- Architect: Tom Doak
- Build in 2008
- Deer Lodge, MT
- 113th in the US (Golf Digest)
- 2nd in Montana (Golf Digest)
- 1st in my Top 50 Golf Courses
A Tom Doak golf course isn’t built. Rather, it’s found, and on the outskirts of Deer Lodge, Montana, Doak found a playground that’s suitable for every skill level of player.
Doak’s biggest strength is creating interesting golf holes by his routing. When Bill Foley tells you that you get to work with 80,000 acres to build a golf course, chances are you’re going to create a pretty decent golf course. The course features beautifully placed holes on natural rolling hills.
The par 4 second, featuring breathtaking topography, is a standout, and the first hole that really shows the common theme of Rock Creek. The hole, from the tee, has a feeling that it doglegs to the left. Three bunkers carved into the upslope on the left make the hole feel tighter than it is, but with the normal wide fairways, there’s a fair amount of fairway on the right.
The hole really shows it’s strategy when you get overtop of the bunkers. The more you hug the left, the better angle you have to work with. A bunker short right and a mound left guard this green, but being on the left will give you the ability to use the mound to feed the ball in, whilst if you’re on the right you’ll have to navigate between the short right bunker and the left mound, and from that angle you likely won’t get a generous bounce.
A similar concept is shown on the par 5 3rd — shown below — where the lay up area has two big bunkers in play. Hit it to the right of the bunkers and have a good angle, or hit it to the left and have an awkward angle over two green-side bunkers. Naturally, the right looks more daunting, with thick bush and fescue right of the fairway.
The key to playing Rock Creek Cattle Company is knowing the right place to hit your tee shots and being able to play the slopes. Yes, the fairways are wide, but if you’re hitting it in the wrong spots the holes will likely play tougher. Going into the greens, using the slopes can be beneficial to feeding it towards the hole.
The course starts to show its teeth on the 487 yard, par 4 7th. The tee shot is blind, but an aiming rock in the middle of the fairway helps guide the player. Once you navigate the tee shot — which feels tighter than it is — you are faced with an approach shot downhill to a fairly wide green. The key is playing this hole a few times, as you start to get the feel of just how open it actually is.
The 8th, a standout par 3, has a creek running along the right side of the green. Bunkers short left and right, long right and left, right and long also guard this hole. The owner, Bill Foley, loved this hole that his house is on the other side of the creek on the right. The 8th is easily one of the most picturesque holes on the course, and a favorite of mine.
The 10th, arguably the best hole on the golf course, looks meaty on the scorecard (630 yards from the back tees), but playing the hole, it doesn’t play nearly as long. It helps that the tee shot is wide open, other than a few fairway bunkers on the left.
Another hole that the tee shot seems easier than it is. The closer you play to those bunkers the easier going for the green in two becomes. From the right, you have to fly a few fairway bunkers, but on the left fairway you can play up the left and let the natural slope bring you closer to the hole.
The hole features some dramatic undulation, and while a hole of this length often gives off the feel that it’s a connector or filler hole, the 10th is a standout.
The 12th, unlike the last couple holes, isn’t super complex, and actually feels like a nice breather from playing very strategic golf. A beautiful short par 3, with Rock Creek’s beautiful bunker style on full display.
After playing back-to-back par 3’s (12 – 155 yards, 13 – 265 yards), the par 4 14th is incredibly long, playing 540 yards from the very back tees. But, like every longer hole at Rock Creek, there’s not insane bunkering, and it doesn’t, rather, it plays the opposite, very few (if any) bunkers and downhill.
A nice hole, that is still strategic, regardless of the bunkering. The closer you play to the bottleneck the easier the approach is, as you won’t have to navigate the mound in front of you that makes the approach shot blind.
After playing the beast that is the 14th, you get the short par 4 15th, which is drivable depending on the wind direction.
The hole features the most bunkers on the golf course, but certainly creates a great hole. This one’s fairly straightforward, other than navigating the many bunkers.
Below is the approach shot to the 15th, from the middle of the fairway (left) and right centre (right).
The par 4 16th is one of the few golf holes that play uphill, and is a beast. You won’t make much worse than bogey here, but there’s likely more bogeys here than pars.
The fairway bunkers on the left are in play, but really don’t come in play with the way the ball kicks to the right. They are good aiming bunkers though.
Like a lot of the holes here, there’s multiple ways to play into the green. A kicker slope on the left of the green can feed it into the hole, or you can take a direct route, but a false front will stop any entry that’s a miss-hit, and going uphill is tough to judge, making the false front the main defence going into this green.
The 17th is perhaps the strongest penultimate hole I’ve played, and one of the best natural par 3‘s I’ve played. No bunkers, but a creek (which also comes into play on the 8th and 18th) short and rock formations behind the green make this hole relatively difficult.
The hole isn’t insanely long, maxing out at 190 yards or so, and plays downhill.
Once you get off the par 3 17th, it’s tough to believe that you’re almost done! The 18th, however, is no cake walk, and after Tom Doak makes a couple changes, it’ll be even harder.
Playing alongside the creek that was in play on 8 and 17, the 598 yard par 5 finisher is hefty, and plays longer than the 630 yard par 5 10th. Your tee shot will likely land on an upslope, killing some 20 or 30 yards off your drive. However, it’s still reachable in two, as there’s only two bunkers (short left and short right) guarding this green, but a relatively open front let’s the player decide if they want to go for it in two.
The 18th is set to get a major facelift. The green, as of now, sits on the right side of the creek, but Bill Foley, the owner, wants the green on the left side of the creek, meaning you’ll have hit your approach shots over the creek, adding some 50 yards (apparently) to the hole. Tom Doak will be handling the changes.
Overall, Rock Creek Cattle Company is a fabulous golf course. The experience, mixed with the golf course, makes for an amazing day, and a golf course that would be hard to turn down any day of the week.