Southwest Montana’s newest golf course sits in the shadows of a 585-foot smokestack, a reminder of the region’s mining past and signpost to its future.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the picturesque Old Works Golf Course 30 minutes west of Butte opened last month to the great expectations of its owners, the residents of Deer Lodge County. They hope golf brings back some of the prosperity supplied by the copper-smelting operation that once covered the land where the course now sits.
Nicklaus will return for dedication ceremonies on July 30.
In a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency, Atlantic Richfield Co. built the $11 million course and gave it to the community after spending $30 million to clean up the Superfund site. To reduce the threat from low-level contamination, ARCO capped the land with 2 inches of limestone and 16 inches of topsoil, and built a complicated drainage system.
ARCO saved a small fortune by building the Anaconda golf course. Company officials put the cost of waste removal as high as $65 million. Plus, the site is now considered a national model for Superfund projects.
After a century of enduring mine pollution, the land is blooming again.
Even non-golfers are coming to the $700,000 clubhouse to eat lunch and gaze at the incredible changes.
Eye-grabbing relics and ruins from the Old Works copper-smelting operation embellish this world-class facility. The most imposing is the fluffy black slag - a by-product of the smelting process - that fills some 50 bunkers. Two massive slag mounds four stories high line the fairway on the sixth hole.
Steve Wickliffe, director of golf at Old Works, calls the third, fourth and seventh holes the course’s signature holes.
Walls from immense stone furnaces line the left side of the fairway on the par-5 No. 3. The par-3 fourth hole features a rock furnace flue built into the hill behind the green.
The tee boxes on the par-3 seventh hole sit atop one of the huge mounds of slag, and the green below is fronted by a pond-sized bunker with islands of tall natural grass and scrub.
Each hole sports five tee markers, making the par-72 course play from 5,348 yards to 7,705 yards. “You won’t find 10 that long in the country,” Wickliffe says.
But, he notes, “The course is very playable for the high handicapper and the low handicapper.”
The well-manicured, rolling fairways force golfers to use all their shot-making skills. Errant balls that land in the knee-deep native grass off the fairways are tough to find and tougher to play. The course has few trees, and they’re a factor on only a couple holes on the back nine.
There aren’t too many water hazards. Trout-filled Warm Springs Creek, which rushes along the front nine, cuts through the 10th and 11th holes. A big pond comes into play on Nos. 13 and 16, and a small one protects the left side of the green on No. 5.
Putting can be a challenge. The average size of the bent-grass greens - massive and undulating expanses, a Nicklaus trademark - is 7,200 square feet. Pin placements can be a terror.
“Greens receive shots well, but they must be struck well,” Wickliffe says.
One of the course’s surprisingly fun features is the practice area, where players can aim at five elevated and bunkered greens at various distances from the tee. Plus, there are three practice holes - two par-4’s and a short par-3. It’s only $4 to play the practice holes.
Green fees are a bargain for a Nicklaus course: $28 Monday through Thursday; $33 Friday through Sunday and holidays. Carts are $24 for 18 holes. The rates drop after Sept. 14. Address: 1205 Pizzini Way, Anaconda. Phone: (406) 563-5989.
Other golf adventures
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is home to another fun 18-hole layout with great vistas, this one playing to 6,741 yards.
The open design is friendly to families and seniors, and there are bunkers and water hazards on only a handful of holes. But it still offers a challenge to the serious golfer, says resort general manager Ed Henrich.
The most demanding hole is No. 5, at 649 yards the longest in the state, Henrich says. “Nobody’s putted for eagle,” he says, but someone has holed out an approach shot for a three. (A pre-Tiger Woods sign down the fairway reads, “Hang in there, Tiger, only 200 yards to go.”)
On the third hole, the rectangular bent-grass green on the 189-yard par-3 measures a monstrous 10,000 square feet, but three tiers put a premium on the tee shot.
No. 18 is the most engaging, with a fountain pond bordered in flowers forcing a layup on the 387-yard par-4.
Green fees: $25 weekdays, $30 weekends; cart, $22. 1500 Fairmont Road (three miles off I-90). Phone: (406) 797-3241.
Other recreational opportunities include a well-manicured croquet course, sandy volleyball courts, a horseshoe pit, basketball, and horse rentals.
Room rates range from $99 for a standard room to $250 for a family suite. Reservations: (800) 332-3272.
Butte’s municipal layout, Highland View Golf Course, is a wide-open nine-hole affair with different tees for the back nine, measuring 6,249 yards. It also has a nine-hole par-three course.
Green fees: $10 weekdays, $12 weekends; cart, $18. 213 N. Montana. (406) 494-7900.
Anaconda Country Club, with some majestic old trees and a creek running through it, is another nineholer with two sets of tees that cover 6,223 yards.
Green fees: $18; cart, $16. 1 Country Club Lane, Opportunity. (406) 797-3220.
Deer Lodge Golf Club covers 3,200 yards in its nine holes.
Green fees: $15; cart, $15. 295 Golf Course Road (two miles west of Deer Lodge). (406) 846-1625.
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