Montana is not a State that naturally springs to mind when thinking about golf. It’s more likely that Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn will feature foremost in your thoughts. It seems poignant therefore that Montana’s first truly world-class golf course should be constructed on part of the historic Grant-Kohrs Ranch that once extended to around ten million Montanan acres.
The original Grant-Kohrs Ranch was subdivided over the years. In 1971, a Kansas City businessman bought 28,000 acres at Deer Rock, naming the property “Rock Creek Cattle Company” and it was sold in 2004 to Texan, Bill Foley, who founded the financial services company Fidelity National.
Bill Foley is not shy to point out that he is “an accomplished golfer, who was ranked in 2004 by Golf Digest as one of top five executive golfers in the world”. Consequently, careful thought was required to decide which architect to appoint to design his golf course.
Most owners in Foley’s position would have selected Jack Nicklaus or Tom Fazio or perhaps one of the Joneses, but Foley selected Tom Doak who has carved a very different niche through minimalism and less is more as a guiding design philosophy. If you are serious about golf course rankings, then you need an architect who has a track record and Tom Doak has more designs in our World Top 50 than any other living architect.
The Tom Doak-designed golf course at Rock Creek Cattle Company opened for play in 2008, competing with the 10,000-foot backdrop of the sometimes snow-capped but always dramatic Flint Creek Mountain Range. “Only an exceptional golf course could hope to vie for attention with the natural wonders of the Rock Creek property and of greater Montana,” commented Doak. Who could argue? This is a most glorious location for golf.
Measuring 7,466 yards from the backs and 5,445 yards from the forward tees, Rock Creek Cattle Co caters for golfers of all abilities and despite nice changes in elevation, it’s designed for walking, with green and next tee situated a short pitch away. Routed meticulously across 350 acres of rugged, rock-strewn terrain with Rock Creek itself coming into play – with an occasional fly fisherman for company – this is modern golfing in its most natural form.
In 2017, Eric Iverson and Tom returned to Deer Lodge to alter the 18th hole by moving the green such that the creek comes into play when taking this par five on in two.
Owner Bill Foley allowed Tom Doak to site his golf course anywhere on Foley's 30,000 acre ranch and Doak picked out a fine site. The splendid mountain scenery adds to the experience, but the golf would be excellent in any location.
I found the par 4s to be the course's greatest strength. Time and again, Doak gives the player a wide fairway with a definite better side to set up the approach. Once on the green, the real challenge begins, with exceptionally contoured greens. Some have suggested the contours are excessive, but I found the speed reasonable enough to make for a proper challenge.
The course is configured in one large loop, with the front nine climbing to the highest point on the course and the back taking the player to the lowest spot--the 17th green--before a gentle climb up the final fairway. Doak is in the process of moving that green closer to the Rock Creek, so it will be interesting to see how the course plays after that alteration.
Rock Creek Cattle Company may have been built for walking, but a lovely walk in the park it is not. The trips from green to tee are excessive.........which probably accounts for the fact that the vast majority of rounds are played in carts. That, however, is the only shortcoming I found.