Kennewick, Washington-based John Steidel has designed home state courses Apple Tree Golf Club in Yakima, Eaglemont Golf Club in Mount Vernon, Lynnwood Municipal Golf Club in Lynnwood, and Riverbend Golf Club in Kent. He also created the Wildhorse Resort Golf Course in Pendleton, Oregon.
In the summer of 1982 I was inspecting the construction of my new, nine-hole Marian Hills Golf Course in Malta, Montana (population 2,367). It was being built for and by rancher Mark Niebur and his family, along with a friend who had a scraper and one guy who helped install irrigation.
In those days I would go anywhere and do anything to do or get work. Malta is about a four-hour drive northwest of Great Falls on U.S. Highway 2, which is referred to locally as being along “the Highline.” I often reached this project by taking Amtrak’s Empire Builder from my office in Tri-Cities, Washington to Malta: a not-so-convenient, overnight, fourteen-hour trip each way. The eastbound train dropped me off at 1 p.m.; twenty-four hours later I would catch the westbound train home. One consolation was enjoying breakfast and dinner while riding through the Rockies and crossing the continental divide just south of Glacier National Park.
That summer, seventy-five miles to the west, some golfers in Chinook, Montana (pop.1,660), heard Malta was getting a golf course. Somehow they contacted me, so I agreed to come over to meet with them after one of my Malta inspections. They wanted to talk about dramatically upgrading their nine-hole course, which was without irrigation and had oiled-sand greens.
On the day I was supposed to leave Malta and travel to Chinook it was hot: nearly 100 degrees. I had decided to take the bus over to Chinook, so my Malta clients dropped me and my bags off, just before noon, at the Missouri Valley Stage Lines bus pickup spot: Mustang Lanes. It was a six-lane bowling alley where it seemed like smoking was mandatory.
“Your bus is late,” I was told by the counter attendant. He didn’t say how late, so I waited, but it was a hell of a choice: should I wait inside a stuffy, smoky bowling alley with no air conditioning, or sit outside where it probably was 100-degrees in the shade?
I went back and forth.
One o’clock became two o’clock, so I started to worry about missing my 5:30 meeting, but around 2:30 the other would-be passengers and I were told the bus was almost here and that we should wait outside.
Then, all of a sudden, there it was: the bus, which looked awfully like two late model sedans, one of which was pulling a U-Haul trailer. Although I was hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, at least I was on my way and it seemed like I was going to be on time.
After an hour of driving thru the nothingness that is most of that part of Montana, we stopped, without discussion, in Harlem, Montana (pop. 1,023).
After our fifteen-minute stop, we drove fifteen more miles west to Chinook, where I was dropped off on what seemed like the edge of town – though that was hard to ascertain. It was now thirty minutes before my meeting and there I stood, hot and sweaty on the side of US 2, lugging my briefcase, suitcase, and slide projector containing my presentation. I was wearing slacks, a short sleeve shirt and tie, and had my sport coat under my arm. I probably looked suspiciously like a missionary or Bible salesman, and most definitely an out-of-towner.
Fortunately, I came across a car dealership, which was the first good thing to happen that afternoon. I ducked into the showroom and asked one of the salesmen where the golf course was located. One of the guys at the dealership told me it was “Men’s Night” and, since he was just leaving for the course, he would give me a ride to the course.
The golf course a bit out of town near a place called Milk River. I would not have found it myself, and certainly would never have reached it on foot. It was a pretty site, though, with a small, very modest clubhouse on a hill. Only the trees were green – the rest of the course was brown since there was no irrigation. The course wasn’t much, but was worth the $40 per year they charged the members.
Men’s Night was nine holes of league play followed by beer and burgers afterward. I was to be their entertainment.
As I tried to set up my presentation and regain some composure, fifty to sixty golfers left the clubhouse area for what was to be a shotgun start in the truest sense of the term. Most of the golfers just drove their pickups with clubs and more than a few loaded gun racks across the course to their appointed tees, where they awaited a shotgun blast from someone near the clubhouse to signal the start of the round!
After the beer and burgers I finally got to make my presentation. The members seemed to be impressed by the greenness of my courses, and that I’d hung sheets to darken the room and create a screen for my slide projector.
I did some preliminary design work for them that fall and winter, and after eight tries I came up with a pretty decent layout for them. My cost estimate was minimal. It included green sand that was to be purchased for $1 per-yard and trucked to the course for free on weekends by the National Guard. But in 1983 all the golfers of Chinook together couldn’t put together enough money for my minimal cost estimate for their golf course.
I didn’t hear again from anyone in Chinook for seventeen years, until one of my old contacts there called to get some information. He said the club officers might be calling me, but they never did.
I did hear, though, that sometime in the past eight years the golfers of Chinook, Montana, got their grass golf course, but I wasn’t part of it. I’ve never called or been back to Chinook, and I don’t know if they used my layout or not. I don’t even if the course is on the same site, but I’m glad they got their course.