Explore some of Montana's best nine hole golf courses
Story and photo by Dave Reese/Montana Living
"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 of 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.
Cameron Nine/Buffalo Hill Golf Club, Kalispell
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.
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.
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.
Information: 756-4530 or 888-342-6319
On the Net: www.golfbuffalohill.com
The 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.
The Lake Nine/Eagle Bend, Bigfork, Montana
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.
Rivers Bend Golf Course/Thompson Falls, Montana
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, Montana
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.
Glacier Park Lodge Golf Course/East Glacier, Montana
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.
Highlands Golf Club/Missoula, Montana
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.
Signal Point Golf Course/Fort Benton, Montana
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.
Silver Fox Golf Course/Pablo, Montana
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: silverfoxgolf.com
University Of Montana Golf Course/Missoula, Montana
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.