Cattle to Golf
December 29, 2008
By Dave Reese
Deer Lodge's Rock Creek Cattle Co. combines golf with a cattle operationWATCH THE VIDEO>>
Montana - the name itself implies a frontier way of life, where cowboys and cattle ranchers plied a living from the land. In a valley rimmed by majestic mountain peaks and sprawling fields of cattle ranches and hay crops, a new development is taking place. Here, the not just cattle, it's golf and relaxation.
For over a century, the Deer Lodge Valley has been home to dozens of cattle ranches, and that tradition of Montana ranching continues here. But for one of Montana's wealthiest men, Bill Foley, the valley is now home to a high-end golf course and home development called Rock Creek Cattle Co.
Foley purchased the historic Rock Creek Cattle Company several years ago, and he still runs it as a cattle operation, but in a deep valley just down the road from the main cattle ranch, the Rock Creek Cattle Co. development is taking shape.
Bill Foley at his Rock Creek Cattle Co./Dave Reese photo
The development features an 18-hole golf course designed by noted course architect Tom Doak. The design is a example of craftsmanship, and the course is a model for superb playability. Foley chose Doak for his ability to create superb courses of world-class caliber. Doak has created courses around the world, from New Zealand and Australia to North Carolina.
Doak is a minimalist architect who used the flow of the land to dictate his designs. Rock Creek Cattle Co.'s golf course is sure to become a legend among courses in Montana. It has a feel unlike any other course in Montana, and much of that is due to the topography and natural surroundings, as well as Doak's design. The holes flow from links-style fairways with tall, flowing grasses in the rough, to tighter fairways lined by tall Ponderosa pine.
"You really have three golf courses here," Foley said.
Set against the backdrop of the Flint Creek mountain range, the scenery is inspiring, and Doak was given a colorful palette of landscape to work with. "Doak came out and fell in love with it," Foley said.
Doak spent almost two months on site, working on the design before the course opened in summer 2008.
High-end homes being built along the course are designed in a rustic Montana fashion, giving them the look of having been there for decades. They give the development a unique sense of style.
Set on a bench overlooking a tumbling creek, a lodge and restaurant give owners a place to congregate, enjoy a meal or a cocktail and to share stories of the day - whether they're from fly fishing on nearby rivers and streams or telling stories of their golf game.
Foley, like Doak, saw the possibilities of a great course unfolding on the ridges and valleys of the land on the Rock Creek Cattle Co. ranch. "When I came out here and saw the way the creek was flowing, with the Flint Creek Range in the background, and the creek flowing out the valley to Clark Fork River, I just felt it was a place for a golf course," Foley said. "It would be a unique setting and difficult course to play, in terms of scoring, but it's just unique. There's so much variety."
The development is far from any major roads, and only a long, twisting dirt road leads you into the golf course. The development is remote and secluded, offering owners a place far from the bustle of city life. For Foley, getting there means flying in ... by helicopter .
Deer Lodge, a quiet Montana town with only a few amenities, is about a 20 minute drive away.
"It's a place where I wanted friends to be able to come out here and enjoy the land," Foley said, "fishing, hunting and playing golf, and just hanging out. It's really not a real estate development in the true sense of the word."
Rock Creek Cattle Co. has 225 lots and cabin sites, and Foley has instituted a pricing system that gives Montana residents a break on their membership prices.
"We're not trying to be exclusive," Foley said. "We're just try to fit a lot of down-to-earth, friendly guys and women into a single community."
The Rock Creek development is one of several businesses that Foley, one of America's wealthiest men, owns in Montana. He also owns a statewide restaurant group that includes MacKenzie River Pizza Co., as well as Whitefish Mountain Resort, a ski and summer resort in Whitefish.
Foley grew up on a cattle ranch in the Texas panhandle where his family settled in the 1840s. He said he fondly remembers "hanging out on the ranch property with its wide open spaces, freedom and solitude." After several years of looking at Montana ranches, Foley discovered Rock Creek Cattle Company and as soon as it became available in November 2004 he bought it.
Foley is the founder of Fidelity National Financial Corporation, a publicly traded, Fortune 500 Company. A provider of title insurance, specialty insurance and claims management services, Fidelity was selected in 2004 by Forbes as one of the "26 Best Managed Companies in the U.S." and has repeatedly been named to Fortune's list of America's Most Admired Companies, Forbes' list of America's Best Big Companies and has been selected for Barron's list of Best Companies for Investors.
After receiving his B.S. degree in engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Foley served in the U.S. Air Force, where he attained the rank of Captain. He received an M.B.A. degree from Seattle University and earned his J.D. degree in 1974 from The University of Washington School of Law. From 1974 to 1984, Foley practiced law in Arizona.
For Foley, the Rock Creek Cattle Co. development offers him a chance to preserve a working cattle ranch in the Deer Lodge valley, while also delivering a high-end home and golf course development to people seeking a remote, quiet place to play golf or simply relax.
"I love Montana," he said. "It's the way America used to be. You're up here with really honest, straightforward individuals. It's like where I grew up. You can believe them and trust them.
"I love that, and that's why I'm investing in a lot of different businesses up here, but for fun - because usually when you're having fun, you make a little money too."