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.