I recently played 9 holes of golf at the Highlands Golf Club. I shelled out $15 in ones for the cashier. "Tip money," I assured him. I did not elaborate.

I'm an average golfer. Sort of a weekend warrior on the links. They say it takes about 10,000 hours to get good at something. With this measurement, I'm about a quarter of the way to golf mastery. But you wouldn't know by watching my swing.

The Highlands is nestled amongst the South Hills, just beneath Shadow's Keep restaurant. The Keep was once known as The Mansion Restaurant. It mysteriously burned down on June 11, 1992. The fire's origin was never determined. Builders crafted The Keep in the footprint of the Mansion's foundation. It opened a year and a day after the fire. No sign of the fire remains. The Keep is a pristine building that is half modular home and half castle. It is one of the best looking clubhouses I have ever seen.

The inside of the clubhouse resembled a life-size liquor cabinet. The wood paneled walls made me feel like it was 1979 again. An array of fine spirits rested prominently on one wall. I half expected to see a man wearing a leisure suit. The bar-like feel of the place made me temporarily forget I was here to play golf. I saddled up at a stool and surveyed the tap collection. Blue Moon, Big Sky IPA, and the cheap stuff. This would be a good place to drown the sorrow of a few too many triple bogeys in a deluge of booze. I decided on a six-pack of Tecate to split with the other two dudes I was with. I meandered outside.

One of my friends, Grant, rolled up in his oversize truck - which fit in perfectly with the rest of the Silverados in the parking lot. There wasn't a truck in the lot more than five years old. His friend Barry stepped out of the passenger side door. Game on.

I think the course is little-known. Both times I've been there I've been one of just a handful of intrepid golfers. A man with a fancy white and orange bag who might have been a bank executive stole a glance to the left, then to the right. He didn't see me. Secretly, he produced a can of Copenhagen from his bag and slipped a knuckles-worth of chew into his bottom lip. Clearly, this was not a behavior his wife knew about. A smiling barefoot golfer asked if he could tee off before us. We relented. He blasted a tee shot down the fairway, wished us a good round, then boozily puttered away in his topless cart. At 7 p.m., our threesome started the round.

It's a nine hole course, with all par threes and fours. So, theoretically my score should be better right? Wrong. Still shot a 48. But I've heard that most golfers never break 100. I have no idea if that's true, but I'll take it. Occasionally a chunk of sod outperforms my ball. In those cases I look around. Nobody looking. Good. That never happened. This may happen two or three times before the ball outperforms that grass. Don't worry, I replace my divots. I've gotten quite good at it.

We chased errant tee shots around the out-of-bounds line.The bogeys piled up. Do they make all-wheel-drive golf carts? 'Cause we could use one. The sun slunk low and filtered through the trees. We finished our round just as the sun set. Back at the clubhouse, we returned our cooler to the cashier, who looked up at us from his bowl of half-devoured spaghetti. "How was it?"

"Can't complain. 48," I admitted.

"I've seen a lot worse," he said, not stopping his attack on the pasta.

I look forward to the next time I get to play one of Missoula's golf courses. There's no better way to spend a summer evening than getting out on some neatly trimmed grass and swinging the old nine iron.


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