk and talk about the game of golf, life, and so much more. I told him about my journey and how he wasn’t just carrying my golf bag but also the obituary of one of my best friends who was tagging along in spirit. We connected, Les and I, on a level I doubt most people do with someone lugging around their golf clubs.

As Les guided me along the Tom Weiskopf designed course that blended the mountains and trees with the scenic backdrop that Big Sky provides, we started on the back nine on the dogleg right 10th hole that plays 443-yards from the tips. An uphill tee shot must negotiate a fairway bunker on the right-hand side and leaves you a severely downhill shot into a tricky green protected by a pair of bunkers to the right.

Concluding the back nine with the par 5 18th that plays 576-yards up a large hill before twin bunkers at the crest of the hill make you choose between trying for this well protected green by hitting a drawing shot past the bunkers that catches the slope and rolls to the front of the green, or to hit to the top of the hill to the right of the bunkers and give yourself a downhill wedge into this sloping green.

It was on the front nine where the most memories were made for me however. The signature hole at the Yellowstone Club is the 434-yard par 4 4th hole. From a tee that overlooks the whole Yellowstone Club a fairway opens to the player with a bunker on the left and large icy blue pond on the right. A tight fairway between these two hazards leads to an elevated and crowned green protected by twin bunkers on the sides.

After playing the par 5 5th hole at Yellowstone, two employees of the club made their way towards Les and I. Before any conversations were had, they tossed Les a can of bear spray and said, “You might want that. Apparently, there’s a bear on the next hole.”

The four of us rushed to the par 3 6th hole that has five bunkers surrounding the green and a small pond in front that is fed by a gorgeous cascading waterfall to the left of the green to see if we could spot the bear.  Sure enough, moseying its way across the cart path and taking a little swim in the pond was a cinnamon colored black bear.

As the bear swam, Les looked at me and said, “I think it’s about a 7-iron to the green from here, Sean, but you might want to wait.”

“Les, why would I wait? This is the only chance in my life to hit a tee shot over a bear!” I laughed. “But I think I’ll hit the 6 just to be safe.”

Les and the others laughed and took photos as I teed my ball up and hit my iron shot over the top of the bear who had begun climbing out of the water and headed up the hill toward the next hole.

As my ball fell from the sky and found one of the greenside bunkers I laughed, “Well, I would’ve hit the damn green, but I was a little concerned about hitting a high cut over a carnivore.”

After the bear had scampered up the hillside and out of eyesight and I settled for a bogey Les looked at me and said, “You can blame that one on the bear.”

When our round had ended and Les and I were regaling the shop staff with our stories of the bear and the tee shot that was hit over it, we both looked at each other and smiled as people laughed at our doozy of a golf tale. As we exited the shop I shook Les’ hand and thanked him repeatedly for being my first caddy. With a twinkle in his eye he said, “Anytime Sean. It was my pleasure.”

What Les doesn’t know is the pleasure was all mine. It was a fantastic experience playing the world-renowned Yellowstone Club made even better by having Les on my bag.

I’d never had anyone ever carry my clubs before. And I’d never hit a tee shot over a bear.

That is until I played the Yellowstone Club.

Thanks to William Ciccotti, Drew Glover, and the rest of the staff at the Yellowstone Club for such a wonderful day at their amazing golf course. And a special thank you to my friend Les for being my first caddy.

Montana's Longest Drive

“In Wonderous Awe” at Spanish Peaks

With the windows rolled down on a sunny afternoon, I followed a two-lane road past the tiny mountain sky town of Big Sky and headed deeper into the mountain forest. Rounding corners and climbing higher up the mountainside, I finally rounded a bend to see the clubhouse of Spanish Peaks.

An immaculate log building that overlooks the 18th green of the Tom Weiskopf course, it stands high and tall over everything else in the valley, much like the Spanish Peaks for which the club is named. Inside the clubhouse, I met with Spanish Peaks Head Golf Professional Tim Phelps who gave me a brief overview of the course.

A young man named Jackson gave a ride down to the putting green and handed me a can of bear spray saying, “I sure hope you don’t need this.” Jackson and I visited while I putted around on the practice green for a few moments before his Walkie-Talkie went off and he was headed back to work.

I played the tips at Spanish Peaks because I wanted to hit from the back tee on the 1st hole. One of the most unique tee boxes I have ever seen, the 1st at Spanish Peaks doesn’t tee off from a normal tee box, but from off the putting green where a black metal tee marker is planted in the putting surface that reads 433-yards. This downhill par 4 turns slightly left to right with bunkers along the left rough 300-yards from the tee. A downhill second shot into an undulating green with a large horseshoe shaped bunker on the left makes this a great opening hole.

One of my favorite holes on the course was the par 5 2nd that plays 527-yards from the tips. This downhill hole turns left in the fairway past a large pond filled with age old pine trees who have succumbed to the tough winters and now sit submerged just under the surface of the blue water, before making a right-hand turn past a line of trees towards a well-protected green. This par 5 is best played as a three-shot hole leaving players a wedge in to this bowl-shaped green.

Continuing to gaze in wonder at some of these magnificent golf holes designed by Tom Weiskopf that incorporated the mountainous terrain without losing the natural luster of this area, I realized the clouds behind me had overtaken Lone Peak and turned a nasty deep black color. Small raindrops fell from the sky sporadically before they came down in waves, then the waves turned into icy hailstones. Halfway through the par 4 5th hole, and with nowhere to I hide, I finished out the hole before finding my way into a snack shack located near the 6th tee.

Inside I found a group of guys from the Chicago area waiting out the worst of the storm. Joining them and trying to warm up after the temperature had dropped 15 degrees in the last few minutes, we visited about the rest of their friends who had decided to go on a float trip that afternoon.

“I bet they wish they had gone golfing now,” one of them joked as the hailstones pelted the windows of the snack shack.

After the hail stopped, I continued my round in the drizzling rain until it quit as I started the back nine. A gorgeous back nine that carves its way through treelined corridors, it features some of the best par 3s I have ever played. The 15th is a prime example, as this 210-yard downhill par three has a pond to the left of the green and is surrounded by four deep bunkers. Playing a club or two shorter than the listed yardage, this undulating green rewards the tee shot that finds the center of the putting surface.

With clear skies and that after rain smell and freshness blanketing the course, I found myself taking deeper breaths of the mountain air and savoring this gorgeous golf course. Walking back toward the clubhouse, a slight mist still hung in the mountain air.

Spanish Peaks was a spectacular blend of natural beauty and golf course design. This is what golf in the mountains should be like. Making you feel suddenly insignificant as you watch a storm cloud roll over the top of a peak and completely at peace once the rains have stopped.

I had went into the mountain forest today with my golf clubs and came out in wonderous awe of Spanish Peaks.

Thanks to Tim Phelps and the staff of Spanish Peaks for a wonderful day of golf and hospitality for Montana’s Longest Drive.

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Most Magnificent Hike” at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin

There comes a point when you are so tired from climbing up steep hills that your ears begin to ring. With my heart pounding and my heavy breathing drowning out every natural sound of this beautiful area, I finally summitted the top of the hill and stood atop the 5th tee at The Reserve at Moonlight Basin outside Big Sky, Montana.

In hindsight, walking this course wasn’t my brightest idea. When I arrived at the spectacularly beautiful stone façade clubhouse with views of the practice area in the foreground and the mountain peaks in the background, I was greeted by bewildered looks as I said, “I’m walking today.”

Their responses were mostly:

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“I’ve never seen anyone walk this course.”

“You’re going to walk?”

Before starting my round, Moonlight Basin’s Director of Golf Greg Wagner, handed me a can of bear spray and gave me quick instructions on how to use it.

“Pull this cap off and fire from the hip, so you don’t shoot the spray over the bear. And you should be good to go.  I doubt you’ll see one, but here you go just in case,” Greg said.

I laughed as I put the bear spray in an open pocket of my golf bag on the first tee and said, “Well it’s always better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”

The first hole at Moonlight Basin offers a fantastic view of the whole mountain valley from an elevated tee. A 200-foot drop from tee to fairway on this dogleg left par 4 with a bunker protecting the end of the fairway makes club selection on this 463-yard hole important. After the first portion of the fairway another elevation drop lays between the fairway and the undulating green that is protected by a deep bunker to its right.

Continuing my trek down the steep hillsides for the first few holes, I remembered something that made my calves tense up, “What goes down, must come back up.”

After the 470-yard par 4 4th hole, that turns slightly to the left on the gradual uphill fairway and is crossed by a creek 110-yards short of another tough green protected by a bunker in front, I started one of the toughest hikes of the day.

With my clubs on my back, I trudged up the path from the 4th to the 5th hole. The steep grade got my blood pumping and my lungs feeling as if they were going to burst at any moment as the trail continued to wind its way up the hill. Ten minutes into this climb, I realized why no one walks this mountainous course as I finally spotted the next tee.

As the miles added up and my legs grew wearier from the consistent climbs up the mountainside, I arrived at the long par 5 13th hole. At 628-yards this hole doglegs right 280-yards from the green and climbs its way up the hillside. Protected by eight bunkers inside of 100-yards, going for it in two isn’t a smart decision. This wide green features a high ridge in the front right and a number of swales that create intimidating pin positions.

On a course that offers nothing but spectacular mountain views, I found myself standing for an extra moment on every tee box and taking in the grandeur of Moonlight Basin. Talking with Director of Club Operations Mike Wilcynski after the round, the course was designed by Jack Nicklaus to offer the best of views from every tee. One of the best views on the course is the 16th hole at Moonlight, a downhill par 3 playing around 200-yards with a mountain peak in the backdrop of the green.

Walking back up another steep path that switch-backed its way up the mountainside toward the clubhouse, I took a moment to look back down the mountain valley that houses the Reserve at Moonlight Basin.

The 10.6-mile hike that covered 1,200 feet of elevation change and the reactions I got from some of the staff when I walked back to the clubhouse was worth it.

You can’t beat the views at Moonlight Basin, but next time, I might take a cart.

Thanks to the Greg Wagner, Mike Wilcynski, and the rest of the staff at Moonlight Basin for hosting me for a great day of golf.

 

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“First Day on the Mountain” at Big Sky Resort Golf Course

With a roaring river to my right and a rough rock face to my left, I drove up the two-lane highway from Bozeman and climbed higher up the mountain road. Waves crashed over the front of the whitewater rafts below the highway as the mountain town of Big Sky came into view.

With Lone Peak at the top of the magnificent mountain backdrop, I arrived at Big Sky Resort Golf Course. An Arnold Palmer design measuring 6,800 yards from the tips, this public course sits in the heart of the Big Sky community. Holes weave their way through homes and small neighborhoods throughout this whole mountain course.

Arriving at the course, I was paired up with a pair of recently retired brothers named Trav and Kevin who hailed from New Hampshire and their younger roommate Louie who recently moved to Big Sky from California. From the first tee, the three of us absolutely hit it off. Outgoing and hilarious, the threesome I joined was as much fun as I’ve ever had.

With thick New England accents, the brothers spouted off one-liners I wish I would’ve written down that had the whole group laughing on every hole.

At Big Sky Resort Golf Course, keeping the ball in the fairway is very important. On every hole, thick bushes and trees line the periphery while a small creek works its way through the first few holes and returns to line the 17th and 18th.

The 1st hole at Big Sky features an elevated tee box right below the clubhouse lining up a slight downhill dogleg left with out of bounds to the left of the fairway and a trio of bunkers surrounding this undulating and large green.

One of my favorite holes at the course was the 423-yard par 4 7th hole that doglegs slightly right. Tall fescue rough sits on the left of the fairway while a row of trees lines the right. A large fairway bunker sits in the landing area on the left and a pair of bunkers sit in front of a back-to-front sloping green.

As we rounded the turn and continued to laugh our way around this course, Trav, Kevin, Louie, and I found ourselves on the closing stretch at Big Sky. The group agreed the last three holes on the course were the best of the bunch.

The 16th is a short uphill par 4 with a fairway that sharply turns right near the 100-yard mark on this 334-yard hole. A number of bunkers line both sides of this fairway while another bunker sits behind the elevated green.

The 423-yard 18th hole is a fantastic finishing hole that forces you to lay up short of the pond that cuts across the fairway 100-yards short of the green. An elevated green with a deep pot bunker in the front right slopes from back-right-to-front-left and offers a variety of scary and dangerous puts if your second shot isn’t where intended.

As a dark storm cloud littered heavy drops of rain on my car and the whitewater rafters paddled their hearts out below the highway trying to outrace the storm, I realized that whatever recreation you choose to do, Big Sky is one heck of a place to do it.

And hopefully you run into a hilarious crew of guys like I got to play the Big Sky Resort Golf Course with.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Cigars and an Empty Seat” at Madison Meadows Golf Course

Two of us sat on the deck late into the night smoking our cigars with the starry southwestern Montana sky over the top of us. Not more than 75-yards from the 2nd hole at Madison Meadows, my friend Steve Maxwell and I shared stories. We shared stories of golf, life and most importantly of loss. As the glowing red embers in our cigars grew more dim, we laughed and fought back tears as we remembered our good friend, Jay Baumberger.

Getting the chance to play golf with Maxwell was something I had been excited about for some time. You see, Maxwell and I both had a special relationship with Jay. They were best of friends and golf partners for as long as I can remember. So, it seemed fitting that Steve and I would play a round together in memory of our friend.

This was one of the places on my trip across Montana that I was most hesitantly excited about. Madison Meadows Golf Course in Ennis, Montana is a course where I lost the state championship my senior year of high school. It had been six years since I’d been back, but I still remember every hole like it was yesterday.

Standing on the 1st tee at Madison Meadows, the memories of this course came flooding back. Overlooking this dogleg right par 4 with out-of-bounds stakes in every direction, I remembered the nerves I had to battle as I stood over my ball for the first shot of the state tournament six years ago. This 375-yard par 4 starts from an elevated tee box and heads down a steep hill toward a fairway protected by a row of trees on the right corner and a cottonwood on the left through the fairway. A narrow landing area forces a tough decision of which club to hit to start your round. Too far in any direction will spell disaster, but too short off the tee and you’ll be left an agonizingly long and difficult shot into the green.

Maxwell, ever the betting man on the golf course, organized a skins game between our foursome that was completed by his friends Bernie and Kevin. As they all hit their approach shots into this crowned green, I surveyed my ball and hit a lob wedge at the pin. It gave one bounce, then rounded out the cup and sat a foot away from the hole.

After getting an earful from the guys for winning the first skin of the day on a kick-in birdie, I could tell today was going to be a blast with this crew.

The most challenging and intimidating hole on the course at Madison Meadows is the par 5 6th hole. The option to lay up with a long iron to the first fairway is the smart play, but the option to cut the corner on this double dogleg is more exciting. Hitting up the hill over an old wooden shed and finding the sidehill fairway without running too far into the hazard can give you a mid-iron into the uphill green that offers a fantastic view of the Madison River valley.

The 9th hole at Madison Meadows is a 512-yard downhill dogleg right par 5. If your tee shot carries the small gully in the landing area and the waste bunker on the right of the fairway it can give you a good look at the green. An undulating green protected by a greenside bunker in the front right, a good iron shot can yield birdie to finish the round on this fantastic course.

After the pot from the skins game was divvied up, I took a couple of my newfound bucks downtown to meet my cousin Conor at the Gravel Bar in downtown Ennis. I hadn’t seen Conor in years before I ran into him as I was walking toward the putting green at Madison Meadows and heard a loud, “HEY COUSIN!” as he walked over to say hello.

I had no clue Conor was working on the grounds crew at Madison Meadows before I arrived but was able to joke with Maxwell, Bernie, and Kevin that I think being related to a greenskeeper was the reason I was winning so many skins.

After dinner and drinks at the Gravel Bar, Steve and I went and found our place on his wooden deck overlooking Madison Meadows. I pulled out the cigars I had brought for Steve and I to smoke just like he and Jay had always done after golfing.

As we laughed and told Jay stories late into the night, I couldn’t help but feel that pain in my heart find it’s way back. There are moments when you almost get used to someone not being around anymore, but not this night.

Looking up at the stars and taking a hard drag off my cigar as Steve told another one of his many hilarious Jay stories, I wished more than ever that I could’ve bought three cigars for that night. Just like I so often wish we didn’t lose our friend and didn’t have to have an empty seat on that deck under the stars.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Great Track” at Beaverhead Golf Course

As the sun finally made its way out from the clouds that had blanketed Montana for over a week on Wednesday morning, I found myself traveling south and crossing the continental divide on my way to Dillon to play Beaverhead Golf Course.

A white clubhouse with a deck greets visitors as they make their way near the putting green and onto this gorgeous parkland course. It was on the putting green that I met up with my playing partners and hosts for the round, Greg Fitzgerald and Kevin Engellant. Both collegiate standouts, Greg played football for the Grizzlies in the mid-90s and Kevin played basketball for Montana Western.

On a gorgeous morning the three of us teed off on the 354-yard par 4 1st hole that doglegs right past a row of tall green trees and a bunker sitting on the corner of the fairway. This treelined fairway narrows at the corner before you find an undulating green protected by a bunker in the front left.

The three of us walked our way around Beaverhead Golf Course in the sunlight that had been so unfamiliar the last few weeks. Featuring a nice balance of holes that turn from left-to-right and right-to-left and straightforward holes, it makes for an enjoyable test of golf for any shot shape.

A small creek runs diagonally across the course starting near the 6th tee and across the 3rd, 4th, and 8th fairways. This creek comes into play off the tee on the par 4 3rd hole. A slight dogleg left past a pair off bunkers on the left, the safe play is to aim to the right side of the fairway just short of the trees on the right and give yourself a wedge or mid-iron into an undulating and crowned green shaded by a bank of trees behind the putting surface.

The most challenging hole on Beaverhead Golf Course is the 403-yard par 4 6th. A slight dogleg left past a number of bunkers along the left rough this hole becomes more challenging the closer you get to the green. A small pond in the front left of this green can make the second shot into this tiered green difficult. This back-to-front sloping green makes for difficult two putts if your second shot isn’t on the correct area of the green.

Sitting in the clubhouse after our round, Greg, Kevin, and I visited about Beaverhead Golf Course. I had to say this was one of my favorite nine-hole courses in the state. From the tall trees surrounding every green to the creek running across the property, this course has something for everyone. While having a burger in the clubhouse and watching a group of youngsters that Kevin teaches golf to putt around the practice area, I realized I couldn’t have had a better time in Dillon.

There can’t be many places to learn how to play the game better than Beaverhead Golf Course, because there aren’t many courses in Montana better than this track or the people who play there.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Beers in the Tunnel” at the Butte Country Club

Walking side-by-side with my older brother Bill into the tunnel that runs under Elizabeth Warren Avenue in Butte, we found a pair of presents that had been waiting for us in this dark tunnel. As our eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness of the tunnel and we walked closer and closer, we finally figured out what they were.

“Beer!” I yelled as I picked up both cans like a kid who just ran down the stairs on Christmas morning to see that the jolly old fat man himself did indeed think he was good this year.

Sitting there in the shadows underneath the rain-soaked road between the 15th and 16th holes, were a couple of canned microbrews that the Butte Country Club’s Head Golf Professional Josh Walsh had left for us. He must have figured we might need a pick me up after trapesing through the chilly and wet weather all morning long. And boy was he right.

Decked out in rain gear, I was prepared to play the Butte Country Club by myself that morning when my brother Bill decided to tag along. Dressed like he was a veteran crab fisherman straight off a King Crab season with the crew of The Northwestern on the Bering Sea, Bill offered to walk along with me during my rain soaked round. I’m glad he did, because he got to witness one of the craziest and luckiest shots of my lifetime.

On the 347-yard par 4 5th hole, I had hooked my drive into the trees along the left. With O.B. down the right side of the hole it was a safe miss, but it left me essentially treed. With a pine tree a good ten yards in front of me that had low hanging boughs it forced me to hit a punch shot toward the front of this elevated green that has a steep hill leading up to it from the fairway. At 135-yards out, I played a 4-iron in the back of my stance and intended to bounce it in front of the green and hopefully have it trundle its way up the hill and onto the putting surface.

The ball did just that as it first bounced just past the cart signs 25-yards in front of the green and then continued to roll its way up the hill and onto the green. Then the ball hit the pin and disappeared.

“Did that just go in?” Bill asked as he looked bewildered.

“It sure did!” I exclaimed and let out a belly laugh.

With an improbable eagle on the 5th hole, I had suddenly gone from the outhouse to the penthouse and was reinvigorated with an energy that helped me push through the rest of the rainy round. After plucking my ball out of the cup and venturing on with a grin the size of the Berkeley Pit on my face, Bill and I continued our way around the historic Butte Country Club.

The BCC is a course I’m more than familiar with. It was my home course when I played for Montana Tech in college and even where I shot my career-low round while winning the Butte Country Club Pro-Am last summer. It’s a course that I’ve played hundreds of times and have always enjoyed.

One of my favorite holes at the Butte Country Club is the drive-able downhill par 4 11th that measures in at 336-yards. This hole is a great opportunity for birdie that can jump start your back nine. A long tee ball that lands on the downslope of the hill inside 100-yards of the green can find its way on the putting surface if it misses the small hazard in the front right of the green. An oddly shaped green, pin position on this hole is critical and can make eagle a possibility or only a dream depending on where they place the pin.

The back nine at the Butte Country Club is where the real scoring opportunities are on the course. With a bevy of shorter par 4s and the lone par 5 on the card, the 13th hole, this course can give up a number of birdies on the closing nine if you find fairways and greens.

The 18th hole at the Butte Country Club is a 391-yard par 4 that has you tee off from the southern most corner of the property. With OB down the right side and wide pine trees and Blacktail Creek on the left it can look much tighter from the tee box than it is. A wide fairway gives way to an elevated green that is protected by some trees that hang over the right side of the putting surface and a bunker in the front right. A harsh slope on this crowned green will send anything on the left side of the green down the embankment leaving a difficult up-and-down.

Along with the fantastic 18 holes on the Butte Country Club course, it should also be noted that the bar at the BCC is one of the best. This course’s 19th hole features some of the best people Butte has to offer and a relaxing place to grab a bite before or after your round.

But if you’re really in a bind and looking for a drink at the Butte Country Club, check the tunnel between 15 and 16. If you’re in luck, you might just find an IPA or two waiting for you and your brother.

Thanks to the Butte Country Club and to Head Golf Professional Josh Walsh for the fantastic hospitality and the tunnel beers on Tuesday. 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Not the First Time I’ve Been Called Crazy” at Highland View Golf Course

A friend of mine texted me as I was making the turn at Highland View Golf Course. The text read, “I just thought, who in the hell would be crazy enough to be golfing in this weather!?? Oh wait, it’s Sean, HAHA.”

I’m sure she wasn’t the only one driving by this nine-hole regulation course and nine-hole par 3 course on Monday in Butte thinking about the crazy guy out there playing golf. In fact, I wondered it myself as I trudged my way through puddles and as heavy rain pelted the whole Mining City.

I showed up at Highland View unsure of if I’d find it opened or closed. Inside the pro shop I found a girl working behind the counter who really questioned if I was going to go out and play in this as I paid my greens fee and collected a scorecard.

She gazed out the door as I walked across the ninth fairway and onto the 1st tee where my feet sank into the saturated grass as I placed my tee into the turf. On the 352-yard hole, I pulled back and swung as best as the multiple layers I was wearing would allow and hit my drive down the center of the fairway. I watched it against the hazy skyline that was preventing all of Butte from seeing the bordering mountain ranges and saw my ball come to a splashing halt in one of the thousands of puddles dotting the course. It was a large splash followed by a series of smaller splashes, much like when you go skipping rocks as a kid.

The Butte Muni was a little bit wet that day as I trudged along ever thankful for the recently purchased new rain jacket that was so desperately needed. My old rain gear had me thinking that after deflecting 10,000 gallons of rainwater over the last couple of months, it became instantaneously permeable like a car you drive just past the warranty mileage and then the transmission goes out.

The Muni is a straightforward course with not a dogleg in sight. The holes are back and forth and feature greens that crown from the center out offering challenging putts if your wedge or iron game isn’t sharp.

Where you would go to tune up that iron and wedge game would be the par 3 side of the course. A 1,480-yard layout that features just one hole over 200-yards, this is a perfect place to work on your short game. With receptive greens and a variety of different yardages this nine-hole course is a wonderful little par 3 course in the center of town.

The toughest test on the par 3 course is the 1st hole, a 225-yard starting hole that will quickly remind you that par 3 courses are never as easy as you think. Slightly turning right-to-left this large green is difficult to find with a long iron and usually leaves any player bringing a wedge with them to start the nine.

The shortest of holes at Highland View Par 3 is the 125-yard 9th hole. A short finishing hole, with a back-to-front sloping green, this is a golfer’s last chance at sticking one close and knocking in a birdie putt.

As I settled for par on this last hole, I walked back toward my car and the clubhouse and locked eyes with the girl in the Pro Shop through the window. Her expression seemed to ask, “He must be some kind of a nut to play golf in this?”

If only she knew that she wasn’t the first person to call me crazy today.

Montana's Longest Drive

“What’s a Little Rain Gonna Hurt?” at Green Meadow Country Club

After a while, you get used to the rain. The steady noise of water splatting against the bill of your hat and the squish of soft ground under your feet grow familiar. You find yourself clubbing up without thinking of it, lifting up your pant legs as you hop across wide puddles, and constantly wiping your hands off on that last little dry spot of your golf towel before every shot.

As a steady drizzle of precipitation fell from the sky, I headed off toward Green Meadow Country Club in Helena on a Father’s Day Sunday morning to meet up with my friend Nick Dietzen. Nick is a Helena native who plays regularly at Green Meadow and also works as the Communications Director for the Montana State Golf Association. It didn’t take too much convincing to get Nick out on the course for a morning round.

Green Meadow is one of those courses that will constantly keep you coming back. In a low-lying meadow on the west end of the Helena valley, this golf course weaves it’s way across a set of railroad tracks and deep into the meadow for which it is named. Heavy thickets of bushes line the periphery of the course and eagerly anticipate swallowing up any wayward shots that golfers might hit. When you hit it in the bushes at Green Meadow, there is no getting your ball back, it isn’t missing, it is gone. What consistently inspires me at Green Meadow is the shape the course is in. From fair roughs that can penalize wayward tee shots, to consistent fairways, and immaculate sloping greens, this course just gets the important things right.

A par 71 golf course that measures in at 6,403 yards from the back tees Green Meadow doesn’t play long, but instead rewards those who find the fairway and have the flatstick going. I was lucky that my putter decided to make an annual appearance as Nick and I played our way across this track or my score could have been much higher than the one I posted.

As a twosome, Nick and I started on the back nine at Green Meadow on the 393-yard par 4 10th hole. Teeing off from under the shade and shelter of some hundred-year-old cottonwoods your tee shots crosses a rolling creek and avoid the row of pine trees on the left rough to find the short grass. A long tee ball here can set up a player with a mid-iron or wedge into a green that is well protected by a large bunker in the front of a wide green.

Nick and I visited throughout our round about the wet weather, how Green Meadow is one of our favorite courses in the state, and how much we’ve grown to appreciate golf in Montana. Gazing back at Mount Helena on the 12th tee, Nick said, “A lot of people might say other holes are their favorite at Green Meadow, but this one is mine. It just epitomizes how this course plays.”

With Mount Helena in the backdrop of a large crowned green that is protected by a creek 20-yards in front of the green that is some 187-yards from the tee it is a spectacular view. A high row of cottonwood trees cast shade from the right of the green and from behind it while cottonwoods on the tee side of the creek sit on the left of the golfer. I can see why this one would be Nick’s favorite.

After both making par on 12 and meandering our way through the back nine, we started on to the front where my favorite hole is the devilishly short par 3 5th hole. At only 130-yards from the back tees, you would think this hole is a simple birdie opportunity, but trouble lurks around every corner of this green. With a wind that usually blows out of the west and right into the golfer’s face, it plays longer than the listed yardage. A pond protects the front of this kidney bean shaped green and a large mound sits in the front right of the putting surface and can make for dangerous chips and hazardous bounces if you don’t clear it. All around the green is a water hazard lined by cattails and in the back behind the pin are a pair of bunkers that are willing to gobble up any shots hit just a bit too far past the pin.

After scaring the life out of you with these details, you would be hard pressed to believe me when I said that Nick and I both birdied this short par 3.

Walking off the green Nick laughed, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two deuces on this hole in my life.”

“Well, I just knocked about three strokes off my score on this course in one hole,” I replied.

The two of us finished our round in the light drizzle and went inside the clubhouse to grab a drink after our last hole. As we sat there and visited about our round at Green Meadow, we decided it wasn’t a bad day for golf at all and that anyone sitting at home because of the light rain was really missing out.

Because if Nick and I had decided to be fair weather golfers and to play another time, we would’ve missed out on both of us making birdie on the par 3 5th.

There’s something to be said for dedication and for toughing out a little bit of precipitation falling from the sky.

Thank you to Todd Fitterer and the staff at Green Meadow Country Club for hosting me at your fantastic golf course. I absolutely loved my time on this course.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Isn’t it Good” at Norwegian Wood

Tee shots in golf are tough, tee shots from a weathered golf mat that must carry over a 1998 Buick Century and dodge a dilapidated old barn are even tougher.

This is the tale of a little par 3 course called Norwegian Wood near Canyon Ferry.

Riding out from Helena with my friend Jerek Wolcott on our way to Norwegian Wood we drove over the damn at Canyon Ferry and a few miles deeper into the valley. Along this two-lane highway sits the entrance to Norwegian Wood, and a small road that leads back toward the bar.

There is no real clubhouse at Norwegian Wood, just a simple bar and restaurant that serves tremendous burgers during the day and steaks at night. Walking in and paying our greens fees at the bar as a musician played Billie Joel’s Piano Man and folks ate delicious looking dinners, Jerek and I were directed toward the first tee not more than six paces from the front door.

This first tee is a golf mat with green carpeting in the hitting area and hard-rubber on the area where you take your stance. Looking around the property, Jerek and I finally spotted the first flag that was seated on a small green directly past the tan 1998 Buick Century that must have been driven by one of the bar patrons and to the left of a small red barn that creaked in the wind. Behind the hole is a vegetable garden that is strictly out of bounds as noted on the scorecard.

Making our way around this golf course that’s longest hole is 105 yards, Jerek and I laughed about the fun and tricky little golf holes we were playing. We hit from nondescript tee boxes and had to make our best guesses as to where some of the small greens began and where the roughs ended.

Jerek was quick to joke, “This might be the shortest golf course you’ll ever play and but hopefully I’m not the worst player you tee it up with.”

He wasn’t, but he might have been one of the most fun. Dry humor abounded as we hit our tee shots and traded off sitting in the wicker furniture conveniently placed around this golf course.

Continuing up the valley wall and playing an uphill tee shot into the 7th hole that measures in at an even 100-yards. We stood atop the green and looked around the valley that leads to Canyon Ferry as the weather finally broke and the sky lightened up. It wasn’t hard to understand why you’d want to build a golf course on this property.

Part of playing Norwegian Wood is the experience of paying for nine holes and getting more than you bargained for. It’s about the laughs and the memories that you make while you spend an hour chasing a little white ball around a small golf course and then heading into a small bar and listening to live music.

Norwegian wasn’t pristine, or immaculate, or anything you would find on a championship golf course. And that’s why I liked it. Sometimes golf is about more than trying to put the ball in the hole.

Sometimes it’s about praying to the golf gods that you don’t hook one into the back windshield of that 1998 Buick Century.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Wind and Rain and a Carroll Golf Ball” at Bill Roberts Golf Course

Bennett MacIntyre and I stood on the 17th tee box at Bill Roberts and had to laugh. The people driving by with windshield wipers going wild and their heaters cranked had to be thinking we were nuts. Two lone souls out on the golf course in a downpour of rain and a constant wind.

Dressed in our rain gear, Bennett and I met at Bill Roberts and were assured we were the only two guys crazy enough to want to play golf in this weather by the Pro Shop staff. As their phone rang repeatedly with people calling in to cancel their tee times because of the weather, we made our way out the first tee.

On this first tee Bennett, made me a deal. The Carroll College Golf Coach handed me a sleeve of Titleist golf balls and said, “If I’m going to play in this weather with you, you’ve got to play this round with some Fighting Saints golf balls.”

I laughed and begrudgingly agreed to this hilarious proposition. So, it began with the long-hitting Carroll College coach and I, a Montana Tech Oredigger at heart, each whacking Fighting Saint golf balls around this waterlogged golf course.

Bill Roberts is, and has always been, one of my favorite courses in the state. A public golf course that sees hundreds of golfers out there every day, today it was dormant, except for two crazy guys with a lot of faith in their rain gear.

As we began our round and acclimated to the weather and constant rain, we played the first few holes and remarked, “It’s not so bad out here.”

The most infamous hole at Bill Roberts is a long 615-yard par 5 called Jaws. This 4th hole is a double-dogleg that requires a tee shot over the tall cottonwood trees along the right side of the rough to cut the corner. After getting past the corner, the next shot is to the top of the hill to set up a short-iron or wedge into a well-protected green. All along this hole OB stakes consistently remind you of just how close you are to having your round blow up on you with just one bad swing.

As the temperatures continued to drop, the wind continued to howl, and the rain continued it’s fall we kept trudging along playing golf and I continued to play with a Fighting Saints golf ball. I made attempts to lose it, but Bennett dug through weeds and timber to find it. He would laugh as he found my ball and said, “You’re not going to get out of this deal that easy.”

On the back nine, the 155-yard par 3 13th hole is a fantastic golf hole. With a beautiful pond in front of the green and to the right of the tee box. A bunker behind the green will swallow up any shots that are over hit to stay safe from the water. The green on the 13th is a hard-sloping back-to-front green with a crowned center that can make two putts from the side of the hole extremely challenging.

With my Carroll ball still in my possession and with an idea that my rain gear should have come with a money-back guarantee we came up to the 18th tee at Bill Roberts with just one hole left to play. This downhill par 5 is tree-lined on the left side and has a water hazard to the right midway down the fairway. At 477-yards this par 5 is reachable in two if the second shot can negotiate the pond short left of the green and the four bunkers that surround the putting surface.

Shaking hands and laughing at being the only people on one of the busiest courses in Montana, Bennett and I visited as we tried to dry off and warm up in the clubhouse.

“I wonder why no one else wanted to play in this stuff today?” I joked.

Despite the cold temperatures and freezing rain, I couldn’t have asked for a better playing partner at one of my favorite tracks in the state.

Even if he did make me tee up a Carroll College golf ball the whole round.

Thanks to Bennett MacIntyre and the staff at Bill Roberts for a great day of golf on such a fun course!

Montana's Longest Drive

“It Was Worth It” at Fox Ridge Golf Course

On a cool morning, I drove through the green countryside of the East Helena valley and found my way to Fox Ridge Golf Course. With clouds blanketing the sky and a slight nip in the air, I walked into the clubhouse and met up with my good friends Jerry and Jan Hystad and Jerry’s buddy Don Herzog.

The Hystads have been fervent supporters of this project and made sure some months ago that I would be having a ball at Fox Ridge Golf Course. Any time with the Hystads, is an undoubtedly a blast and Friday’s round was no different.

The front nine at Fox Ridge features a number of small ponds and irrigation ditches that make for challenging tee shots where you have to place the ball or swing hard and carry the trouble. The 1st hole at Fox Ridge is a perfect example of this as it measures in at 376-yards but has a small channel of water that crosses the fairway some 270-yards off the tee. This green is large and inviting but is protected by a bunker in the front right and features a number of undulations that can create tricky chips and putts around the putting surface.

One of the most picturesque holes at Fox Ridge was the par 3 3rd that is 196 yards over a small pond lined by cattails. With a backdrop that includes the Sleeping Giant in the mountains north of Helena this hole sets up for a drawing iron shot so as to not leave the ball dangling in the wind over the water hazard. This large back-to-front sloping green is protected by a giant bunker on the left side.

As we traversed the front nine that occupies the low meadow of this East Helena valley, the Hystads, Don, and I chased our golf balls all around the hillsides and past the trees, we laughed and told stories about golf and life. Both Jerry and Don spent their careers as lineman around Montana and worked on the same crew countless times. Now enjoying their retirement, they’re still stirring up trouble, it’s just on the golf course.

Making our way to the back nine at Fox Ridge, the course changed from a long hitters track and into a strategic golf shot kind of course. Climbing the hillside on the east end of the property, the thickets of tall pine trees narrow the fairways.

One of the best holes at Fox Ridge is the par 5 11th, this dogleg right par 5 demands a tee shot down the left side of the fairway to avoid the pine trees from blocking out your second shot. With a high wall of trees on the right corner of this hole, and a pond in the front left of this green, going for it in two isn’t an easy decision. Lots of trouble lurks around every corner when you stretch your game on the back nine at Fox Ridge. This sloping two-tiered green can make for some hair-raising putts if your ball ends up in the wrong place.

After wrapping up our hike through the hilly back nine, Jerry, Don, and I went inside to the Red Fox to toast to our round. More stories were told, and laughs were had after the round. As Jerry and Don, went on their way, I took my clubs over to play the par 3 course at Fox Ridge.

An 18-hole layout with the longest hole playing 196 yards, this place is the perfect place to hone your wedge game and for anyone to play. With great greens and beautiful water features this little course is a treat.

As I played, I met a lady and her great nephew who she was out teaching how to play golf. As they let me join them for a hole, we visited about Fox Ridge and this par 3 course. She said, “I just love this course. It’s a perfect place for me to bring my great nephew and I have a great time playing it as well.”

I echoed her sentiments as I cruised around this track. Hitting wedge shots and mid irons into great greens this was a treat to play and didn’t take up much time.

Walking back up to the clubhouse, I ran into the owners of Fox Ridge. We visited, and they told me the history of this golf course. They talked about shaping every green and planting every tee with a vision of having this be a place for everyone to enjoy.

They were right about that. After playing 36 holes at Fox Ridge, I knew that I had had a great time on the championship course and thoroughly enjoyed the Par 3 as well.

Few places can make the long hitter and the beginner feel right at home and as I watched the lady and her great nephew finishing up their round, I knew that these owners had gotten it right.

All the trees they planted and greens they shaped were worth it. Just ask that kid.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Heaven has a Golf Course” at Heaven on Earth Golf Course

Many people have claimed to have been to Heaven on Earth. They’ll say, “This place is like Heaven on Earth” or “It was Heaven on Earth” when describing any location with a bit of beauty.

But I’ve been to the real Heaven on Earth and I know it because it has a golf course.

As expected, getting to Heaven on Earth isn’t as easy as you’d think. It took me nearly an hour-and-a-half on rutted and washboard dirt roads through gorgeous northern Meagher County I will reflectively call Purgatory Trail.

As I made my way up Purgatory Trail in my small Ford Focus, I bounced around on the washboard roads and dogged large boulders that would have undoubtedly stranded me in the middle of nowhere with only cattle as company. The cows on this road were another obstacle as black heifers stood in the middle of the dirt road and stared down my car as I approached. Knowing my place in the hierarchy of the farmland I had to maneuver around these soon to be hunks of hamburger or wait for them to get bored with staring down the Montana’s Longest Drive Mobile and cross the road. The next obstacle for me was the number of gates I had to wrestle with and open-up every half mile on my way down into the Smith River valley.

Continuing to rattle my way down the rutted dirt road and through a thick blanket of timber I finally came over a high rising hill and saw a yellow golf flag flapping in the wind down by the river. It was a relief to know I had made it to Heaven on Earth.

The property owner Vic Anderson cut off his mower and walked up a steep hill to greet me. Then he looked a little bewilderedly at my vehicle and laughed, “You made it here in that?! I’m impressed.”

Normally, the way to access Heaven on Earth is to float down the Smith River for two-and-a-half days. The Heaven on Earth Ranch is at the halfway mark of the remarkable float trips down the Smith. Vic Anderson’s place is the last chance for floaters to buy ice, ice cream, beer, and other essentials. It’s also the last chance to get a quick nine holes in while you’re on your float.

As you float the Smith, you can’t help but spot the sign at a bend in the river that reads:

STOP

LAST CHANCE SUPPLIES

GOLF – SHOWERS

ICE CREAM – ICE

I must have been quite the sight for some of those floaters as I stood on the tee box on the 6th hole and readied to hit my wedge shot into a small hand mown green 128-yards just a few paces from the riverbank.

After hitting my shot, I heard a rafter who was tangling with his fishing line call out, “How many holes have they got?!”

I yelled back up the canyon, “Nine holes, I’m on number 6!”

The rest of the party in the raft laughed as they maneuvered in and landed at the riverbank in front of the supply cabin and tied up their raft. Stretching their legs and supplying up for the last few days of their float they admired this par 3 course cut out of the mountainside with giant cups and yellow flagsticks dotting the hillside.

Admittedly the course at Heaven on Earth is a little short, with the longest tee shot being the one from the top of a little cliff that overlooks the whole property. This 145-yard shot plays much shorter because there’s a hundred-foot drop from tee box to green. From this vantage point, you can see the high rock faces that tower over the bends in the Smith River and the cabins and teepees that dot the beautiful patch of green grass all over the property. It’s as picturesque as it gets.

It was from this high hilltop that I figured out why you’d name this little spot along the Smith River Heaven on Earth. As I bounced my way back up Purgatory Trail, I thought for quite a bit about Heaven on Earth.

A lot of people might say they’ve been to Heaven on Earth, but if they don’t mention the golf course, I’ll know they can’t be talking about the real place. Because I’ve been there.

And Heaven on Earth has a golf course.

Thanks to Vic Anderson and his family for having me out to play Heaven on Earth Golf Course and giving me the directions to get there. Next time I must just have to float in.

Montana's Longest Drive

“A Sign from God” at Arrowhead Meadows in White Sulphur Springs

Driving into White Sulphur Springs, Montana there’s a large sign that reads GOLF W.S.S. along the highway near the entrance to Arrowhead Meadows Golf Course. After seeing the sign, I pulled into the parking lot to play my first round in White Sulphur.

Walking up the stairs and onto the deck overlooking the course, I slung my golf bag off my shoulder and walked through the screen door and into the quant little clubhouse. Greeting me inside was a lovely woman named JoAnn who volunteers at the course one day a week.

It was JoAnn who explained to me that the course operates because of the volunteers in the community who pick up the slack. A small operation, Arrowhead Meadows has three paid employees. One to run the shop and the other two on the grounds crew in the summer, with the rest of the community helping as much as they can.

After visiting with JoAnn and getting some tips on where to eat dinner later that night, I headed out to the tee. With a strong wind out of the west, I immediately faced a dangerous tee shot on the 1st hole with out of bounds on the left of this 375-yard uphill par 4. Slowly doglegging to the left, this hole has an elevated green that can be difficult to hold with an iron shot that has to fight the wind while in the air.

Making my way across the open course at Arrowhead Meadows, I was continually playing holes into the wind and then turning around to play the next hole with the wind at my back. The wind definitely added to the difficulty of this course but also helped to shorten some of the shots into greens on the wind-aided holes.

One of my favorite holes at Arrowhead Meadows was the par 4 5th hole. This short hole is drive-able even into the wind and plays less than 300-yards to an elevated green. A large fairway bunker protects the left side of the fairway and can catch balls destined to roll up near the green if they stray too far to the side.

With the wind whipping across the course and not too many other golfers on the links during the middle of the day, I finished my round on the par 4 9th hole that plays 450-yards or so back toward the clubhouse. Out of bounds lingers on the left of the fairway and trees line the right so the tee shot can be tricky. This undulating green on the 9th features some small mounds that makes hitting the green in the center important as to not bounce the ball off in a wild direction if you miss left or right.

After the round, I decided to head into town a little further and stopped in at 2 Basset Brewery on Main Street. Owned and operated by the Hedrick Family, I had to stop in and sample a craft beer or two. Barry Hedrick was the football coach of the White Sulphur Springs Hornets for many years and coached in an All-Star Football Game I played in back in the day.

So, you’d have to say I was surprised to see my friend Cy’s mother Debbie Williams tending bar at 2 Bassett Brewery. It worked out perfectly as I was planning on staying the night with the Williams later that evening. As I had some great craft beer in a beautiful little brewery and recovered from the harsh wind I had been playing golf in all day, I couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon in White Sulphur Springs.

Sometimes you just need a sign, and I’m glad White Sulphur Springs has got one.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Burgers and New Friends” at Old Baldy Golf Course

With the Missouri River running through the valley floor and the Big Belt Mountains touching the sky Townsend sits in a beautiful spot of Montana. Tucked among the farmland of this rich valley is Old Baldy Golf Course.

At the entrance to the golf course sits a cattle guard underneath a wooden post crossbar. Hanging from the top of this entry way is a wooden board that reads OLD BALDY in weathered black paint letters. After crossing the cattleguard and entering the property of Old Baldy Golf Course you see another sign that says HONORARY GREENS FEES PAYMENT REQUIRED.

You see at Old Baldy, they operate on the honor system. If you go out to play golf at Old Baldy you’re expected to place your money into an envelope and slip it into a slot in the pay shed near the 1st hole before you begin your round.

When I pulled up to Old Baldy my playing partners and hosts were waiting for me. The first of which was Kory Bakkum the course’s Greenskeeper, his son John, Townsend’s high school golf coach Pete Robischon, and Jeff Demars. After the introductions our golf group wasted no time making our way to the tee at Old Baldy.

We began with the 460-yard par 5 that doglegs right past a row of trees. A chance to split the rows of trees to the right of the tee box gives big hitters a chance to cut off quite a chunk of the yardage if they can thread the needle. The 1st green at Old Baldy was like the rest of the putting surfaces on the course, fast, hard to hold, and crowned. Throughout the day the greens at Old Baldy didn’t disappoint and often left players with difficult chips after missing the small greens.

“You end up bringing your wedge with you a lot when you play this course” said Kory. “I think that’s the first thing people notice about this course is how small and tricky these greens are.”

Chipping was a common theme throughout the round at Old Baldy as these small and crowned greens made even the most routine of wedge shots extremely challenging. Often it felt like I was trying to land my golf ball on a dinner plate and would have to carry a couple of clubs with me as I walked to the green.

After we had finished a few holes in our round, the owner of Old Baldy drove out in his golf cart to visit with us and follow our group. Mr. Hilton told me about the history of Old Baldy and how the greens were sand until 1988 when grass greens were put in. He talked about his favorite holes on the course and some of his favorite courses across Montana.

As we neared the end of our round we made it to the 8th hole. This challenging par 3 is 185-yards long and features a small bunker on the right of the smallest green I think I’ve come across.

Mr. Hilton joked, “We’ll see if any of you guys can hit this green. It doesn’t happen very often. I’ve got a friend who says this is the toughest par 3 in the state.”

Just missing the green on my tee shot on the 8th hole, I had to agree with Mr. Hilton and the rest of the group that with a green just larger than a large area rug this par 3 was quite the challenge.

After our round, Kory fired up the grill next to the clubhouse and grilled cheeseburgers for our group. Sitting in the early afternoon sun eating a burger and talking golf with my new friends in Townsend was the perfect way to start a day.

It’s something I’d definitely be willing to slip a few bucks into an envelope to do again.

 

Montana's Longest Drive

“Where the Missouri is Born” at Headwaters Golf Course

On July 27, 1805, the Corps of Discovery arrived at the birthplace of the Missouri River. With three separate forks feeding equally into the Missouri, Lewis and Clark decided to name these forks after Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury; James Madison, Secretary of State; and Thomas Jefferson, the President of the United States.

It was at these headwaters that a member of the party remarked in his journal, “This is a very handsome place, with fine bottoms of timber abound.”

Handsome is a good way to describe Headwaters Golf Course in Three Forks, Montana. With tremendous views of the surrounding mountains and a great deal of water surrounding the golf course it is a spectacular place.

At Three Forks, I would have a familiar partner for my first round at Headwaters Golf Course. My friend Tayler Noble is the Pro Shop Manager at Headwaters and joined me for nine holes on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon.

A warm breeze greeted us on the 1st tee as we stared down an opening par 5 along West Three Forks Pond. A slight dogleg right the opening shot must be careful not to fall victim to the water along the right or the westerly wind that pushes tee shots that way. A slightly crowned green sits at the end of this long hole and can be receptive to a long second shot in if it is landed in the front of the green.

Battling the wind on the par 3 2nd hole that plays 206-yards, and the par 4 3rd hole that measures 385-yards into the breeze, Tayler and I were both relieved when we turned around and had the wind at our backs for the 525-yard par 5 4th hole. With out of bounds left and a large pond on the right the tee shot for this hole needs to balance both length off the tee with control as to not hit it too far offline. Reachable in two with the wind being at our backs, we both hit shots onto the large and undulating green from 200-yards out. This green slopes back-to-front and can present a dangerously slick putt back down the hill if your shot into the green runs past the hole.

After the challenging 375-yard dogleg right par 4 5th hole that features a large pond in front of the green that long hitters can fly over but must be careful of the greenside bunkers that protects the elevated green, we turned our attention and our tee shots back into the wind for a few more holes.

On the short par 4 7th, that features water along the left and a row of trees near the green on the right things got more interesting. After hitting up near the hole and giving myself a good look at birdie on this back-to-front sloping green I settled for par. While putting the flagstick back in the cup, a hornet who was being bounced around by the rising wind hit me in the hand and stung me on my left thumb.

I held in a majority of the sailor’s vocabulary that came to mind as my hand swelled up and I had to pull the stinger out, but this presented an interesting predicament later on. With my hand slowly swelling up, I put my golf glove back on before teeing off on the next hole. When I got to the green on the dogleg left 8th hole, my hand had swelled up so much that I couldn’t get my glove off.

As I whined my way through the last few holes complaining about my significant injury I had suffered, my golf game actually improved to which Tayler Noble joked, “Maybe you should get stung by bees more often” as I rolled in my birdie putt on the 9th hole.

After our round, Tayler and I, and my girlfriend who tagged along on such a beautiful afternoon sampled a couple of beverages from Madison River Brewing Company on the deck of Headwaters Golf Course. As we swapped stories and caught up on a gorgeous late afternoon, I looked out on the horizon to see a Blue Heron walking along in the shallow water just off the 1st tee.

I thought about what a beautiful area of Montana this golf course is on and how great the weather had turned out for our round at Headwaters Golf Course.

It’s too bad Lewis and Clark didn’t bring their clubs with them in 1805.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Catching Up After a Frost Delay” at Bridger Creek

My last course to play in Bozeman would have to wait a little longer.

In the early morning a thick layer of frost blanketed Bridger Creek Golf Course and the rest of the Gallatin Valley. The temperature on the display in my car read somewhere in the low-30s as I made my way across town to meet up with an old buddy of mine.

I first met Lane Seymour at a high school golf tournament in Fort Benton. Lane was just a freshman then for Chinook High School and I was a senior at Great Falls Central when we were paired to play golf together. Lane’s dad, Mike was the golf coach at Chinook and was our marker for our group that day.

Fast forward to the other day when I met back up with Lane, who will graduate next spring from MSU, in the Pro Shop at Bridger Creek and we waited out the frost delay telling old stories of high school golf tournaments. We talked about the old rivalries we had with different golfers around the state and the different courses we played back in the day.

It didn’t seem like that much time had passed since we’d teed it up together as we made our way to the first hole at Bridger Creek about an hour after our original tee time was set for. Our twosome was paired up with another twosome of young guys named Fritz and Ryan.

In the chilly air of an early morning, Lane, Fritz, Ryan, and myself navigated our way around Bridger Creek as the first golfers of the day. Playing hastily to get out of the way of the soon to begin senior men’s league we walked and talked about all things golf and Bozeman throughout the round.

The 1st hole at Bridger Creek is a tricky start to a course with plenty of tricks up its sleeve. A 429-yard par 4, the 1st is a dogleg left par 4 with water all along the right side and high cottonwoods that prevent you from attacking an undulating green if your tee shot is too far to the right.

When I say undulating greens at Bridger Creek Golf Course, I mean these greens have character. Large mounds dot a majority of the putting surfaces and hard sloping ridges create dangerous putts and chips throughout the round. One of the greens with the most undulation is the par 4, 4th hole. This 175-yard hole features a tremendously two-tiered green with a mountainous right side that is hard to find off the tee shot if the pin is up there.

On the back nine Bridger Creek features a number of spectacular view on the first few holes. One of the best views is from the green of the par 4, 12th hole that doglegs slightly left toward an elevated green protected by a bunker on the left. From this green and the next tee you can see the whole Gallatin Valley.

With all the water and treacherous greens on Bridger Creek, the course can play much tougher than the par 71 listed on the scored. But this golf course is a very fun and challenging test of anyone’s game.

As Lane, Ryan, Fritz, and I finished our round and headed up the hill toward the clubhouse, I had to promise Lane it wouldn’t be another couple of years before we teed it up again. It’s always great catching up but being caught up with an old buddy is even better.

Thanks to Mark Holiday and the staff at Bridger Creek for the hospitality while I played Bridger Creek for the first time

Montana's Longest Drive

“Fighting the Wind” at Cottonwood Hills

With a strong wind sweeping frigid air across the expansive farmland west of Bozeman, I teed off on the first hole at Cottonwood Hills. This wind was a cutting wind, a down to your core freezing your bones kind of wind that wouldn’t stop.

Suffering alongside me once again was my friend Jeff Bellach, who used to work on the grounds crew in the summers at Cottonwood Hills. He explained this wind in the early morning was something he couldn’t ever forget.

“I remember, when the wind would blow like this, you couldn’t wear enough layers to stay warm” said Jeff.

In this cutting and cold wind, Jeff and I made our way through an early morning round at Cottonwood. Starting on the 510-yard  1st hole, we began our round straight in to the wind on this par 5. A water hazard right off the tee obscures your view of the fairway on the left-hand side. A large bunker sits in the landing area on the right of the fairway midway to the green. This green is protected by a large deep bunker in front and a bunker to the left of the putting surface.

Playing our way along as the first tee time at Cottonwood after teeing off at 7:00 AM that morning, Jeff and I worked our way across the little winding creek that runs throughout the course.

Along with the dangerous creek, in course out-of-bounds can result in big numbers around this course on the 7th hole. This dogleg right par 5 features out-of-bounds on the right as your tee shot is hit down a rolling hill toward the corner of this daunting hole. If your drive is long enough, it can result in a mid to long iron into this right-to-left sloping green that is protected in front by the creek and a pair of bunkers behind the green.

After completing the front nine at Cottonwood, we made our way to the back nine where we again were challenged by the tough wind. Facing the par 4 10th hole that plays longer than the 410-yards listed on the card when the wind is blowing. Tee shots on this hole have to sit short of the pond and creek that is 250-yards off the tee. The second shot for this hole is in to a dangerously undulating kidney bean shaped green.

As the cold wind continued to press against us as we finished our round, I decided that while at Cottonwood I had better play the executive course as well. So as Jeff loaded his clubs into his vehicle, I lugged mine over to the short track to test my wedge game. Measuring in at 1,157-yards for nine holes, the executive course at Cottonwood Hills makes golfers wonder just how few greens they can hit with a wedge in their hand on every tee box. This executive course features tiny and near perfect greens that make the imagination work when creating ways to get the tee shots to dodge or ride the wind to end up close to the pin.

This 27-hole day at Cottonwood was an absolute delight even despite the cold and brutal wind. I’m decided I’ll blame my lack of scoring on both the Cottonwood Hills course and the executive course on the wind.

It isn’t easy hitting golf shots in weather where you can barely feel your hands.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Hoops and Golf Holes” at Riverside Country Club

Under cloudy skies, I arrived for the first time at Riverside Country Club. Walking past the beautiful and expansive clubhouse I made my way toward the two tallest men warming up on the driving range. It was obvious that while playing golf with Jeff and his son Caleb Bellach, I would be the least athletic and shortest guy in this threesome.

I’ve known Jeff and Caleb for a couple of years now through basketball. Jeff is the basketball and golf coach at Manhattan Christian and was recently inducted into the Montana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame for his fantastic career as an Oredigger where he set all of the school’s three-point shooting records. Standing a couple of inches taller than Jeff and with a long and lanky build is his son Caleb who is going to be a senior at Manhattan Christian this fall and has been turning heads with his highlight reel dunks the past couple of seasons. In the past school year, this father and son combo recently took second place at the Class C State Basketball Tournament and won a State Golf Championship this past May.

Riverside is a beautiful parkland style golf course that weaves its way through beautiful homes and past the East Gallatin River. Pine trees along the edges of the fairway force tee shots to be shaped both right-to-left and left-to-right to find the fairways throughout the round. The mountain ranges around Bozeman create an immersive effect that makes golfers feel as if this parkland wonderland will never end.

The second hole at Riverside Country Club is an exciting 392-yard par 4 that slightly doglegs to the right. With a long drive golfers can find themselves in birdie range if they can clear the grouping of pine trees in the right rough 100-yards from the green. This back-to-front sloping green forces second shots to stay below the hole for birdie putts to be realistically makeable.

Riverside is a golf course that is full of slight doglegs that allow players different options off the tee. Shorter hitters can aim for the widest areas of the fairway while long hitters can attempt to cut the corners and bite off large chunks of yardage in hopes of making birdie.

On the back nine, Riverside presents the day’s best opportunity for birdie on the par 5 10th hole. This straightaway par 5 is protected by a tight fairway lined with pine trees. Reachable for most players the second shot on this hole must negotiate the bunker to the left of this tiered green and the pond that sits in the front right of this putting surface. A hard-sloping left-to-right green can quickly make eagle or birdie putts the kind of putts you only want to get close enough to the hole that you can walk away without a three putt.

We wrapped up our round at Riverside on the long 467-yard par 4 that doglegs right back toward the clubhouse and past a crop of tall pine trees on the right. This tee shot is made even more difficult by the dangers of losing a golf ball that awaits on the left side of the rough. Requiring a fade off the tee this long par 4 will give you at best a mid-iron into a crowned green with a bunker on the left.

After the round Jeff and I talked about how great of shape Riverside Country Club was in. There wasn’t a spot on the course where a blade of grass was out of place and the greens putted with a consistency that is hard to obtain in Montana.

I could see why Riverside is held in such high regard around Bozeman for it’s facilities and golf course. Sitting in the bar after our round, Jeff and I visited about everything from golf and basketball and his team’s chances going in to the next basketball season.

I’m going to say Jeff and Caleb Bellach will have a good shot at state titles in both basketball and golf next season. If they keep playing the spectacular Riverside course, golf will be a cinch.

And being the tallest and most athletic guys I’ve teed it up with won’t hurt your chances on the court either.