Marias Valley Golf and Country Club History

Golf in Shelby, Montana has a long and clouded history. Depending on who you talk to, the beautiful Marias Valley Golf and Country Club is the evolutionary result of three, four, or five different golf courses in Shelby. The old timers disagree as to where the first and second courses were located, but all agree that there has been a course to play in Shelby since the early 1900’s.

The immediate predecessor to our course was located just southwest of Shelby. It had 9 holes, sand greens and prairie fairways. It also was hot, dry and windy and not very fun to play. In 1966, during a particularly windy men’s league night, a group of progressive golfers said that “Enough is enough, there has to be something better than this”. The Marias Valley Golf & Country Club was born.

These early visionaries, calling themselves “Green Grass,” looked into bringing water to their existing layout, but found out it was far too expensive to purchase water from the City to irrigate a golf course. They then looked at the cost of laying Astro-turf to play on. This was also a pricey option. Led by Bob Turner, the group collected $20 from anyone who would listen to their story and started the process of building Marias Valley Golf and Country Club. 

With only $400 in the bank and a lot of nerve, the group contacted one of North America’s foremost golf course architects. The group asked Norman H. Woods to design a 9 hole golf course along the beautiful Marias River. 

‚ÄčA private golf corporation was created and $100 shares were sold to anyone interested in being a member of the new course. To finance construction, this corporation borrowed $115,000 from the Farmers Home Administration on a 40 year term. With money in hand, they were off and running.

It soon became apparent that their architect was not used to building an entire golf course on a $115,000 budget. He provided them with a preliminary blueprint, but left the project incomplete. To finish, the Club hired Lin Storti, a former professional baseball player, PGA Pro and the Superintendent of the Polson Country Club (at that time) to take over the project.

Lin Storti was a miracle worker. Through his hard work, the outstanding leadership provided by the first club president, Bob Turner, and thousands of hours of volunteer labor by club members, the golf course was constructed nearly on time and on budget.

The golf course opened for business in the summer of 1969 and was formerly dedicated in September of 1970. The course was praised for it’s very large and very fine grass greens along with what was then the longest golf hole in Montana at over 600 yards long.

The course suffered a severe set back in the spring of 1975 when early spring mountain rains caused the Marias River to flood. Over 75% of the golf course was underwater and a heavy layer of mud was deposited on the holes closest to the river. The flood nearly bankrupt Marias Valley Golf and Country Club. With some pretty resourceful thinking, the private country club reinvented itself and was donated to the City of Shelby to become the public course it is today.

In 1995, the family of long time city benefactor, Stan Watkins, donated the land and labor necessary to construct an additional 9 holes at Marias Valley Golf & Country Club. The project, led by Steve “Curly” Williamson and constructed under the guidance and hard work of course superintendent, Tom Russell, was open for play in 1997.

Joey Esh, originally of Polson, Montana, was the Golf Professional from 1992-2002 and was a very important resource in the advancement of Marias Valley Golf and Country Club.  After Joey left, one of his former assistants, Travis Clark, moved back to Shelby to take the General Manager/Head Golf Professional position.

In 2002, Marias Valley Golf and Country Club experienced another flood due to the heavy rains in June.  With the hard work of Tom Russell and his crew, the damage was kept to a minimum.  By the end of the month the course was back to the fantastic shape it is known for.

The beautiful Marias Valley Golf and Country Club is consistently rated as one of the top five golf courses in Montana. Located in the picturesque Marias River Valley, surrounded by huge river bluffs and ancient cotton wood trees. The Marias Valley Golf and Country Club is a lovely oasis in North Central Montana.

In 2017, Marias Valley Golf and County Club recruited Scott Lennemann as Golf Course Superintendent. Scott and his crew revitalized the golf course by installing a new irrigation system that covered 10 greens and the surrounding fairways and rough. The initial phase saw over 800 new irrigation sprinkler heads. Subsequent phases have since been completed, leaving only 3 greens to complete. The total irrigation head count is 1500 and growing. Additionally, the Maintenance Staff have rehabilitated tees, fairways, and bunkers and built several new tees to provide more variety and challenging play. 

In 2018, the demolition of the old Clubhouse started. The Clubhouse was located in a temporary building while a new Clubhouse was being built. The new Clubhouse opened in 2019 and offers a Pro Shop, full service bar and restaurant, and Trackman Simulator.  The new Clubhouse's bar top was harvested from the old Clubhouse's support beams, which maintains a touch of history. Marias Valley Golf and Country Club has hosted many in house golf tournaments, such as the Oilfield, as well as Montana High School championship and MSGA tournaments.