Old Works Golf Course
Anaconda, Montana, United States
Architect: Jack Nicklaus (1994)
7,705 Yards, Par 72
My Quick Review: It's worth the trip just to see the 'black sand' but the front-nine is a lesson in routing and is worthy of study
Some relevant tidbits from the Old Works website (http://www.oldworks.org/FAQ_6c355c1d9d5c04ae.html)
What makes Old Works such a unique course?
There are several reasons Old Works is so unique. It is the first and only course built on a Federal EPA Superfund site. It is the only Jack Nicklaus signature course in the state of Montana, the course is owned by Anaconda Deer-Lodge County making it one of only a handful of Nicklaus signature publicly owned golf courses. The course incorporates many elements from Anaconda's historic copper smelter on site including black slag in all of the courses bunkers, making for a stunning contrast to white bunker sand found on most other golf courses.
How is the black sand to play from?
The slag a by-product of the copper smelting process is fairly easy to play from. The material is fairly dense and therefore very seldom will you get a ball to plug or bury. We recommend that when playing here a sandwedge with little bounce would be preferable. A typical greenside bunker shot should be played taking a bit less sand and being firm down and through the shot.
In 1883, an Irish immigrant, Marcus Daly backed by J.B. Haggin and others purchased the land on which the city of Anaconda and the Old Works were to be built. In September 1884 the Upper Works began production, with a capacity to treat 500 tons of ore daily. (Remnants of the Upper Works can be seen today when playing the front nine at Old Works.) In 1886, installing updated equipment increased capacity to 1,000 tons per day. The need for more smelting capacity from the Butte mine's resulted in construction beginning on the Lower Works in 1887, one mile east of the Upper Works. Shortly after completion, the Lower Works were destroyed by fire. The rebuilt Lower Works were operational by 1889 with a capacity to process 3,000 tons of ore daily. To keep up with the ore supply, a third smelter was planned across the valley. Marcus Daly never saw these Reduction Works in operation; he died in New York in 1900.
The new more modern Washoe Smelter had the capacity to process all of the ore from the Butte mines, resulting in the dismantling and closure of the Old Works. The location lay idle until 1983 when it became a super fund cleanup site. In 1989, Anaconda citizen's formed a group to promote the construction of a "world class" golf course on the site. Through hard work and cooperation, between the community, ARCO, State and Federal Agencies along with golf legend Jack Nicklaus, ground was broken on May 26, 1994.
The front nine routing is exceptional as Nicklaus smoothly (aside from a couple of walk-backs) moves the golfer over some extreme terrain and into the side of the mountain. Most importantly, holes not only move up and down the mountain, but run across its side leaving golfer with fairways that tilt both leftward and rightward. Despite the elevation change the course is comfortably walkable. The front nine, in my opinion, is very worthy of study and among the best 9 holes I've seen from Nicklaus.
The back nine routing, while often changing directions, is limited first by its flat nature. More importantly, however, the use of water on the back-nine is predictable and uninteresting.
Hole by Hole Analysis -- All photos and yardages from the 7,211 Yard gold tees (73.4/131)
The first hole is hardly a gentle handshake for golfers playing from either of the back two sets (both over 7200 yards) as the driving zone is almost completely blind and a long forced-carry is required. Perhaps the only weak spot on a very good strong nine.
All is forgiven, though, as the green site at the 1st is very well done, tucked nicely against the stream that runs through the property (and over which the tee shot was played).
The very short par-4 2nd features a fascinating tee shot. Lots of width and I blind shot await the golfer who chooses to play back to the 150 marker. Golfers that can make the 200 yard carry to the top level will deal with a much narrowed fairway but a clear look at the green.
The par-5 3rd is long and uphill and seemingly goes on forever... and it is a great golf hole. With the green in view from the tee the Line of Instinct draws his eye to the right, over the sea of black sand and tall grass. But, Mr Nicklaus at his best has the fairway actually move left and away from the green from the tee. Though one knows that he should play his tee shot well to the left, his brain pushes his tee shot more right than is advisable.
The 3rd green is set into the base of the hill.
The 4th is something of a simple par-3, but with a long view to the mountains behind it is pretty and not offensive
The 5th plays back down from the mountain and to a fairway that tilts both downhill and to the left. Though it is 300 yards in the yardage guide to reach the water, it plays much shorter, and combined with the cleverly placed bunker on the right a real decision must be made. Approaching from the right is preferred, though a lay-up short of the water is probably the play.
The 6th begins the ascent up the hill from whence the golfer came. The strategy is simple and solid and the green site is nothing less than one-of-a-kind.
Those that don't like island greens look away now. The 7th is a mid-length and downhill par-3 played to a massive green surrounded by sand.
Something of a bottle hole at the short-ish par-4 8th. Oddly, though, the bold line between the bunkers leaves the more difficult approach. Who said Nicklaus doesn't favor the bomber?
The 9th is a strong finish to a very good front nine. The bold line requires a carry over the sand on the right, while the shorter/more conservative golfer can play to the right.
Though the more right the tee shot, the simpler the angle of approach.
The back nine starts with an odd hole. A stream (same one as on the first) must be crossed twice, but oddly a bold line over the creek leaves a completely blocked-out approach.
The 11th is another big par-5 and it features the dullest tee shot on the course and perhaps the least interesting second shot as well. Once again the approach is played over a creek and I can't help but wonder if the green could have been set elsewhere to use the creek to create strategic interest. Oh well, the green itself is long and narrow and very contoured -- probably the best on the course.
The stretch of holes from 12 through 15 will be forgotten by many. The 12th plays along side the mountain and I can't help but think the opportunity for a dramatic golf hole was missed. I will note that this is a bunkerless hole, but that's not getting it any bonus points from me.
The 13th is an all-or-nothing par-3 over water that has been seen many times before. Surprise, surprise, it calls for a high fade!
the 14th runs back along side the 12th over very dull terrain.
The 15th is a seriously long par-5 at 571 yards from the tips. I remember little of it.
The 16th runs along a pond as it the first side of a cleverly routed triangle finish.
The 17th is a fun mid-length par-3 with an interestingly tiered green and a steep dropoff/bunker to the left. With a green that tilts leftward, missing right is no bargain either.
Anti-strategic bunkering at the 18th is out-of-character with the rest of the course but does help ensure that the finisher will never be called a push-over, despite its modest length.