“A Family Affair” at Forsyth Country Club

100 miles east of Billings sits the Forysth Country Club. A nine-hole track that isn’t too far from the Yellowstone River and is visible from the Interstate. It’s a perfect place to stop on a drive through the area for a round with the family.

I walked into the Forsyth Country Club clubhouse on a perfect 75-degree Sunday morning and met Kevin Hoover and his grandson. They had graciously offered up to show me around the golf course on what turned out to be a wonderful day for golf.

The first hole at Forsyth Country Club is a 319-yard straightforward par 4 with out of bounds stakes on the right and trees lining the fairway. The tee box sits just a few feet from the clubhouse entrance and immediately under the American flag that blows in the cool early summer breeze. A small mounded green is protected by a large bunker just a few paces in front of the right-hand side of the green.

The short length of Forsyth Country Club provides the longball hitter with countless birdie opportunities throughout the nine-hole course that measures in at just under 3,000 yards on the par 35 front nine white tees and just over 3,000 yards on the par 36 back nine blue tees.

The fourth hole plays as a drive-able par 4 on the front nine at just 271-yards but becomes a par 3 on the back nine measuring 168-yards. With O.B. stakes to the right and a pond that comes into play on the left the hole could surrender birdies or an eagle but can also force big numbers with a poor tee shot.

The blind uphill seventh hole is a short 124-yards but is protected by a pair of bunkers in front of the green. This short of a tee shot makes for an exciting trip up the hill to see how close you are to the pin.

The closing hole at the Forsyth Country Club is another hole that plays as either a par 3 or a par 4 depending on if it’s your ninth hole or eighteenth. The ninth is an overwater tee shot to the green that sits right in front of the clubhouse. It plays 148-yards with a smaller pond located just off the front right of the green.

As Kevin and I finished our round on this perfect morning in Forsyth we had to laugh at all the help we had from his grandson who loved to pull the pin for us on every green. It was among a list of his duties like finding the right club for his grandpa to hit, cleaning golf balls in the ball washer, and getting to drive the golf cart.

That’s one of my favorite things about the game of golf. It’s family friendly and the perfect way to get young kids involved in the game is to get them out with you. It’s quality family time in the great Montana outdoors, what could be better?

If you would have asked Kevin’s grandson, just getting to drive the golf cart one more time.

 

“A Trip Down Memory Lane” at Colstrip’s Ponderosa Butte Golf Course

High above the rocky outcroppings of Southeastern Montana loom the towers of the four Colstrip Power Plants. Seeing those towers over the horizon on my drive into Colstrip reminded me of when I was a kid going to visit my grandparents. With my face pressed against the glass of the minivan windows I would try so hard to see the towers because it meant we were getting closer to seeing grandpa and grandma.

When I got to Colstrip I decided to take a trip down memory lane and try and find their old house and some other familiar sights. Driving through the streets of Colstrip, I came upon their old house. It was painted a different color than it used to be but still had the same large shop my Grandpa Richard used to go work in for hours and hours on end. It made sense why he was always working on projects out there, so he could be out of earshot of my Grandma Marilyn.

As I pulled over and got out of my car to see the old Boese house, I could faintly hear my Grandma’s patented line, “God damnit Richard” just like the good old days. His pranks and teasing of Grandma always got a reaction like that out of her and a big smile out of us grandkids.

I even stopped by the Colstrip Volunteer Fire Department’s Richard Boese Training Center to walk around and think. It’s been about a half-dozen years now since he passed away, and seeing an American Flag flying in the wind in front of a building bearing his name sure made me miss the old handyman more than ever.

On a perfect May evening I decided to head out to Ponderosa Butte Golf Course and play it for the first time. Still within eyeshot of the four plant towers, Ponderosa Butte was built by the taxpayers of Colstrip to provide recreational opportunities for the citizens of the strip mining town. As a citizen of Colstrip you are a member of Ponderosa Butte and can play the course for free as much as you want. What a great deal!

The first hole at Ponderosa Butte Golf Course is a 144-yard par 3 that has water to the right and a marshy area in front of the green. I can’t think of another non-executive course I’ve ever played that started with a par 3 right off the bat. The greens at Ponderosa Butte are soft and receptive with some slight undulations that can make for hair raising putts when the greens firm up and quicken up later in the summer.

Ponderosa Butte consists of two different loops you take, one below the clubhouse that weaves its way around small frog ponds and creeks and the second one playing up and around the small mountain behind the clubhouse.

On the mountain side of the nine-hole track, after your uphill tee shot into a narrow fairway you begin a steady climb that leaves your heart thumping against the wall of your chest when you finally reach the sixth green. The 380-yard sixth hole provides an opportunity for birdie with a well-placed drive and a second shot into a small green.

After your long ascent up the hill you come to the seventh tee box that inspires a level of fear as you stare at a 187-yard downhill par 3, with little to no room for error. Cut out of the mountain face the green is protected by a steep hill running away from the putting surface on the left and a wall of native grasses on the right. Any shot long will spell disaster as well.

After playing the seventh and eighth, I ventured to the dogleg right par 5 ninth that measures 560-yards with a pond to the right of the fairway. The creeks you came to dread on the front nine have reappeared exactly where you would traditionally like to lay up to and remove any thought of going for it if you happen to spray your woods or long irons. The green on the ninth is a tricky undulating surface that is compounded by the fact you are being watched by everyone sitting on the back deck of the clubhouse.

Talking with the father and son two-some of John and Travis Smith, whom I joined up with mid-round, I had to remark that Ponderosa Butte is a fantastic golf course. It’s a challenging and trying nine-hole track that makes you hit the smart golf shot if you want to score well.

After bidding John and Travis farewell as they ventured back to the first tee to play another nine, I visited with Glenn Godfrey the course pro at Ponderosa Butte and his wife Candice. We talked about the history of the course and all the little trouble spots you can find yourself in if you’re not careful. I admittedly had found a few but survived to tell the tale with some solid comeback shots.

Ponderosa Butte Golf Course is a gem of a track in Rosebud County. Under the eye of those high up towers it’s a treasure the community of Colstrip should be very proud of.

I know it had been awhile since I’d been back to visit Colstrip, but this trip down memory lane made it very much worthwhile. I just wish it could have been nearly 20 years ago and I knew I’d be visiting my Grandma and Grampa when I saw those towers in the distance.

“Bothering a Bull Snake” at Rolling Hills Golf Course

There’s two sides to every story. That happens to be the case at Rolling Hills Golf Course in Broadus where I played on Saturday morning.

One headline for the story might read that upon walking to the eighth tee box I was confronted by a 5-foot bull snake coiled around one of the tee markers and remarkably hit a fairway splitting tee shot on the 376-yard dogleg right par 4 with a mounded green that forces a biting wedge shot to give you an uphill putt at birdie.

The other headline for the eighth hole would be that an innocent bull snake was minding his businesses sunning himself in the heat of midday when a 24-year-old golfer with an unfathomable fear of snakes happened to cross his path and screamed. Thankfully I was alone during my round in Broadus, so the shriek only echoed off the cottonwoods that line the ponds and fairways and didn’t cause anyone to run to my rescue.

Besides the bull snake, my round in Broadus was a great leisurely round in the heat of Southeastern Montana. Rolling Hills Golf Course is aptly named for the golf that bends and winds its way over hills and around little bluffs that provide several elevation changes for tee shots and irons from the fairway.

When I first arrived at Rolling Hills, I pulled on the door to the clubhouse only to find it locked. A sign hanging on the glass of the door said they would be opening around noon. Deciding not to wait for them to open, I walked down to the first tee and teed up my ball. The first hole at Rolling Hills Golf Course is a is an uphill par 4 measuring in at 374-yards to an elevated and crowned green. You work your tee shot through a gap in the cottonwoods that sit near the ponds some 100-yards from the tee box. This first green sits high enough on the hill to deliver a wonderful vantage point of the open farmland that borders the golf course in all directions and a clear blue sky.

The second hole at Rolling Hills is a 333-yard downhill par 4 that is reachable with a long tee shot if it avoids the small pond sitting just in the right-front of the green. The green at the second is again crowned and provides a tough chip if you’re on either side of the green complex and in the rough.

After the very reachable par 5 third hole that doglegs right and requires an uphill second shot to an elevated green, is the par 3 fourth hole. The fourth is a downhill tee shot to a small green with that requires a club less than you would normally play. From atop this tee box it isn’t hard to notice the barbed-wire out-of-bounds fence that borders the hole on the right and behind the green.

As I hoseled an 8-iron over that barbed wire fence, I had to think, “That’s one way to keep you from going after a lost ball. I wonder how many Titleists that farmer has found over the years?”

Down a ball and after the eighth tee box down a little bit of dignity after the bull snake incident, the par 5 ninth was a confidence booster. A slight dogleg left at a little over 500-yards this par five plays downhill back toward the clubhouse. If your drive can negotiate the cottonwood trees lining the fairway on the right and the pond on the left a good look at getting on in two is a real possibility with a large green to aim at for the uphill final hole.

As I trudged back up the hill and towards the Rolling Hills clubhouse in the 98-degree heat of Southeastern Montana in late May, I decided I better go in and pay for my round. It was the least I could do for bothering that bull snake.

“One Hell of a Good Time” at Miles City’s Town & Country Club

My story in Miles City begins in the lounge at the Town & Country Club. After wandering into town and finding where I was staying I decided to mosey on over to check out the golf course.

I followed the hooting and hollering of what could only be a bunch of golfers fresh off their league night down the hallway and found my way to the lounge. The lounge at the clubhouse is the heartbeat of the golf course. More than half the crowd at the lounge was gathered around the round dining tables with lounge chairs watching the basketball game on the tv hanging on the wall.

Drinking my beer and watching the basketball game, I was perfectly content for a quiet first night in Miles City. That did not happen.

I ran into my playing partner for today’s round, Chase Tait who was fresh off finishing up his league match and was sitting with some of his buddies at a table. They invited me to join them, so I pulled up a chair and introduced myself.

Fast forward to a couple of hours later when the rest of the bar had cleared out and there was still a half a dozen of us sitting around that same table laughing and telling old golf stories with each one being better than the last. There were stories about playing in tournaments in Miles City like the member-guest, stories about the characters who play golf at the Town & Country Club, and stories I wish I would’ve written down.

Jeff Bush dubbed himself my social host while in Miles City while ordering another round promised, “You might not play great golf here with all of these cottonwood trees, but you’re going to have a hell of a good time.”

And he wasn’t lying.

The next morning the group Chase had rounded up for my first trip around Miles City’s golf course found themselves on the first tee with a few members still feeling the effects of the “hell of a good time” we had the night before.

In the group was Chase, Jim Zimmerman, Stacie Klippenstein, Jeff Bush and myself. Jeff had originally passed on playing with the group but had to call Chase after we were a couple of rounds into the evening last night and invite himself because we were having so much fun.

The fun continued during the round as I was walking along one of the best nine-hole courses in the state for the first time. The first hole at the Town & Country Club is a 360-yard par 4 that immediately confirms that you’ll be having to work shots around cottonwood trees all day long. Midway down the fairway on the right-hand side is a towering cottonwood with long limbs that stretch over the fairway that can eat up a tee shot that isn’t played up the left of the fairway. The first green at Miles City it protected by a pair of bunkers on the right front of the putting surface and features some subtle breaks that make for exciting putts to begin the round.

The second hole plays as a long par 4 on the front nine before becoming a par 5 on the back. It measures in at 435-yards through a narrow corridor of tall cottonwoods that jut out and force you get creative with your second shot into the back-to-front sloping green.

My favorite hole on the course was the 135-yard par 3 third hole that plays over a beautiful lake with a fountain that sprays water high into the air. A simple short-iron is all that is required on this treasure of a golf hole that leaves little room for error with a bunker on the left side of the green. The green itself is a dangerous one with a shelf that runs a few paces from the front of the putting surface that can leave you walking back for your wedge if you’re not careful and get too frisky with your birdie attempt.

As we continued our trek around the Town & Country Club and the money match we were playing was getting more and more unfavorable for myself I was still having a ball of a time. When we sat in the lounge I had previously shut down not too many hours before and handed dollar bills around the table and swapped stories with my playing partners I had to think to myself.

I didn’t play very well but I did have one hell of a good time in Miles City.

 

A great big thank you to my playing partners and social hosts in Miles City for a fantastic time. I’ll definitely be back sometime soon to win my money back.

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“I Got the Shanks” at Lakeview Country Club

In the flatlands of Eastern Montana sits a town surrounded by oil pumpjacks still slowly nudging their heads toward the earth extracting crude oil from below the sandstone surface with each motion. The rhythm of the pumpjacks is a mesmerizing sight to behold as you roll down the highway closer to Baker, Montana. These pumpjacks stand out against the horizon as old working relics of a booming oil town that still has oil under its feet.

Baker is home to the Lakeview Country Club which sits on the southeastern edge of town near the airport and offers a view of Lake Baker which sits in the middle of this 1,700-resident town. Even the golf course at Lakeview Country Club has two pumpjacks on the property with one sitting near the clubhouse and one between the tee boxes of the fifth and ninth holes.

Lakeview Country Club starts off with a near 500-yard par 5 that runs parallel to some caragana bushes on the left that border the out of bounds fence along Airport Road. A reachable par 5, the first hole has a small creek running through the fairway inside of a hundred yards and a strongly sloping back-to-front green where you don’t want to be long.

As the breeze picked up out of the West, Lakeview Country Club started to show its teeth. In course out of bounds stakes made routine tee shots more intimidating while large igneous boulders line the rough and can carve a golf ball with one errant swing.

The third hole at Lakeview is an over water par 3 that can play 194 yards or 150 yards depending on where the tee markers are placed. With the wind fighting the ball from left-to-right the tee shot into this sloping green can be quite challenging.

I was having a well enough round in the wind at Baker until I came to the par 5 sixth hole that was playing downwind. The dogleg right hole features out of bounds stakes along the right-hand side until you get past the driving range and my drive had cut the corner giving me only a mid-iron into the uphill green.

That’s when it happened. That’s when they happened.

That’s when I got the shanks. Those god-damn shanks.

I was expecting my mid-iron to place me on the green with a good look at an eagle putt when the next thing I know I was trapesing through the long grass looking for my Titleist and trying to salvage a par.

Once you have one shank you can’t seem to shake the fear they instill in you. It’s there as you decide which club to hit, when you tee up your ball, when you take the club back, and it’s even there after you’ve successfully hit the ball without using the hosel.

If making a birdie can give a golfer confidence, shanking a ball can shatter that confidence worse than getting dumped by the girl of your dreams.

As I trudged up the hill towards the clubhouse after finishing my round with only one more shank to my credit I looked around at the land surrounding Baker. Looking into the expanse of farmland and seeing the nudging heads of the pumpjacks in the distance I had to laugh as I walked in the clubhouse to get a beer.

I know I’ll never forget the time I got the shanks in Baker, Montana at Lakeview Country Club.