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

“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

“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

“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.