Golf on the Hi-Line: Part Two
All golf courses undergo some changes over the years. Sometimes it’s renovations, sometimes it’s expansions and sometimes it’s just little simple adjustments.
But perhaps no golf course on the Hi-Line has undergone as many major changes as the Chinook Golf Club throughout its interesting history.
The fabled Chinook course, located just west of Chinook, has always been an interesting 9-hole public facility. From it’s roots, the course has always been truly open to the public. For many years, golfers would simply pull up to the coarse, get their golf clubs out of the trunk or truck, leave a donation in a mail box and go play nine holes with majestic views of the Bear Paw Mountains in the background.
But while things and times have certainly changed at Chinook over the years, the honor system, and the views haven’t.
Over the last couple of decades, three big changes have been made to Chinook’s course. The first was the renovation of the greens. For many years, Chinook’s track was the same as it is now, save for the putting surfaces, which were sand. The addition of true grass green complexes many years ago certainly helped Chinook become a much more playable and traditional golf course.
Next came the installation of an irrigation system. Like many golf courses back in the day, Chinook was watered with above-ground sprinklers, and in the dry and hot Montana summers, it was difficult to keep the course, especially the expansive fairway, and native grass rough areas consistently moist and green. But the installation of a modern irrigation system helped propel the Chinook golf club into the future and with the course fully watered, it became a beautiful nine-hole layout from June until closing time in the fall.
And the last major change to Chinook was the addition of a permanent clubhouse. Chinook has always been home to many fun and competitive golf tournaments, as well as golf leagues, but the addition of a clubhouse certainly gave the course, and its patrons, a better atmosphere to enjoy golf.
Yes, the Chinook Golf Club has always been a unique, fun and challenging golf course. But three major upgrades over the years have brought Chinook into the conversation as one of the top public courses in the area. It’s also one of the busiest public courses in the area, and it’s certainly one that should be on any local golfer’s play list.
Chinook Golf Club is a traditional par-36 layout with two par 3s and two par 5s. It measures 3,066 yards from the front-nine men’s tees, while it also has alternate back-nine tees for both men and women.
It isn’t an extraordinarily long golf course, though the prevailing winds can make many holes feel longer than they are. It’s is also wide open, though trees and bushes do guard fairways and green complexes, and it certainly has plenty of trouble. There is out-of-bounds and extensive lateral hazard areas, and rows and rows of Karaganda bushes line rough areas, and can truly make a golf ball disappear.
There aren’t many traditional water hazards at Chinook either, but don’t let that fool you There are plenty of challenging holes out there, including the straight, but lengthy, par-5 third hole, which measures 504 yards and plays gradually uphill all the way from tee to green. The par-4 eighth is also a bear, especially on a windy day. The hole measures 405 yards from the men’s tee and is a tough dogleg to the left. It requires a long tee shot, which sets up a tough approach to a difficult and sloped uphill green.
Chinook, which has majestic views of the Bear Paws to the south at almost every turn, also has two signature golf holes. The par-3 fifth holes is the second of back-to-back par-3s, and while it measures just 139 yards and plays straight downhill from an elevated tee, it rates much more difficult than it looks.
Standing on the fifth tee, it’s a beautiful sight, with mountain views and a green nestled below a hill. That makes the tee shot seem easy, but in fact, golfers routinely pick the wrong club and come up short. And short is bad, as the entire area is layered with lush and thick rough, leaving a difficult pitch back up to the green. Long or right is no good either because you’ll be trying to pitch off the back of or on the side of a hill, in the same rough, with an awkward stance. There’s also a deep pot bunker, reminiscent of a British Open course just right of the green. In other words, what looks like a beautiful and easy hole, can be anything but.
The finishing hole at Chinook is another wonder. The par-5 ninth hole measures just 480 yards, but has a 90-degree dogleg turn to the left. It then plays straight uphill to a small, multi-tiered green which is guarded by sand and dense rough. Eagles are out there for longer hitters who can cut the corner, but bogey or worse can come into play with a wayward tee shot as the entire left side of the whole is troubled with lateral hazards. And while the par-4 seventh hole may play the toughest on the scorecard, the finishing hole at Chinook Golf Club is one of the best in the area.
While many things have changed in Chinook over the years, the honor system for greens fees has not. Though Chinook does have a clubhouse, and does offer many different membership rates, and also hosts great tournaments like the Fireball, as well as women’s league on Mondays and men’s league on Wednesdays, it’s still using it’s unique system for daily fees.
No, golfers can’t just get out of their car and drop five bucks in the mailbox anymore, but they are expected to enter the clubhouse and pay the daily fees, via an envelope. The envelope has a box checked for nine or 18 holes, as well as cart fees. Chinook offers several electric rental carts, which are also part of the honor system. Members are also required to sign in before teeing off on the first hole.
So while things have certainly progressed at Chinook, with great upgrades which have made it one of the top, and most-liked, courses on the Hi-Line, the club has stuck to its roots. It’s greens fees system is still as unique as any golf course in Montana, it still has the feel of a course set out in the wide open and rural spaces of the Hi-Line, and the majestic beauty surrounding the course will never go away.
Yes, Chinook Golf Club has undergone many changes for the better. But one of the reasons it’s so great is, it’s kept all of its great traditions, and those traditions will ensure Chinook’s reputation as one of the most unique public courses in the state for many years to come.
Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a series of golf courses on the Hi-Line and courses of interest in the area. See next Monday's Havre Daily News for a story on the Harlem Golf Course.