18-hole golf course is under
construction at the Baltrusch ranch
Havre Daily News Sports
You can't hear it and most people certainly haven't seen it this spring, or even last summer and fall. But make no mistake about it, the construction of Havre's first 18-hole golf course is well under way.
Five miles east of North Havre and a mile south of Shepherd Road on the Baltrusch Land and Cattle Co. ranch, brothers Greg and Gary Baltrusch, along with Dan Wagner of Wagner Plumbing and Brett Gilman are busy constructing Prairie Farms Golf Course. The future 18-hole layout is set along the scenic Milk River and will eventually wind through what's now a wheat field and into rolling hills and back again. The site is prime golf course real estate with quality soil, mature cottonwood trees and a landscape they said just begs to be used as a challenging layout for golfers.
"We have talked about the idea of building a golf course for over 20 years," Greg Baltrusch said. "I play a lot of golf with Jimmy Kato and he always told me someday. We would ride four-wheelers down in that area and just think about what a great spot it would be for a course."
The possibility of actually building the course really didn't take shape until about five years ago, said Wagner, who admits that he had been designing the course in his head for years while hunting in the area every fall.
"We really started talking seriously about it and getting excited about the idea about five years ago," he said. "All of us would be golfing together in Phoenix and we would start talking about it and the idea really just started coming together."
Timing is everything and Baltrusch agrees the time is right for a venture of this magnitude.
"Well, golf has exploded everywhere in the last few years," he said. "I just think that Havre deserves an 18-hole golf course because golf has certainly become very big here."
And with that, the trio went to work. The first major decision came when the group decided against hiring a professional architect to design the course. Wagner put his plans on paper, with the help of tools like twine and a GPS system. And the group began laying out and measuring the future front nine. Then came Gilman. Gilman is the former superintendent at Beaver Creek Golf Course, where he was in charge of the grounds from 1996 to 2004. He grew up working and playing on the Airport Golf Club in Wolf Point. Hiring Gilman was a major step in the process and one he admits was too enticing to pass up.
"It was very hard for me to leave my job at Beaver Creek," Gilman said. "But this was a unique opportunity and one I just couldn't pass up. Few superintendents build the course they are going to work on and that experience is priceless."
The three original partners agree that Gilman was the key final piece to the puzzle.
"We all have skills and knowledge and resources that make this work," Baltrusch said. "But without Brett, none of this could have happened. He has just done an amazing job, and when it comes to golf courses, he is the expert."
Even with their various backgrounds, getting started wasn't the easiest task. They have had outside help along the way.
"The Peaks and Prairies Golf Course Superintendent Association had a lot of members who were a big help to us in the beginning," Gilman said. "But Tom Russell of Marias Valley in Shelby was one guy who really helped us out a lot. He was instrumental in pointing us in the right direction when we started and he is as knowledgeable as anyone because he has been through this process himself."
The construction phase
With a lot of earth dug up and a lot of heavy machinery everywhere, a less knowledgeable person might not understand just how far the process has come. Greg and Gary Baltrush and Dan Wagner began clearing massive, 100-year-old cottonwood trees in the fall of 2003. The crew worked throughout most of the winter of that year, measuring, mapping, clearing and detailing the area to prepare for the construction phase.
That phase basically began when Gilman joined the mix in May of 2004.
A year later, Gilman says the construction phase of the front nine holes is basically complete. The fairways are cleared, greens and tees are built, all necessary trees have been removed and bridges have been constructed.
"We are basically into the irrigation phase of building the course now," Gilman said. "We have dug our irrigation pond and installed a good portion of our irrigation system. Now we are finishing that system and then reshaping everything."
While Gilman doesn't have a timeline for exactly when the seeding of the front nine will take place, he has the type of grass picked out. Once that part of the project is complete, it will be only a matter of time before Prairie Farms will be officially open for business.
"Once we finish seeding and fertilizing we can move on to the aesthetic phase of the front nine," Gilman said. "Building our clubhouse, installing bunkers, installing cart paths and things like that. It is a lengthy process but one that is coming along pretty well right now."
Gary Baltrusch said he is astonished by Gilman's progress.
"This has pretty much been Brett's baby the last year," Baltrusch said. "It is just amazing how much he has gotten done. Things are coming along really nicely."
It's difficult to put a price tag on the project since the partners have done so much of the work.
"We realized we could only really do this if we did it ourselves," Baltrusch said. "Had we invested in an architect we would have been $200,000 in the hole right away. It is tough to put a financial figure on things right now but we do know that we are saving a lot of money by doing it ourselves."
When the front nine is close to opening for business, Gilman intends to immediately get to work on the back nine. While the front nine holes feature a wooded area, the back nine holes are laid out in a wheat field and will wind through nearby hills. That use of the landscape offers the group an opportunity to build an 18-hole course that features two distinctly different nine-hole sides.
"When the front nine is done, we will have what looks like a very mature golf course because of the trees and the natural landscape that we used," Gilman said. "We kept a lot of the natural terrain just as it has always been because the course just laid itself out so nicely."
That is just how Wagner imagined it.
"Every time I was down there, I could always see where I wanted to put certain holes," he said. "Yes, we had to move some trees, but everything just laid out really naturally and it came together really nicely."
The future of Prairie Farms will benefit from the architectural work of Greg's son Nate. Nate Baltrusch recently graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman with a master's degree in architecture and he will oversee the construction of all the courses' buildings.
A clubhouse will be built immediately. After the clubhouse and pro shop are open, the second phase will feature a large building that will house a banquet hall and reception area. The third phase will be the course's cart storage facility. All of the buildings will reflect the course's agricultural theme.
"You're going to see agriculture all over this golf course," Gilman said. "We're going to have old antique farm equipment out on the course, and the buildings will look like they belong on a farm or ranch."
Said Greg Baltrusch: "We're doing this for the community of Havre, but we have always had the agricultural community in mind. That is part of the foundation of our family and a big part of our community, and we want to give them, as well as all golfers, a great course to play on when they can."
Gilman is willing to put a date on when the entire 18-hole facility will be operational.
"I would like to have all 18 holes up and running by the year 2008," Gilman said. "Once we get the front nine going, the back nine will go pretty quickly, as well as all of the buildings and the other things we have to get done."
While all four bring varying skills and backgrounds to the project, they all love the game of golf. And their devotion to the community is a driving force behind the project.
"Building an 18-hole golf course in Havre can mean a lot of different things for our community," Greg Baltrusch said. "We could host bigger tournaments like state high school and college golf tournaments. Having a bigger golf course will give more people the chance to play golf on a regular basis, especially young people. And hopefully this will bring people into the community from other areas, people who like to travel to play golf. And that can only be good for our entire community."
Said Wagner: "I think Havre is growing economically and this course is part of that growth. It is something that hopefully everyone can enjoy."