Montana's Longest Drive

“Meeting the Mayor” at Lake Hills Golf Club

My guide around Lake Hills Golf Club was a one of a kind gentleman named John Alberta. The former football and golf coach at Billings Senior High School volunteers his time at Lake Hills and generously offered to show me around the property during Thursday morning.

Dressed in a bright orange shirt and proudly sporting an orange Lake Hills hat, John was the ultimate ambassador of the course he works and plays at. Throughout the round he showed me the antelope that call Lake Hills home, introduced me to everyone we came across, and even invited me inside to eat lunch with the Senior Home & Home tournament participants. There was just no saying no to Mr. Alberta.

It had to be quite the sight to behold as a 24-year-old walked step-by-step with a golf cart manned my the 86-year-old “Mayor” of Lake Hills. John and I visited about his football teams, his golf teams, and discussed every sport story imaginable during the round.

Lake Hills Golf Club is a wonderful track that can play as long as 6,802-yards from the back tees. When it was built in 1957 it was one of the longest courses in the state of Montana.

Because of a tournament the senior tournament that was being played, John and I started our journey on the back nine. The 10th hole at Lake Hills is a 536-yard par 5, that allows you to get off to the right start if your drive is in the fairway. Stray too far to the left or right and your second shot into this slightly undulating green could be over before it even gets started. A number of antelope can most likely be found to the right of this hole in the long fescue rough.

John Alberta was quick to point out when we got to the 11th hole that this was the hole where he got the first of his six holes-in-one. The 11th is a 165-yard par 3 that is protected by a tree on the left and deep bunkers behind the green and to the right of the green.

When I asked John when he got his first hole-in-one he responded, “Oh, I’m 86-years old, I can’t remember that far back. I just remember it happened right here. It’s all about luck.”

Another challenging and fun hole on the back nine at Lake Hills is the par 5 13th. From an elevated tee this hole slightly doglegs right after a large bunker that sits 280-yards from the tee box and occupies the right side of the fairway landing area. A small stream runs the length of the hole on the left-hand side of the fairway while the green is protected by a large pond inside of a hundred yards of the green. The elevated green slopes away from the center in all directions and can tempting to go for in two if your drive finds the fairway.

On the front nine, John and I joined four other golfers on the downhill 3rd hole. At only 356-yards and downhill a big drive can put you squarely in birdie range. Out of bounds to the right and water on the left makes for a daunting tee shot. The large green on the third slopes away from the fairway midway through the putting surface and can make holding this green without a wedge in your hand very difficult.

As it turns out, John had coached two of the guys we joined up with at Senior High School. As we concluded the round and John introduced me to everyone he could inside the dining room at Lake Hills I had to be very thankful.

I get to call myself a friend of the “Mayor” of Lake Hills.

Montana's Longest Drive

“An Evening Without a Driver” at Exchange City Par 3

Lost in the hubbub of all the fancy golf courses around the world is the role of the par 3 course. A place to refine the mid-iron and short game for players of all skill level, for beginners to fall in love with the game, and for old timers to bet their dimes and quarters on closest-to-the-pin contests on every single hole.

In the late evening of a warm cloudless day, I walked into the pro shop of the Exchange City Par 3 course in Billings and asked if I could get out for a quick 18 and quickly joined up with a pair of retirees named Dave and Lionel on the first tee. Dave was the more experienced golfer, but Lionel provided more entertainment as we took our best shots at each and every pin at the short course.

A par 54 layout the par 3 course plays extremely well with great greens, a fast pace of play, and several challenging tee shots over water, around trees, and up and down hillsides. With the amount of play the greens at Exchange City get they didn’t show much wear and tear at all. They were receptive, green, and putted true.

The first hole at Exchange City plays at 212 yards from the back tees and works away from the clubhouse and through a line of pine trees to an elevated green pitched back-to-front. Only one hole plays longer than the first at Exchange City and that is the eighteenth that measures in at 218 yards along a wall of pine trees on the left and some small deciduous trees behind the green.

The shortest hole at Exchange City is the 16th that plays at a little less than 110 yards back and allows you to take dead aim at the pin or play a shot to spin back down the sloping green and towards the hole if enough spin is applied.

As Dave, Lionel, and myself ventured our way along this short course and tried our best to make an ace, we visited about what brought them out to the Par 3.

“For me, I just love this golf course. It’s perfect for my game and not too long for a duffer like me” said Dave. “And it doesn’t take too long to play your way around here in the evening. It’s perfect.”

After our round, I had to agree with Dave’s sentiments about the Par 3. It is a perfect little place to work on your golf game and meet new people. Without the hubbub of needing a driver.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Playing with the Good Sean” at Briarwood Golf Club

Going into my senior year of college at Montana Tech I wasn’t expecting to be labeled old, but that’s what happened when Sean Benson showed up to play golf for the Diggers. All the sudden, Sean Benson was being referred to as “Good Sean” and I was being called “Old Sean” by our teammates.

It seemed only fitting that I paired up with “Good Sean” to play his home course of Briarwood Golf Club in Billings.

In the beautiful hills outside southern Billings sits a golf course that will give you the best test of golf along with scenic views. Across rolling green hills, over the open range, and under a beautiful blue sky, Briarwood weaves its way around Montana’s southeastern wilderness.

Sean and I started in the late morning at Briarwood under some slight cloud cover on the first tee at Briarwood Golf Club. The first hole of Briarwood offers you a glimpse into the next four hours of precision and placement golf as you tee off from an elevated box down a steep hill laying up before Blue Creek that meanders its way across the course. A slight dogleg left after the initial creek promotes a layup shot before attacking the pin that is protected by a pair of black sand bunkers with a wedge in your hand.

Briarwood’s holes slowly work their ways up hillsides until dramatic elevation changes are wreaking havoc on your tee shots. The third hole at Briarwood is one such hole that features a near 100-foot drop from the tee box to a green protected by a bunker in the back left on the 145-yard hole. This is not the most dramatic of elevation changes however as the par 3 sixteenth hole features a monumental drop from an elevated tee box to a wide green protected by three black sand bunkers. The hole measures in at 190-yards but plays to only 140-yards from the high elevation.

As “Good Sean” and I made our way around Briarwood and talked a bit about the course he has grown up playing we reminisced about the good old days of playing college golf together. We talked about how things had changed since we were both teammates and all the trips and courses we had played.

On the back nine, Sean wisely got a cart as most members at Briarwood do, but I kept on huffing it up the winding trails and fairways. I scoffed as the first three holes on the front nine weren’t too difficult to walk and thought, “I’m not so sure what everyone was warning me about. This course’s hills aren’t too bad.”

Boy was I wrong. The 13th, 14th, and 15th holes at Briarwood are affectionally called the B$%#@es and for good reason. These three par 4s feel as if they are played straight up a mountain to small landing areas and brutally tough greens that slope in several different directions. Just as I would catch my breath and hit my shot I would have to do my best impression on someone summitting mount Everest and hall my clubs up another couple hundred yards of steady incline.

Greeting you by the green of one of these holes is a wooden bear carved out of an old tree that used to protect the 14th green. It stands tall and ever watching your second shot in from its post between the cart path and the undulating green.

After the round at Briarwood, “Good Sean” and I ventured inside for lunch at the Black Bunker Bar & Grill named after the black sand protects Briarwood’s greens. Inside the spacious bar that offers view of the expansive course and practice areas we visited about our round and tallied up our scores.

As I looked down at our scorecard and I came to a realization that has been some time in the works: I am never going to be “Good Sean” as long as I’m friends with Sean Benson.