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

“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

“Wishing My School Had a Golf Course” at the University of Montana Golf Course

I wish my school had a golf course.

At the base of Mount Sentinel just past the University of Montana is a nine hole golf course. Decorated with Griz flags and tee markers, this par 35/36 track is an old staple in Missoula. Originally called the Missoula Country Club, the University of Montana Golf Course was established in 1924 and has matured into a tree-lined beauty in the Garden City.

The University Course is a reasonably flat track that you can cruise around and play a quick nine in about an hour and a half. That was just the case when my friend and former college teammate Taryn Campbell, her older sister Carlan, and myself made our way out for an afternoon round.

An opening tee shoot from right by the deck of the Iron Griz restaurant operated by the University’s Dining program on the par 4 364-yard 1st hole welcomes you to this fun track. A relatively straight course keeping your shots in between the trees is the most important part of playing this course. Twin bunkers protect this turtleback green to open up the round.

The best view of the course is from the 3rd tee perched on the hillside of Mount Sentinel for the 462-yard downhill par 5. With trees left and out of bounds past the trees on the right this tight fairway needs a straight tee shot to give players any hope of getting on the green in two. A small pond in the front left of the green protects this putting surface and can force some players to lay up just to be safe going in to this crowned green.

As you make your way around the University Course you will have to hoist shots over the tops of skyscraping pine trees while also punching low shots underneath the low hanging branches of some other deciduous hazards.

Finishing the round at the University of Montana Golf Course is the par 5 535-yard ninth hole. Another long tree-lined fairway, this closing hole has the driving range to the right of the rough and a tall fence protecting the student apartments left of the left rough. Twin bunkers protect this putting surface from any shots intending to roll their way up from the sides of this hole and onto this back-to-front sloping green.

After our round at the University Course, our group headed over to the Iron Griz to grab a quick bite and a beer. As the men’s league went out to go play their matches on a beautiful summer’s night we visited and watched them tee off from the 1st tee right outside the windows of the Iron Griz.

It’s too bad my school doesn’t have a golf course like this.

Thanks to Chris Anderson and the staff at the University of Montana Golf Course for the hospitality and for a great round of golf on this fun track.

 

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.