“Making New Friends” at the Johnny Walker Course at Pryor Creek

Johnny Walker Course at Pryor Creek

After walking 18 holes and having lunch in the clubhouse at Pryor Creek, I walked across the road to the 1st tee of the Johnny Walker Course. Originally supposed to join another twosome, I must have just missed them teeing off while I was applying another coat of sunscreen on a hot and sunny day. Standing on the tee, I saw a twosome in a cart waiting in the shade a hundred yards or so back from the tee, so I waved them up to join me.

That was how I met my playing partners for my 19th through 36th holes of the day, Todd and Dell Kay. Introducing myself to them, I had to explain what had me out in the heat of the day packing my clubs on the back and in search of a game.

Todd, Dell Kay, and I teed off on the 488-yard par 5 1st hole and made our way down a steep hill toward a tight treelined fairway that is hard to find off the tee. After hitting down the hillside, you’re second and third shots have to be wary of the sand that protects the front side of the elevated green.

We visited about golf, our hobbies, and the Johnny Walker Course at Pryor Creek that was built in 2005. A young course this track has great greens and a spectacular layout that will only improve as the course matures over time. Having never played here before, I was consistently asking where to hit the ball, where I could miss, and which direction the next tee was.

Standing atop a high hillside on the 4th tee, you could see the whole Pryor Creek valley unfold before you. Farmland touched the horizon as dirt roads crisscrossed the agricultural landscape. With a cattail lined pond in the backdrop the 4th green sits a good 60-70 feet below the tee ground. Measuring in at 149-yards the shot plays a club or two less depending on the breeze.

The Johnny Walker Course is a true out-and-in style golf layout that doesn’t come back to the clubhouse while you play. Once you leave the clubhouse, you don’t return after nine holes. A snack shack sits at the intersection of the tees and greens of holes 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, and 15.

This course features a number of holes that are of the risk-reward type like the driveable 7th hole that has three bunkers in front of the green right where driver would land for the average hitter. The 16th hole is a similar setup with a slight dogleg left through the trees from an uphill tee. With cottonwoods on both sides of the fairway, a tee shot must be struck just right with a driver to give you a short wedge into the crowned green with a bunker protecting it on the right. A long iron or hybrid off the tee has a much better chance of finding the fairway but will leave a longer iron into a tough to hold green.

Wrapping up my longest day so far of this trip with Todd and Dell Kay, I couldn’t have had a better time. Under the hot sun we putted out and said our goodbyes on the 18th green. I figured I got pretty lucky to join up with such fun people as Todd and Dell Kay on my adventure.

You just never know who you’ll become friends with when you miss your intended twosome because you were too busy applying more sunscreen.

Thanks to the staff for at Pryor Creek for a wonderful day of golf at a couple of fine courses. Pryor Creek is a great 36 hole facility just outside of Billings, Montana.

“Back to School” at the Elmer Link Course at Pryor Creek

They say golf is a game you can play your whole life and one of my playing partners on Sunday at Pryor Creek Golf Course proved that.

Clark Swan’s story about returning to college golf almost 40 years after he started is a unique one I was lucky enough to hear firsthand as he and his son Ryan hosted me for a beautiful morning round on the Elmer Link Course at Pryor Creek Golf Club.

With dew still on the putting green and the sun starting to climb itself over the tall trees, I introduced myself to Clark and Ryan. Clark started at Eastern Montana College in 1967 and was a member of the football and golf teams his first go around.

“I was a just a young guy playing football against all these Vietnam Vets who had returned to go school after the war,” Clark said. “I really found my niche on the golf team and played with some really great guys and lifetime friends. Golf was my love and I guess it still is.”

Life came calling however as Clark got married in 1970 and dropped out of school to move to Denver and take a sales job.

“I got married and started a family. In the long run, that’s what I will always be most proud of,” said Clark.

The love of family was clear from the get-go as Clark, Ryan, and I made our way along the course at Pryor Creek walking and talking. On Elmer Link’s par 4 326-yard 4th hole that weaves its way along the creek bottom underneath sky scraping cottonwood trees I chatted with Ryan about what seeing his dad play college golf four decades after he started was like.

On the undulating green protected by a large bunker on the front right, Ryan said, “It was amazing. I was really lucky to get to watch my dad play almost every tournament when he went back. Not a lot of people get to see their dad compete at the college level like he did. I was and am really proud of him.”

Clark Swan explained the story of what made him go back to school, “I was walking around the Alterowitz Gymnasium at MSUB and was looking at some of the old trophies when an old coach came up to me and we started talking. He said that I might have a little eligibility left so I did some research and worked with the compliance office and found out I had three semesters left. So I went back to school and decided to try to walk on to the golf team.”

At 62-years old Clark went back to school. Ryan and I joked that it hopefully wasn’t like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. There were no triple-lindies for Clark when he went back to get his history degree. He began practicing, lifting weights, and competing for the Yellowjacket golf team at tournaments.

“The team really embraced me and made me feel welcome. They were some great kids and I loved it,” said Clark.

“The look on some of the young kids’ faces at tournaments was really something to see when they realized my dad wasn’t a coach, but was competing against them,” laughed Ryan.

We played the par 4 7th hole that measures in 374-yards. This difficult driving hole doglegs a hair to the right but cutting the corner is protected by massive cottonwoods running the length of the right rough. If your tee shot carries too far, you’ll find yourself under the cottonwoods that shade the left rough. The crowned 7th green is protected in front by a large deep bunker that will swallow up any shots left short.

The Swans and I made our way around the gorgeous private side of Pryor Creek and had a barrel of laughs. We chatted and told stories about our lives and families. It was a perfect morning with new friends as the sun climbed higher into the sky and burned the dew off the greens.

After holing out on the 18th green to complete the dogleg right par 5 finishing hole that plays 560-yards and is protected by two bunkers in front of the putting surface, Clark, Ryan, and I shook hands.

At lunch I mentioned to Clark how much fun it was to play golf with he and his son. It was really one of the best days of this trip so far because father and son got to spend time doing what they both love and I got to be a part of it.

Over a burger we told more stories and Clark entertained us with tales of his career and life before returning to college golf and school.

As we parted ways and I got set to play my second 18 holes of the day, I had a thought, “Playing golf with Clark and Ryan Swan was way better than any Triple-Lindy.”

 

Thank you to the staff at Pryor Creek Golf Club and to Clark and Ryan Swan for a fantastic day of golf and memories.

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