“A Place to Party” at Fort Custer Golf Club

Just fifteen miles from the area where Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer drew his last breaths is a golf course named for the commander of the ill-fated 7th Cavalry called Fort Custer Golf Club.

The Fort Custer Golf Club sits just a mile north of Hardin on the Crow Indian Reservation which is the largest Indian reservation in Montana. The ranchland and prairie that sits in the wide valley gives way to a bevy of trees as you make your way down a dirt road to the golf course.

Out front of the clubhouse I watched a steady stream of parents, grandparents, and kids carry all the essentials for a graduation party in the front door. Orange and black balloons were tied to the picnic tables outside and little kids chased the bigger kids around the lilac bushes and collected grass stains on their clothes. Older folks sat in the shade and visited about all the usual stuff and laughed as the children dove in and ate the overly frosted cake with wide eyes and smiles on their faces.

It was a beautiful night for a graduation party and great weather to play golf as I met my playing partner Chris Seder. Chris is a Hardin native, the reigning Club Champion at Fort Custer, and serves on the golf board at the course. He was the perfect tour guide and playing partner for a nine-hole round at Fort Custer because of a couple things. He was extremely knowledgeable about the golf course and community and had tremendous eyes for helping me find my wayward tee shots in the deep rough at Fort Custer.

Fort Custer Golf Club begins with a straightforward 477-yard par 5 from a tee box that smells of the fresh lilac bushes immediately to your left. Small trees dot the left rough and can make second shots difficult into the sloping back-to-front green.

The narrow fairways of Fort Custer got the best of a poor day off the tee for myself and forced a number of difficult second shots from the rough into extremely small greens. This course is quite the challenge if you’re game isn’t sharp.

Making your way back near the clubhouse you find the seventh tee home to a 149-yard par 3 protected by a large front right bunker and bushes on the left. A large green provides for a great chance to get on the putting surface and putt for a deuce in the setting sun out of the West.

The ninth hole at Fort Custer is a slight dogleg left par 4 complicated by a row of trees that sit in front of the left-hand side of the crowned green. At only 360-yards the hole should make for a short wedge in, but the long dangerous rough can leave you grabbing for more club just to clear these ball-eating trees.

After our trip around the links at Fort Custer, Chris and I went inside for a beer and met a large crowd of parents and relatives of graduates enjoying themselves at the old bar. The stools were mostly full as folks visited with each other and chased after the kids running through the confined quarters.

It was in this moment that I truly realized why Fort Custer Golf Club is such an important place for the community of Hardin. It’s a place where people of all ages can come together and have a great time in great company.

Now if only I could have convinced some of those young kids to help me look for my wayward tee shots in between their games of tag, then we’d be in business.

 

“The Birthplace of Montana” at Signal Point Golf Club

In territorial Montana, Fort Benton was the region’s last trading post along the mighty Missouri River. Steamboats would power their way against the current from St. Louis to bring supplies and people to the West. It was where cowboys and cavalries would walk the same streets and where supplies heading for the mining camps in Helena and Virginia City would be loaded on stagecoaches for the rest of their journey.

Fort Benton is the birthplace of Montana.

High above this birthplace sits Signal Point Golf Club, a beautiful nine-hole golf course with an even more spectacular view of the one-time frontier town. Named for the landmark directly adjacent to the golf course where lookouts could first spot the next steamboat due for Fort Benton. Signal Point Golf Club was built in 1967, one-hundred years after the town’s post office was established.

My Sunday morning foursome at Signal Point read like a bad joke. I was playing golf with a doctor, a bar owner, and an engineer. Scott Meissner, Thad Stinson, his daughter Josie Stinson, and myself were the first to tee off at Signal Point on a sunny windless day high above Fort Benton.

With a foursome that sounded like the lead in of a bad joke there were plenty of laughs to be had that morning. I couldn’t keep track of number of times I doubled over in laughter from one of Scott or Thad’s one-liners during the round.

The first hole at Signal Point is a straightforward 400-yard par 4 with trees lining both sides of the fairway and an elevated green protected by a pair of large bunkers on the right and left.

The greens at Signal Point Golf Club are consistently some of the best in the state. Elevated, undulating, and hard to hold without a wedge in your hand the greens are always remarkable in Fort Benton.

The fourth hole is the first par 3 you run across at Signal Point, at 152-yards long with a crystal clear blue pond to your right and a pair of bunkers in front of the green. Your tee shot has to get up quickly to clear the pine tree on the edge of the pond that blocks out the front of the green from your vision.

The closing hole at Signal Point is the dogleg left par 5 ninth that offers spectacular views of the whole Missouri River valley and the Little Belt Mountains on the horizon. A tee shot too far left will leave you blocked out by trees and a tee shot too far right leaves you an impossibly long second shot. The tiered green on the ninth sits in the shade of the cottonwoods with bunkers in the front left and front right.

The historic town of Fort Benton is home to not just any nine-hole golf course, it’s home to Signal Point Golf Club. It is home to hundreds of cottonwoods, perfect greens, and views that transport you back to territorial Montana.

When a steamboat would fight the current of the mighty Missouri River to get to Fort Benton, the birthplace of Montana.

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“When in Plentywood” at Plentywood Golf Club

There’s a confidence you acquire while holding a shotgun in your hands. The combination of the ringing in my ears, the kick of the 12 gauge, and the shot of adrenaline that was coursing through my veins was enough to have me hooked and eager to join the Plentywood, Montana Trap Club.

This trip to the farthest reaches of Northeast Montana was one of firsts for me so I blindly agreed when Doug Selvig asked if I wanted to tag along with him and shoot trap on Wednesday evening.

While riding shotgun in his truck we pulled into the parking lot near the fairgrounds on the edge of Plentywood as he looked over and asked, “Have you ever shot trap before?”

I replied quickly, “No, I never have.”

Doug smiled and casually said, “Well, we’ll change that.”

So on a hot Northeastern Montana evening, I found myself standing in the middle station having not fired a shotgun in years getting ready to shoot at moving targets. It took all my might not let my eyes get wide as the first shooter called, “PULL” and knocked the first clay pigeon out of the sky in a flash.

All I could think was, “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Then the second shooter’s turn came and after barking out the command they also knocked the orange target out of the sky.

Suddenly it was my turn. I drew my shotgun to my shoulder and tried my best to look like I was doing as I yelled out, “PULL” with a small crack in my voice that sometimes happens when I’m trying not to mess my drawers.

The target flew up and I did my best to lock on to it as I’d seen the other shooters do and pulled the triggers. As the shotgun kicked into my shoulder, I reluctantly saw the pigeon continue on its original course unscathed by my pathetic first attempt.

The shooting wasn’t all bad on my part as the rounds went on and I got more comfortable with shotgun. After successfully doing my best impression of Kid Shelleen and knocking four consecutive targets out of the sky, I glanced to my left and down the line a few stations to see Doug looking at me with one hand on his hip laughing and shaking his head. He could see by the oversized grin on my face that the new guy was having a ball.

I wish that newfound confidence and warm summer weather had translated to the next day’s round of golf at Plentywood Golf Club, but we had fun anyway.

With colder weather and a tough wind barreling in from the east, Plentywood Golf Club presented its fair share of challenges on my first trip around these links.

Doug Selvig obliged to take me around the golf course because my poor trip planning prevented me from playing with the Ordahl family as I originally intended. Kevin Ordahl even holds a share of the course record at Plentywood Golf Club but couldn’t play because he was out on the farm seeding. I laughed and had to apologize for my lack of understanding of the agrarian calendar preventing us from playing his home course.

The first hole at Plentywood Golf Club is a blind downhill par 4 that slightly doglegs left past a pair of pine trees that sit on the corner above the green. I found myself standing underneath one of these trees after hitting my drive a tad bit left of where I would have liked. After being warned about how hard the greens were early in the season here I played a little bump-n-run 7 iron down the embankment and onto the green.

They weren’t lying when warning me about the difficulty of holding the greens. It made for one of the most exciting tests of your golf game having to hit the ball in different ways and play the bounces to just try and hold the ball on the putting surface.

The layout of Plentywood Golf Club is a unique one I’d never seen before. The course features three par 3’s, three par 4’s, and three par 5’s.

My two favorite holes on the course were the par 3 second and the par 5 third. The par 3 second hole is a daunting little tee shot from an elevated tee box to a back-to-front sloping green protected by a left greenside bunker that measures in at only 140 yards.

The par 5 third hole, is a dogleg left that provides you the opportunity to cut the corner over the top of some trees and a large hillside or to play it safe along the righthand side of the fairway. Being too far wayward on either side of the fairway will place you in a tough spot for your third into a slightly elevated green with a bunker on the right.

My time in Plentywood has been an absolute treat and the Plentywood Golf Club didn’t disappoint. It was a trip of firsts for myself up in Northeastern Montana.

I just wish I had as much confidence with a putter in my hands as I did with that 12 gauge.

“What a Great Neck of the Woods” at Scobey Golf Course

Scobey Golf Course

I made a phone call last night as I turned north just a couple miles east of Wolf Point. The phone rang as I bobbed along on the highway until finally I heard my friend say, “I hear you’re heading up to my neck of the woods.”

His neck of the woods, to be more specific is Scobey, Montana, population 1,032. Scobey might have the record for being the smallest town I happen to know the most people from, and I added to that list today.

Cruising up the narrow two-lane highway towards Scobey I crested a hill and saw an expanse of farmland as far as you could see with Scobey’s water tower in the distance. Driving through Scobey I took a few turns and wound up at Phil Audet’s house.

Phil is the oldest brother to my friend Dana Audet who lives and plays golf in Great Falls. Phil said, “Dana called me and said I had to play golf with you and take care of you while you’re in town.”

Phil did more than that. In the late evening we drove a few blocks down a gravel road to the Scobey Golf Course and sat in the clubhouse to swap stories and talk about the history of the golf course in Scobey with the course’s Superintendent Dan Wolfe. It was a gorgeous evening in the hilltop clubhouse that used to be a U.S. Air Force Radar Base that sat a couple of miles west of Opheim.

“I’m sure the guys who moved it over here had something like 30 flat tires on the trip over, the damn building was so heavy,” Wolfe laughed.

So, there we sat with the sun dropping lower toward the horizon and ate dinner while throwing back a few beers as I looked over the nine-hole expanse that is called the Scobey Golf Course.

Phil and Jerry Raaum play golf every day they can at Scobey. “We usually walk the front nine, and then get a cart for the back,” said Phil. I was thankful they let me join them today.

Also joining us and walking along on my first trip around Scobey’s links was Mike Stebleton, the sports editor for the Daniels Country Leader.

Phil and Jerry gave directions while we trekked our way along on a hot May day that reached about 84 degrees by the time we were done. They’d point out the green and the trouble on each hole and helped guide me around the course on my maiden voyage.

The first hole at Scobey Golf Course is a downhill blind dogleg right par 5 that includes a blind tee shot over some trees and bushes if you hit a draw like I do and wanted to cut the corner. We moseyed our way down the fairway on one to an elevated green where I chipped up close and started with a birdie.

We talked about the history of club, like it’s sand greens for it’s first 57 years of existence before the greens were turned into grass putting surfaces in 1984. The course draws its water for the pond that comes into play and provides a soothing backdrop for the second, third, and fourth holes from the Poplar River that flows in the field next to the course.

My favorite hole on course would have to be the par 5 third hole. A slight dogleg to the left, it perfectly suited my draw but has grass bunkers in the right rough if you miss that fairway that will swallow up your golf ball.

The second shot must be wary of the pond that juts out into the left fairway less than one hundred yards short of the green provided the golfer with an opportunity to lay up or go for it in two. As for myself, with Mike, Jerry, and Phil all watching I decided to not lay up and ended up finding the elevated green and giving myself a 12-foot putt for eagle that I lipped in just at the last moment. No wonder it was my favorite hole.

Scobey Golf Course provides its players with a magnificent backdrop of the expansive farmland on many of the tee boxes and greens.

As we finished the round and meandered back up to the clubhouse in the heat of the midday sun, I had to laugh at my first round in Scobey. A bogey free 33 (-3) with one birdie, one eagle, and seven pars. It made for quite the experience at Scobey Golf Club. That and the fantastic hospitality by everyone in town has me confidently saying it won’t be so long before I venture back up into this neck of the woods again.

 

 

 

“Damn the FAA” at Airport Golf Club

As if there weren’t enough reasons to already hate the Federal Aviation Administration the Airport Golf Club in Wolf Point, Montana gave me one more.

Just past the small airport in Wolf Point there’s a sign leading you down a dirt road toward a clubhouse with a high-pitched roof surrounded by lilac bushes. The drive itself down the dirt road is a bit mesmerizing as you suddenly turn off the open highway road and into the shade of age old trees that line both sides of the driveway.

It was at the Airport Golf Club that I met my playing partners and tour guides, Brock Copenhaver and Rodney Paulson. Brock and Rodney explained the layout of the course to me as we teed it up on the dogleg left first hole that is walled by the highest of cottonwood trees. These trees would prove to be more of a problem as the day went on for myself, but I’ll get to that. Approaching the green at the end of the first hole I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and consistency of the putting surfaces. The greens at Airport GC have some big undulations, usually pitched from back to front, that make no two putts on the short grass the same.

Now let’s get on to the trees and my distrust of the FAA.

The second hole at the Airport Golf Club is a dogleg right with a line of hundred-foot-tall cottonwoods suffocating your tee shot and any chance of cutting the corner. However, on the other side of the fairway is the fence the FAA placed not ten paces off the left-hand side of the fairway that marks the out of bounds.

It is the type of fence that if you hit your ball over it, it will never be seen again. The approximately nine-foot-high fence constricts your tee shot to find a narrow sliver of fairway on the long par 4 so you can at least have a long iron into the green.

As for my tee shot, I sent it crashing into the cottonwoods for fear of getting too close to that fence. As I trudged along in search of where my Titleist may have scattered off too, Rodney joked, “I blame the damn terrorists.”

We laughed as I made a mess of the hardest hole on the golf course in Wolf Point and walked away with my first eight of this long trip. Looking back on hole number 2, I’m still bamboozled as to how I should have play it.

Brock and Rodney agreed the hole played much easier without the fence there, and it was about eight years ago that the government came in and wanted to infringe on the golf course property.

“We had some people who fought them because they were originally supposed to put the fence another 50 feet onto the golf course,” said Rodney. “And they weren’t going to have that.”

Another hole that caught my attention was the unique par 3 fourth hole that played at only 119 yards that day. It was 119 yards uphill to an elevated green protected by a large tree on the left and a harsh hill that would send your ball back to your feet if you ended up short. It also played into the teeth of the wind. Not every hole has to be long to be challenging, and the fourth at Airport Golf Club proves that.

Brock’s favorite hole was number 5, because of the changes that have been made to it.

“I helped build out this green when we expanded it” said Brock. “That was really a cool to get your hands dirty and improve the golf course yourself.”

The fifth is a straightforward par 4 playing around 390 yards with a cutting wind from left to right, but it is the expanded green that gives it character. What used to be a mounded and crowned green now has two tears thanks to the expanded right-hand side that Brock and others worked on. The green has character and the potential to give you a scare if you’re on top of the hill putting down towards the bottom.

After the round at Airport Golf Club with Brock and Rodney, we sat around and talked a little bit about the history of the course and golf in the area. They told me about a spot called Harry’s Nite Club just on the other side of the Missouri River where I could get a great burger, and they weren’t lying.

Harry’s was a quant little bar with an old screen door in the front with a few bodies sitting at the corner of the bar talking about who they knew that knew each other. I ordered the double-bacon cheeseburger and grabbed a beer while I sat at the counter and watched a nondescript sporting event on the old TV hanging on the wall. Adorning the walls were old photos of bar patrons, area landmarks, and the fliers for community fundraising efforts that were upcoming.

The double-bacon cheeseburger arrived with a mound of fries accompanying it and I fell into a cholesterol driven food coma for awhile after I finished it. After Harry’s I ventured into town to visit with a Duane “Punky” Kurokawa who was the president of Western Bank of Wolf Point and an avid golfer himself. We visited for an hour in his office as he told me how his father and his friends helped build and start Airport Golf Club a half century ago.

“You ever played sand greens?” Duane asked. “Because that’s what we had. Back in the day the guys working on the course would meet up and bring their push lawnmowers and stand side-by-side walking down the holes to cut a fairway.”

After that visit, I stopped in to a brewery my distant cousin’s have in Wolf Point called Doc’z and sampled their IPA on the back atrium. I sat in the shade and swapped stories with relatives who I hadn’t seen in years and fell in love with the community of Wolf Point.

I leaned back my chair, with a cold beer in my hand, surrounded by family and friends who welcomed me in, and couldn’t help but think about how today would’ve been a perfect day if it weren’t for that fence put up by the damn FAA.