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.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Iron Wills and Ironman Pins” at Valley View Golf Club

Some people are fair weather golfers.  They only play when the sun is shining, and the temperatures are high enough that you won’t need a jacket. Then there are those like Mark Houser and myself.

“Sometimes, I wonder if I’m crazy going out to play on days like these, but then I get here and see just one other car in the parking lot and it invigorates me” Mark said as we played in below 40-degree temperatures.

The weather on Sunday at Valley View Golf Club scared away a number of people from playing golf, but not the group Mark had on the putting green when I showed up. Seeing a couple of other guys putting on the practice green gave me confidence that these were some of my people, these guys were die-hards.

The die-hards Mark had assembled were his friends Bruce and Fred. We paired up in teams and played a little high-low game throughout our round that added a little competitive fire to a cold round to keep us warm.

The first thing to stand out to me at Valley View were the greens at this golf course. The bent grass putting surfaces rolled so pure and provided many challenges as we trekked our way across this par 70 course. Steep hillsides and undulations throughout these greens made for a day of challenging and breaking putts made even more difficult by the pin positions.

Valley View was fresh off of hosting an Ironman style tournament on their back nine holes the day before and the pins were kept the same for Sunday. These pin placements had the four of us scratching our heads and laughing throughout our round.

We were faced with downhill putts that we had no chance of stopping and breaking putts that would almost do an about face near the hole before speeding past the cup. There wasn’t a 4-footer that any of us took for granted throughout the round.

As I played Valley View for the first time I found a few holes that really caught my eye. The first such hole was the par 5 5th hole that plays 508 yards. With a pond to the left of the tee and a bank of trees in the left rough the most dangerous play is to get too far right off the tee and end up having to hit your second shot over the pond that sits in front of the green. A slow meandering turn of the fairway to the right past this pond brings you to the green that is protected by three bunkers.

As we approached the 5th green the pond nearby was a place of excitement as an osprey circled high above the water. As rain drops began to fall and we read our putts in hopes of making a birdie, the osprey had found its prey. Swooping down and dropping its claws into the water, the predator plucked a 10-inch trout from the pond and carried it away to its nest.

“You don’t see that every day” Mark said. “How amazing was that?”

Turning our attention to the treacherous pins on the back nine at Valley View, I suddenly felt like the fish in the talons of the osprey. These difficult pins made for a great time for our foursome. We laughed at our misfortune as we’d lip out short downhill putts and end up with a near 10-footer coming back up the hill.

The 18th at Valley View is a challenging par 5 to finish the round. From the back tees, the tee shot has to carry a small creek that runs across the fairway 250 yards from the tee. Walls of trees on the right and left of the fairway near the 150-yard marker tightens the fairway before a large bunker on the right near the 100-yard plate. The green on the 18th is an undulating small green with bunkers on each side of it narrowing the landing area for your third shot.

As we concluded our round in the cold weather at Valley View, Mark, Bruce, Fred and myself wandered inside the clubhouse to warm up with lunch. Digging in to our meals, we kept talking about the terrifically challenging pins we got to play on the back nine and where we should have attacked them from. Then we talked about the awesome sight the osprey fishing in the pond was to see.

Look at all the fun the fair weather golfers missed out on at Valley View in the below 40-degree temperatures.

Montana's Longest Drive

“Golf at its Best” at Black Bull

Golf doesn’t get much better than it is in the Gallatin Valley. With a vista that is equal parts blue sky, mountain ranges, and green rolling hills, the greatest game is at its best. Black Bull Golf Club is the pinnacle of golf in an already fantastic Gallatin Valley.

As the sun rose over the mountains and illuminated the green rolling hills, I walked on to the putting green at Black Bull Golf Club. It was there that I met my host for my first trip around Black Bull, Nick Obie. A gracious host and even better stick, Nick who works as a wealth manager in the Bozeman area, had invited me to play Black Bull after hearing of my journey the night before we played. We visited about the courses I had played around the state so far and Nick assured me that I would love my first round at Black Bull.

He wasn’t lying.

The friendly game Nick had organized for Saturday morning included the Assistant Pro at Spanish Peaks and older brother to one of my former teammates, Marcus Geer. We teed it up from the tips at Black Bull and embarked on what would me my longest course of the trip so far. From the aptly named Back 40 tees the course measures in at 7,239 yards.

The 1st hole at Black Bull is a 444-yard par 4 with water left immediately off the tee box that gives way to a long and winding bunker in the left rough. The fairway slightly turns to the left and gives way to a large green that slopes off near the sides and has a pair of bunkers to the right.

After the opening hole at Black Bull this challenging course showed its real teeth when we made it to the par 3 2nd. The par 3s at Black Bull are a brutally long to say the least with three of the four measuring in at over 200-yards from the tips. Plans are in place to lengthen the shortest par 3 so all the par 3s can be over 200-yards long.

The 2nd at Black Bull is a 215-yard par 3 that is protected by four bunkers. Requiring a towering long iron tee shot into an undulating green, walking off with a par on this par 3 or any par 3 at Black Bull is an accomplishment.

As Nick, Marcus, and I made our way around Black Bull’s rolling green fairways, doing our best to dodge the deep pot bunkers and long fescue rough with our tee shots, we visited about golf and especially golf at Black Bull. This golf course demanded the best of our games especially off the tee.

One of the most intimidating tee shots I have ever come across was the one I faced on the par 4 6th hole. At 468 yards, this monster of a par 4, has a tee box where you tee off from the far side of the lake and have to carry your ball over 250 yards in the air to find the fairway on this hole that doglegs left. The farther you attempt to cut the corner the more danger you are in of losing your golf ball to the depths of the large pond that that stretches near the horizon. A pair of fairway bunkers sit in the right rough past the pond ready to swallow up any tee shots that aren’t daring enough. Adding to the challenge are the trio of bunkers blanketing the area around this crowned green on this challenging hole.

On the back nine, one of the best holes in my opinion was the par 4 14th. Finding the Back 40 tees that are a small hike back from the cart path was almost as difficult as the tee shot that must avoid the long fescue along the left rough and the deep bunkers on the right of the fairway 270 yards from the tee box. This uphill green sits protected by a pair of bunkers and features a small ridge that will make putting for birdie difficult if you are on the incorrect side of it.

As Nick, Marcus, and myself wrapped up our round in perfect weather at Black Bull I had to thank Nick again for the great round of golf. Sitting around after our round, the three of us enjoyed talking about this course almost as much as we did playing it.

Black Bull is one of the best golf courses I have ever had the privilege of playing. There aren’t many places where 7,239 yards can be simultaneously daunting and absolutely wonderful. Golf in the Gallatin Valley is as fantastic as it gets, and my day at Black Bull was about as good as it is ever going to get.

I can confidently say Nick Obie was right. I did love Black Bull.