Lin Clark is at it again, this time in Big Sky Country as she endeavors to play golf in all 50 states. Enjoy this, her fourth installment of Tee Travels!
This Tee Travel section was a relatively easy road trip. If you believe that 1,600 miles in eight days, playing five courses is an easy road trip.
From Denver to my first stop, Casper, Wyoming, was five hours. Started early thinking I would play early afternoon after some lunch and maybe hitting a bucket of balls to loosen up from the car ride. Arrived at Three Crowns Golf Club around 12:30. I walked into the pro-shop to see about a tee-time. I was told I could join a twosome going off now or wait three hours for the next opening for a single. “Now, please.” Pleasantly surprised to find out it was Wednesday, ladies’ day, so my green fee was reduced, and I received a sleeve of balls. Yay for ladies’ day!
I hurried up to the first tee to introduce myself and explain I had just driven up from Denver and did not have time to warm up. The two guys laughed and said they had just come up from Denver too. I watched as they hit beautiful, long drives—no warming up needed for these two.
I stepped up to tee off. Always a little nervous—first tee, in front of strangers, and following their great first drives. Held my breath and swung … exhaled, ahhh, it was a very nice drive. Also, nice to hear them say, “Looks like you didn’t need to warm up.” We continued, they had pars and birdies, I managed bogeys and double bogeys. Both guys were incredibly kind, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them.
The course was in great shape; in fact, the tee boxes looked better than some greens I’ve seen. There were a lot of bunkers and water features. It is a links-style course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. I was curious about what characteristic is seen in a course designed by him, and I know he has well over 250 courses to his credit. As I researched his philosophy on course design, the prominent value fell into this statement, “A course should be in harmony with the environment, and with the intention that they will be maintained as sustainable resources.” I like that.
Thanks to my playing partners, Cory and Dan, who not only put up with me but gave me a pointer for which I am grateful, because it improved my game.
Here is Dan teeing off with the deer (dear) gallery being quiet.
Three Crowns Golf Club
Tee Traveler rating: B+
A challenging course, water and bunkers (61 total) abound. Very flat but with some scenic elements of the Casper Mountains. Not sure why they pride themselves as built on what once was one of the largest oil refineries in the world. Does that matter?
CS rating: 4
Welcoming to a single woman walk-on. Friendly staff. Enjoyed Wednesday ladies’ day.
On to Billings, Montana. Wide-open spaces and in the first part of August—hot. Teed off at 1, first slot available after a tournament in the morning at EagleRock Golf Course. The afternoon was wide open, at 94 degrees, no surprise. That’s OK, I will just work on my game and enjoy the beauty of the course. It has been an exceptionally wet spring/summer in Montana, so the course is emerald green. The fairways are open and forgiving, the greens interesting but not overly challenging, and the water not daunting.
EagleRock is a family-built, family-run labor of love. The vision started in the late 1980s, with a father and son’s dream of building a golf course. Opening to the public in 2003, this course has grown and become a gem in the Billings area.
The clubhouse is perched on a hill overlooking the course. The deck is perfect for taking in the sunset over the 19th hole. You might even have Bogey, the resident cat, snuggled in your lap. Thank you, Molly, for being so informative, delightful, and the best bartender!
EagleRock Golf Course
Tee Traveler rating: B
Links course, wide fairways. Friendly staff. Nice, on-course facilities. Clubhouse is beautiful.
CS rating: 4
Welcoming to a single woman walk-on. Friendly staff.
Next stop, Medora, North Dakota.
Medora is a small (132 population) tourist town in western North Dakota. With Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Little Missouri National Grassland adjacent to this town, the tourist population explodes in the summer.
Bully Pulpit Golf Course sits on its own platform at the edge of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The rugged mountains of the Badlands surround the area. The front nine play in woodlands and meadows, following the Little Missouri River, while the back nine propels you into the Badlands themselves. The elevation changes up to 200 feet in just three holes leading into the buttes, allowing some of the most dramatic views and challenging holes.
While ascending for holes 13 and 14, I continued to be amazed at the views and the steep cart path, trying desperately to keep my eyes on the path—certainly no sign for “cart path only” was needed up here. Then, there it was, the pinnacle—the 15th hole. It is touted as one of the most photographed and perhaps most terrifying par-3s in golf. I watch as the group in front of me sends several balls into the Badlands. After they finish the hole, I am up, standing on the small tee platform looking down at the green. It is only 94 yards away; however, it is hit the green or nothing. And of course, I have a gallery looking on, taking pictures of the hole and the views from the top. Hold my breath and swing… exhale, landing right on the green, close enough for a birdie. Sweet! I ended up parring the hole, but it was still an excellent feeling.
Bully Pulpit Golf Course
Medora, North Dakota
Tee Traveler rating: A
Definitely a standout for the scenic beauty of the course. Challenging holes need to be hit with precision; however, other holes are very forgiving with wide fairways.
CS rating: 4
Staff very welcoming. Excellent restrooms on the course.
Heading south to Hot Springs, my destination in South Dakota, to meet up with my brother and his wife. They were on their own journey, RVing from Las Vegas to spend some time on the East Coast. The Hot Springs stop for them was to visit Mount Rushmore National Park and do some hiking in Custer State Park. They had told me I would be running into motorcycle traffic along my route, because I was passing by Sturgis, SD. Indeed, the closer I came to Sturgis, the number of motorcycles was staggering. It was as if Sturgis was the hive and the queen was calling in all her followers. For the last 79 years, Sturgis has hosted a 10-day motorcycle rally. Events, contests, and concerts all 10 days, drawing an average of 500,000. I was not one of them, I was in South Dakota to golf.
Just outside of Hot Springs sits Southern Hills Golf Course. I had made a 2 p.m. tee time with GolfNow, just the second time I had used the service. It was a “Hot Deal” that flashed up when I was researching courses around Hot Springs. That morning the weather forecast was for threatening afternoon thunderstorms. Yikes. I don’t mind a little rain on the course, but “threatening thunderstorms” was not a pretty picture. I decided to go to the course early and see if I could change the tee time—I was willing to pay the extra fee from my “hot deal” price.
The clubhouse was empty, except for the person behind the counter. I explained my situation and she rather abruptly said, “I can’t help you; I have nothing to do with GolfNow, you have to contact them directly.” OK then. She did give me their number, which took me to a recording indicating any cancellations would have to be done online. Not wanting to deal with the hassle in the pro-shop, I told the lady behind the counter that I would just play now and pay full price and deal with GolfNow later. She did warm up a bit and told me it was a Monday special of play 18 and pay for 9. Great, off I go.
The course was nestled in pines trees and, as in North Dakota, the spring and summer had left behind lush grounds. The front 9 seemed nondescript and a little bland. Making the turn to 10, I climbed a bit to see the green below. A sign indicated “forward tees below,” so I drove back down to see where to tee off. Looked all over, retracing my tracks and still not finding the tee box. A little frustrated, I went on to No. 11.
The back 9 was more interesting and challenging. The biggest challenge was the layout—very confusing. But the weather was holding, and I parred a couple of holes, so I felt good. Coming back to the clubhouse around 1:45 with lovely blue skies and feeling good about my game, I decided to keep my original tee time and play 18 again. Hoped to join other golfers this time, but no luck on that. Quiet on the course on Mondays, I was told. Off I went, hoping to find the elusive forward No. 10 tee box. No such luck.
While I was putting my clubs in my car at the end of my second 18, I heard a couple talking about not finding tee boxes. At least it wasn’t just me.
Southern Hills Golf Course
Hot Springs, South Dakota
Tee Traveler rating: B-
The beckoning part of this rating would be the majestic, log cabin clubhouse and the setting of pines trees around the course. However, the confusing layout took away from what could be a very enjoyable experience. There were interesting holes, challenging for good players and tame enough for beginners.
CS rating: 3
Although the woman behind the counter did warm up a bit, I didn’t get the feeling she cared whether I played the course or not.
One more stop on this leg of Tee Travels. Mountain Shadows Golf Course in Gering, Nebraska. The fairways and greens on this municipal course were in good condition. The layout was flat and quite simple; the redeeming factor was the view of Scottsbluff National Monument, a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail. One other distinguishing feature was on hole No. 6; the green was blind, so instead of having a bell to ring, there was a periscope on the tee box.
Mountain Shadows Golf Course
Tee Traveler rating: C
Nice course in good condition.
CS rating: 3
Next Tee Travels – still in the planning stage. Recommendations welcome!
RATING SYSTEM REMINDER
Tee Traveler ratings
A = Amazing – A definite stand out for various reasons
B = Beckoning – Draws you in for various reasons
C = Common – A “go-to course, nothing stands out”
D = Don’t bother!
CS (Congeniality Scale) for Single Woman Walk-On
1= Do Not Enter
2-3-4= Somewhere in between
5= Red Carpet