Sunday, March 3, 2013

Golf Anyone?

It's not about my skill or performance.  I enjoy the game regardless and love the outdoors.  I got the golf bug honestly – as a caddie – looping from age 10 through age 18 and winning the caddie scholarship.  Golf has been very, very good to me.

Hereabouts in Bozeman Montana and Gallitan County, it is time for preseason pass sales.  By buying early a fellow can save 50 or 100 bucks and maybe get an extra perk or two. There is also the option of joining a private course – some are decent deals for frequent players.  It is time for making decisions. 

For an area with fewer than 100,000 people the Gallitan Valley has a surprising range of golf options.  There are resort, private and, as befits the local culture, open-to-the-public golfing options.  The area accommodates people who have expensive and exclusive tastes (think Ted Turner at one extreme) and at the same time is committed to ensuring that everyone (particularly children), no matter their economic status, has affordable and accessible recreation opportunities.

There’s mountain and resort golf at Big Sky Resort.  On the slope up to Lone Mountain is The Yellowstone Club, an exclusive private course with “unflinching beauty.”  Also high up the slopes is The Reserve at Moonlight Basin, a private Jack Nicklaus Signature Course with play and stay packages.  Nestled in the original resort village is BigSky Golf Course, an 18-hole Arnold Palmer designed daily fee course, winding along the Middle Fork of the Gallatin River, at the base of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area and offering spectacular views of Lone Mountain and surrounding peaksThese Big Sky links options are oriented to tourists and adjacent property owners, not so much for a local mucker.  With the elevation and late snowmelt, the courses aren’t reliably open until May, not so good for me.

Down in the valley and more convenient to Bozeman, there are three private membership courses.  Black Bull is a first rate Tom Weiskopf designed track that was completed just prior to the real estate bust, which fell into and then was bought out of bankruptcy.  The doc we bought our house from owns property at Black Bull.  It is a fantastic links-style course with great sightlines up the valley, but its membership is limited to property owners – not a real option for yours truly. 

The other two membership clubs have less formidable membership requirements and are reasonably affordable.  On the south side of town, Valley View Golf Club is the grand old dame of Bozeman golf, with not so much of a view of the valley as of Spring Creek, because to get better access to water the club moved down from its original location in the foothills.
North of town Riverside Country Club is a full service country club with dining facilities, a driving range, 18-hole course, swimming pool, tennis courts, paddle tennis and winter cross-country skiing.  Riverside is touted as “set under the Bridger Mountain Range, and located on the East Gallitan River, the course absolutely showcases the natural beauty of Montana.”  If I was to go the private membership route, because it has family as well as golf options, Riverside would be the choice.

That leaves the two daily fee courses and their season pass options competing for my dollar.  Last year I bought a half-season pass at Cottonwood Hills Golf Course, in the center of the valley just west of the Gallitan River.  I also played, and enjoyed, Bridger Creek Golf Course, at the east end of the valley framed by the Bridger Mountains.   I came to appreciate Bridger Creek the first couple weeks of November when Cottonwood Hills had closed for the winter but Bridger was still open.  

Cottonwood Hills
Cottonwood Hills has a solid and challenging layout, with fantastic PGA Tour quality greens.  I love that it is owned and operated by Bob Quick, who bought the land and fashioned the course with his own hands out of a strong conviction that he would succeed.  I would guess (by his bio, not his appearance) that Mr. Quick is around 70.  He has yielded responsibilities to his children, but shows up every day to say a kind word, patrol the grounds, empty trash and do whatever is necessary to help out.  He likes to join a foursome of friends on the 10th and play the back nine.    

Bridger Creek is a more varied layout.  It’s closest to home.  The front nine is on bottom land on the south side of the creek, while the back nine starts up the slope, heading straight towards the Bridgers.  It’s gorgeous.  Bear pass through regularly.  This year Bridger offered to add child playing privileges free to the early bird pass purchasers – a wow option for me with three kids.

Bridger Creek, 4th Hole
Faced with the choice I said yes.  I chose both Cottonwood Hills and Bridger Creek for less combined than I would have paid for a private membership and for less combined than I paid for a single season pass with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority back in Virginia.  We'll take the kids to the municipal pool for summer swims.  At Bridger Creek they expect to be open around April 1.  At Cottonwood Hills, looking across the foot plus thick layer of snow and ice on the putting green and first fairway, they insisted that March 15, give or take a few days, they would be open.  I’ve learned around here to respect the prognostications of the locals more than any of the chirping meteorologists on the Weather Channel.  I expect I’ll be out at Cottonwood in a couple of weeks.  By the time the snows come next November and it’s all said and done I expect that I will have paid $10 or less a round.  Can’t beat that.   
Cottonwood Hills Spring Ad

March 20, 2013: Sure enough, Cottonwood Hills opened its front nine on March 16, and then closed again for snow on the 17th and 18th. It will be on again, off again, for several weeks.

Livingston Golf Course
If you are in the area or passing through Bozeman on I-90 there are also sporty 9 hole courses east and west of Bozeman.
Across Bozeman Pass, 29 miles east is Livingston Golf Course. Situated along the Yellowstone River with panoramic views of the Absaroka and Crazy Mountains, Livingston Golf Course’s setting is one of a kind, making the golf experience that much more special. LGC is a 9-hole golf course, which offers two sets of tees for both men and women.

Note:  I played Livingston in August.  It's a basic back and forth nine-hole track on level ground along the Yellowstone River. The 9th hole is my favorite. It's a sharp dogleg left, offering an opportunity to cut the dogleg over trees across a fenced out of bounds pasture. Why my favorite? Because I finished there drawing a three wood drive over and around the dogleg, then lofting a sand wedge to the green about 15 feet above the hole and tumbling in a delicate downhill putt for birdie. It was fun.

West of Bozeman 31 miles lies the town of Three Forks, where the Gallitan, Madison and Jefferson Rivers join to form the Missouri River, and where the appropriately named Headwaters Golf Course is located.  As it is deepest into the valley Headwaters is the driest and warmest course around, and therefore, most likely to be open in inclement weather.  It is a short, 3000 yard, par 36, 9 hole course.  When in Three Forks, we highly recommend the Iron Horse Cafe for lunch or dinner, delicious and affordable.       


  1. I lived in Butte for many years before moving to Oregon in 1996. Used to drive over and play Cottonwood Hills once in a while. Always had a couple of cars honk the horn while getting ready to tee off on the par 3 that paralleled the highway. Was in a group behind Steve Jones, the PGA tour player, once. Was anxious to watch him play as we went along but alas his group hit far fewer shots than ours and we never got close to them after the first hole.


  2. They allowed Grizfans in Bozeman back then? That Par 3 along the highway is the 8th hole. The 7th hole has had the green re-located across the irrigation ditch and is now a par 5. Steve Jones won the US Opoen once and after not that many years thereafter pretty much disappeared from competitive golf due to a series of injuries. I remember he used an unconventional reverse overlap grip.

  3. I’m slowly but surely becoming an avid golfer, so I’m starting to look for other courses all over the country to help improve my game. I took a quick peek at some of the courses you listed and thought they look great. It’s just too bad that most of them are private clubs. I would still consider paying a visit to play a round when I get the time though.