So how big is “Big” in Montana?
Most everything about Montana is big – its land mass is so big you can practically fit nine East Coast states* inside its 147,000 square miles, its mountains are big (it’s not called the “Land of Shining Mountains” for nothing), it has two National Parks and they are big (Yellowstone and Glacier), its grizzly bear population is big (800 of the 1800 grizzlies living in the Lower 48 call it home – and of course, grizzlies are BIG) and so are the Montana moose… The only thing small about Montana is its human population – there’s actually more cattle in Montana than there are humans – and by the way, their Longhorns are big. This was our first trip to “Big Sky Country” and we loved it.
Evan‘s September week-long photography assignment in Montana included travel to three different golf courses: (1) Rock Creek Cattle Company in Deer Lodge, and (2) Spanish Peaks Mountain Club and (3) Moonlight Basin in Big Sky. The only downside was that we left no personal time to squeeze in a visit to Yellowstone whose West Entrance was only about an hour’s drive from the town of Big Sky.
We flew in and out of Bozeman (FYI, United has a non-stop flight from Newark). It was worth the extra travel to Newark for us to arrive in Bozeman before noon, giving Evan an extra afternoon of shooting.
Rock Creek Cattle Company
From Bozeman we drove two hours north to the Rock Creek Cattle Company, a very private club created by Bill Foley and set in the midst of 30,000 acres, including a working cattle ranch. The history of this land goes back to the mid-1800s when the original Grant-Kohrs Ranch covered nearly 10 million acres! As we started the six-mile drive in from the front gate, Evan said, “I’m half expecting to hear the Bonanza theme music come on the radio and see the Cartwrights galloping over the dusty hills to greet us”. Well the Cartwrights were a no-show but the Longhorn cattle were literally everywhere.
This Tom Doak-designed golf course at the Rock Creek Cattle Company is nothing short of spectacular, in that Tom-Doak minimalist sort of way (which I love). Links Magazine awarded it “Best New Private Course” when it opened in 2008 and its accolades have continued. For 2017-2018 Golf Digest ranked it #1 in Montana for its “Best in State” rankings and ranked it #113 in “America’s Second 100 Greatest Courses”, while Golf Magazine ranked it #61 for “Top 100 Courses in America” in 2017. Doak has shared, “Only a exceptional golf course could hope to vie for attention with the natural wonders of the Rock Creek property and greater Montana”. And he made that happen, working the course around and over the rolling hills of the ranch while allowing the native fescue and sagebrush free reign. From many a tee box the amazing backdrop of the 10,000-foot Flint Creek Mountain Range amplifies the magnitude of the surroundings. Despite some elevation, this course is walkable (though it seemed like most people were in carts) and, it’s a lot of fun to play. All the holes are named after famous Western movies, think: True Grit, High Plains Drifter, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly…
We were fortunate to have Dan, the Head of Irrigation, ride along with us on our second morning of shooting. He was there to make sure we had everything we needed and to assist with any last minute logistics. He also offered great perspectives on potential camera angles and vistas. Dan’s been with Rock Creek since its inception (or close to it). They run a lean crew (most of whom have been there a long time) and he’s seen and been part of it all. You can imagine what it takes to build an irrigation system in the foothills of these mountains, well really to build anything here… The winters are long and the snow is deep. One needs to feel comfortable amidst the stillness. Dan is that guy. He seems to take everything in stride. As I jumped up and down before sunrise trying to stay warm wearing a wool hat, gloves, scarf and down vest, Dan stood quietly, his only heat source coming from long drags on his Marlboro cigarette.
The 350-acre par 71 course plays 7,466 yards from the tips but has so many tee box options (a number being added after the original design) that pretty much any level of golfer can find a tee box that works for them. The course is designed as a loop so you are at your highest point around the 9th before heading back down to end around Rock Creek again on the 18th. The creek not only plays a role as a water hazard on the golf course, winding its way through the course and the property, but it also serves the avid fly fishing anglers who reside there. A blackboard on the front porch of the Cattlemen’s Club provides daily recommendations for the best flies to use. And yet despite finding ourselves in the midst one of the best elk winter ranges in Montana and acknowledged mecca for bears, wolves, deer and antelope, our wildlife sighting was limited to some early morning coyotes hunting in the low hills.
As I mentioned, the Rock Creek Cattle Company is a private club, but if you ever get the offer to come and play, make the trek and enjoy!
Next Post: Big Sky’s Spanish Peaks Mountain Club & Moonlight Basin.
Course Contact: Rock Creek Cattle Company
105 Pauly Drive, Deer Lodge, Montana 59722
*New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Maryland