“Down in the Cottonwoods” at Marias Valley

In the river bottom lined with hundred-year-old cottonwoods just south of Shelby sits a championship golf course named Marias Valley Golf Club.

As you descend the hillside toward the course and clubhouse, the whole valley opens to you and invites you in.

I was lucky enough to have played Marias Valley Golf Club more than a dozen times before I played it on Sunday morning, but I’d never played it without wind. The wind in the northcentral Montana whips its way across the plains and can make the shortest of par 5s unbearably long. If you haven’t played golf in a gale-force wind, have you really played golf at all?

Today was different however, a chamber of commerce day with only a faint breeze. And I got to play golf with my friend and arguably the best golfer at Marias Valley, Sean Gilligan.

Gilligan is the nephew of MSGA Hall of Famer Kelly Gilligan and has an impressive game himself, especially on his home track.

There might not be a person who has played Marias Valley more often or played it as well as Sean.

He plays this unconventional pull hook golf shot around, over, and in between the cottonwoods of Marias Valley with precision.

“I just didn’t ever want to miss right, so I started aiming more and more right knowing the ball would go left,” said Gilligan. “Some people won’t even watch me tee off anymore.”

It isn’t the most conventional of alignments of a golf swing, but it works for Sean and it worked today. Gilligan and I made our way around Marias Valley on this perfect day.

The first hole is a straightforward uphill par 4 with a two-tiered front sloping green that inspires confidence in your game. That is right before you see the second hole. An all carry par 3 over a marshy area. As you stand atop the hillside tee box you’ll check your club selection a time or two knowing that it absolutely cannot be short.

As we worked our way through the cottonwoods, you had to hit a variety of golf shots. Lay-up irons, high draw drives, and punch shots through the narrowest of windows that will slam shut as your golf ball echoes off of some centuries old piece of lumber akin to Wonderboy in The Natural.

Even though some of my shots could be heard bouncing off the trees from miles around, perfect doesn’t even begin to describe my day at Marias Valley. It was a round of golf along the river bottom amidst hundred-year-old cottonwoods on a championship golf course with a good friend. Life and golf don’t get better than that.


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