Montana's Best Nine Hole Golf Courses
Posted on 11 March 2016
The Cameron Nine at Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell.
Story and photo by Dave Reese
"Let's just play nine holes."
The comment from a playing partner was a bit of a letdown, as we'd planned to play a full round 18 holes. Golf is meant to be played over 18 holes ... or so they say, but time constraints sometimes force golfers to reduce their allotted playing time to nine holes. A nine-hole is kind of a condensed version of a full round where you don't have the luxury of improving over each hole, honing your swing or getting rid of the putting yips.
Nine-hole golf courses have usually stood in the shadows of their larger, 18-hole brethren. Not the case at several courses in Montana, where you can challenge every level of your game. The nine-hole courses were typical of farming communities in Montana, where volunteers banded together in a community effort to build a golf course. There were reasons why only nine holes were built in the first place; often times, the ranchers and farmers didn't have the luxury of spending time to play a full 18 holes.
The Cameron Nine at Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell is one example of old-style design that is fun to play.
Built in the early 1940s, the course is a throwback in course design. With small, pushed-up greens, many of them with two levels, the course puts a premium on putting. Although the Cameron Nine stands next to Buffalo Hill's championship 18 holes, the nine-hole track gets its own fair share of play. Many people use the course as a tune-up before their 18-hole round on the Championship Course. And the Cameron is even used in Buffalo Hill's club championship and popular Labor Day tournament.
"It's just a great little course," superintendent Jon Heselwood said. "It gets a lot of play."
Indeed, this course is where you're likely to see the widest demographics of golfers: from loggers to lawyers and children, everyone is comfortable - and welcome - on the nine-hole track.
The Cameron Nine would be an excellent starting nine for any 18-hole course. Tall, mature trees line each fairway, and while there's very little OB and water, you still have to be on your game to score well.
The course's older greens, that tend to firm up over the summer, get faster as the summer - and more foot traffic - hardens them.
After two par-fours along the top of Buffalo Hill, a knoll overlooking Kalispell, you drop down into the valley floor with two consecutive par-threes. The first is a downhill 198-yarder, while the second stretches your tee shot at just over 251 yards. Hitting this green is a feat unto itself.
The toughest test of this nine is the 432-yard par-four. It's the No. 1 handicap hole for good reason.
It's the longest hold of the course. Your drive needs to reach a knoll about 270 yards out, or you're faced with a blind shot to the difficult, two-tiered green. There's out of bounds right and trees down the left.
One of the easiest chances of birdie on this course is No. 7, a 418-yard par-five. Getting to the green in two or three is easy enough, if you have a good drive and second shot, but the two-tiered green can quickly wreak havoc on what would have been birdie or par.
Two fairly straightaway par-fours cap off your round on the Cameron course. You'll leave this course with a better respect for nine-hole courses; it forces you to think, hit fairways and putt well.
So next time you're in Kalispell and have time for "just nine holes," head up to Buffalo Hill for an enjoyable and challenging round on the Cameron Nine.
The course is basically intact to its original design, although holes one and nine were modified somewhat to accommodate a driving range.
"It's a very challenging course," says head professional Dave Broeder. "You definitely have to be accurate on approach to the greens."
The greens are typical of early course design; small and pushed up, many with two levels. This makes approach shots more demanding. The style was used because of ease of construction. Basically, mounds of dirt were put in place and moved until they resembled a putting surface. "They had the material and basically pushed it into position," Broeder says. "These older courses tended to take the land the way it was without doing a lot of earth moving. They did the most with the materials at hand."
Information: 756-4530 or 888-342-6319
On the Net: www.golfbuffalohill.com
Old Course/Polson Country Club, Polson
Similar in many ways to Buffalo Hill's Cameron Nine, the original nine at Polson Country Club is a great challenge of golf in a spectacular scenic setting.
In fact both courses were built about the same time, in the early 1930s, as well as Whitefish Lake Golf Club's first nine, by the federal government's Works Progress Administration.
There's no disputing that this nine holes is one of the most unique and challenging nine-hole courses in Montana. The fairways are lined with Ponderosa pine trees and they tilt gently toward Flathead Lake, which shimmers just to the north of the course. The course gives you plenty of downhill and sidehill lies, making approach shots a challenge. With the beautiful scenery surrounding Polson's original nine holes - one of the oldest in the Flathead Valley - the original nine at Polson Country Club offers an enjoyable round and a taste of history.
The nine holes complements Polson's Championship 18.
On the Net: www.polsoncountryclub.com
The Lake Nine/Eagle Bend, Bigfork
What was once a part of Eagle Bend's original 18 holes has become one of Montana's top nine-hole courses.
The Lake Nine at Eagle Bend looks like no other golf course in Montana, let alone a nine-hole course. Designed by William Hull, the Lake Nine meanders along the north shore of Flathead Lake and the mouth of the Flathead River.
The course requires accuracy off the tee, as most of the fairways have forests or water alongside them.
Information: 837-7310 or 800-255-5641.
On the Net: www.golfmt.com
Rivers Bend, Thompson Falls
The nine-hole course at the Rivers Bend Golf Course in Thompson Falls features all the hallmarks of Montana golf - tall mountains, a wide river and plenty of scenery and wildlife to keep you occupied. The golf course opened in 1965.
Cabinet View Country Club, Libby
Cabinet View Country Club is a challenging course, probably topping Buffalo Hill's Cameron Nine as a tough nine-hole test.
Cabinet View rewards length off the tee and short game ingenuity with its elevated greens. The course is on the outskirts of Libby at the base of the scenic Cabinet Mountains.
It plays to a par of 72 with two trips around the nine-hole course. The course opens with a straightaway par 5 of 503 yards, but the course gets gradually tougher, starting at the third hole, a demanding par 3 across a ravine to a small, sloping green. That is followed by several lengthy, tree-lined par 4s.
Length of the course is 3,015 yards on the front nine and 3,236 on the back.
Cabinet View's amenities include a driving range and practice green, pro shop, snack bar, lounge and deck. The course is open April through October.
On the Net: www.libbymt.com
Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course
You'll get a taste of history and a shot of beautiful scenery by playing the historic Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course in East Glacier.
The Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course is the oldest grass-greens golf course in Montana. The course was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1927.
Legend has it that soon after the course was built, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones frequented it and called the par-36, nine-hole golf course one of their favorite courses. Glacier Park Lodge is as spectacular as the golf course.
This hotel, steeped in the history and culture of the Great Northern Railway and the Blackfoot Indians, is nestled at the foot of Dancing Lady Mountain, where guests can not only play a round of golf, but take a swim in the outdoor, heated pool or enjoy nature trails on horseback.
This golf course is within the boundary of the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, and all nine holes are named after former chiefs of the Blackfoot Nation.
Magnificent views, undulating greens, wide fairways and friendly people make playing golf at Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The course winds through aspen and tall fescue, combining aspects of a links course with the traditional elements of a Montana mountain course. The course features spectacular views of Glacier Park to the west and the open grassland of the prairie to the east. Golf carts are available.
On the Net: www.bigtreehotel.com.
Highlands Golf Club, Missoula
The Highlands golf club winds its way along the hills overlooking the Missoula Valley.
The longest hole at Highlands is the 465-yard No. 2, one of Montana's longest par-fours and one of seven par-fours on the course.
The first hole starts off downhill, and throughout the rest of the test you're faced with a variety of downhill and sidehill lies.
On the Net: www.shadowskeep.com
Signal Point, Fort Benton
Two trips around this course stretch over 7,000 yards, making it one of the longest nine-hole courses in Montana.
The course was designed by Norman H. Woods and built in 1969. It was recently re-designed to include new forward tee boxes. Signal Point is a classic style golf course featuring large, undulating and well-bunkered greens. The fairways are long and wide and guarded by trees and demanding rough areas, placing a premium on well placed shots. Should the wind come up, the course takes on a completely different face, offering new and different challenges on every hole.
Signal Point Golf Club offers well designed holes. From the par three 4th hole which plays to a yardage of 152 yards, over water, to a bunkered, tree-guarded green, to the par-five ninth hole, at 514 yards with a blind tee shot, players are offered some of the best holes in the area.
Frontier Road House Resort, Kalispell
The Frontier Road House Resort is a par-30 executive golf course five miles east of Kalispell.
The course stretches 1,446 yards from the back tees and is a test of accuracy rather than distance. Bent-grass greens and bluegrass fairways highlight this delightful little course at the base of the Swan Mountains. Frontier Road House Resort's six par-3 and three par-4 holes can be played in 1 1/2 hours or less. It's an easy course to walk, but motor carts are available.
Formerly Mountain Crossroads golf club, Frontier Road House Resort also features a well-appointed restaurant with a large deck overlooking the golf course. The course itself has three par fours and six par threes. The greens are gently undulating with breaks that put a premium on putting. Frontier Road House Resort offers a relaxing alternative for beginners and a challenging mid-iron test for the lower handicappers.
The par-4 holes give players the chance to haul out their woods and gamble on making a straight tee shot, including the 280-yard eighth, which requires a 210-yard carry over the creek and through some lofty Ponderosa pines. "You can try to fly the creek or lay up, or you can drive the hole if you can hit a tee shot more than 210 yards," course manager Rick Paulson said.
Tee times: 755-0111
Buckwood Country Club, Eureka
Buckwood Country Club is a new nine-hole course built on the outskirts of Eureka on U.S. 93. Buckwood, located at the Silverado motel, opened in 2002. It's an executive course that stretches over 1,285 yards.
The area next to the Silverado Motel had been a rock- and knapweed-infested field for years before owners Donna and Brian McCully decided to put in one golf hole.
It's a golf country club in the purest sense of the term. Horses graze nearby, and the Whitefish mountain range towers in the background. At this country club, you're more likely to see Ford and Chevy pickups than Lincoln Town Cars. Across the highway from the course is a lumber mill. The Canadian border is only seven miles away.
Courses like Buckwood offer alternative golf for those who don't have the time or desire to play the full-size courses. Par-3 courses are excellent places for beginners who are comfortable with their basic swing, and they also provide opportunities for more accomplished golfers to fine-tune their short game.
Silver Fox, Pablo
ONE OF Northwest Montana's newest courses is Silver Fox, on the Salish Kootenai College campus in Pablo.
The executive nine-hole course has three par-4s that average about 245 yards, and plays up to par of 32. The course plays through tight fairways notched out of stands of ponderosa pines and thick brush. Elevated greens, rock walls and ponds, all at the foothills of the Mission Mountains, make the course attractive. Well-grown greens and fairways make it enjoyable to play.
The course is on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The course was a project of the Salish/Kootenai College and is used as a student golf facility, but it is also open to the public. It is the only tribally owned golf course in the United States.
On the Net: www.silverfoxgolf.com
University Of Montana Golf Course, Missoula
Some of Missoula's top players got their start at the UM Golf Course in Missoula.
Set along the base of Mount Sentinel, the course meanders through tall cottonwood, pine and manmade water hazards. There are holes where you can "grip it and rip it," and other holes that require a little more delicacy off the tee box.
One of Missoula's oldest golf courses, UM has a constant following of golfers.
Zahara Valley, Great Falls
There's a desert growing on the outskirts of Great Falls.
No, it's not the result of several years of drought in Montana - it's the new Zahara Valley Golf Club, an 18-hole golf course and development that are being built in the spirit of a Troon desert course.
The Zahara family of Great Falls bought the 130 acres and nine holes from the Gannon Ranch in December 2005, and quickly got to work on refurbishing the development. A new nine holes are being added this summer, as well as waterfalls and creeks on the desert-like design. Joey Zahara designed the new nine, and this will be the first course to his credit.
The front nine - the only nine currently open at Zahara Valley - plays to a par of 36 on 3,421 yards. Designed by Carl Theussen, the front nine opened in 2001.
"It plays pretty tough," Zahara said. One of the course's signature holes is the par-three No. 3, a 171-yarder that plays through tall trees.
For a nine-hole course, there is plenty of distance to challenge you, including a 470-yard par-four.
There are no homes at Zahara Valley golf club, which sits on the banks of the Missouri River about six miles southwest of Great Falls, but that's soon to change. A housing development with over 150 single-family homes and condos will start selling this fall.
Zahara Valley golf club is being built in response to the growing golf market in Great Falls. There are three public municipal courses and one private course, Meadow Lark Country Club, in Great Falls.
With an unusual design and a housing development to help finance the course, Zahara Valley will likely find a popular niche in Great Falls.
"Great Falls is growing," said Zahara, who grew up there. "This is going to turn out nice."