In the summer of 1986, the Butte Country Club hosted the Montana State Men’s Amateur, and I wanted to be a caddy.
We had all seen the movie Caddyshack, and we heard that being picked as a caddy during the biggest tournament in the state was a great way for us to make some big bucks.
So, I went with my older brother down to hang out at the Country Club caddy tent during the practice round. I did not get picked, so I went there again to spend the entire day of the first round hoping someone would pick me during the first round.
No luck again.
My brother was picked, and he made pretty good money. I was 12 and not nearly old or mature enough for such a job anyway.
I still had fun hanging out with one of my friends from school for two days. His family belonged to the Country Club, and I had never even been there before.
He showed me around the place and pointed me to the locker room so I could use the restroom.
After the pitstop, I walked into the hallway and found my friend being lectured by a woman who was a member. She was shaming him for bringing “people like him” into the building.
She was talking like she just saw a member of the gang of juvenile pickpockets who befriended Oliver Twist.
I suppose I should have had hurt feelings since I was clearly the “people like him” she was talking about, but I did not. I was perfectly fine with being the kind of person the female Judge Smails did not want in her clubhouse.
I was never the Country Club type anyway. I was a Muni kid, and I wore that like a badge of honor. All Muni kids did.
Oh, I had nothing at all against the Butte Country Club — except, maybe, the woman who did not like my type. Actually, the 18 holes at the Club make up what is easily my favorite course in the state.
It is beautiful, and it is deceptively tough. The greenskeeper can make it a bear by lengthening the rough and slickening up the greens.
I love nothing more than seeing big hitters come to town thinking they are going to tear up the old course, only to see them leave town scratching their heads.
When the course hosted the Montana State Amateur in 2009, a Great Falls writer proclaimed that the Club is so short and easy that someone is going to shoot in the 50s. Four days later, Bill Dunn of Missoula hoisted the championship trophy after shooting even par.
The rest of the field was wondering what happened.
By any measurement, the Country Club is a way better course than the Highland View Golf Course. The Country Club, though, was never the Muni.
Even the Highland View of today is not really the Muni anymore.
The Muni was such a special place for one reason. His name was name was Jack Crowley.
For 29 magical summers, Crowley was the pro at the Highland View Golf Course. He not only made the Muni what it was, he was the Muni.
In the height of Crowley’s run in the pro shop, the Muni had more than 900 members, about double what there is now.
Those membership totals did not count the many juniors who took advantage of kids’ days, when junior golfers could play for $1 on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, and weekends after 4 p.m.
That was $1 for one nine-hole round of golf like it is today. That was $1 for as many times you could go around the course. Greens fees were a flat, all-day rate back then.
While others tried to raise the fees — especially when some of the senior golfers complained about too many kids on the course — Crowley always fought back. Those young golfers were the most important part of the course for Crowley, who gave thousands of free lessons to boys and girls in his career.
To all of those who played there, Crowley’s Muni was so much more than a golf course. It was a place to hang out. It was like an extended family.
As kids, we would get dropped off in the morning and picked up in the evening every single day of the summer. We would go around the Par 3 and “Big Course” as many times as we could. We would have putting contests on the practice green between rounds.
Sometimes, we would just hang out in the clubhouse, and Crowley would entertain us with some magic tricks.
Even on rainy or snowy days, the clubhouse would often be filled with golfers.
People would still go there to play cards, watch golf tournaments on television or take advantage of the only beer vending machine in the world.
Yes, the Muni had a beer vending machine. Let that sink in for a little bit. At one point, pop at the Muni was 75 cents and beer cost just $1.
Just think what the state — any state — would say if you tried that today.
At the Muni, though, nobody gave it a second thought.
So many of my good memories growing up involved the Muni. Because of that place, I had great times with my brothers, parents, grandparents and family friends. Jack Crowley was the reason for that.
He was that really cool uncle for thousands of kids he was not related to. I was one of them.
Now, the Highland View Golf Course is set for a facelift. The course will see many long overdue improvements starting next year.
That includes a new clubhouse with a patio aimed at the Highlands. The plan includes golf simulators, a restaurant and a bar.
The aim is to turn the Highland View Golf Course into more than just a place to golf. It is almost as if they are trying to make the Muni the Muni again.
Of course, that is impossible. The Beatles could never be the Beatles after John Lennon was killed. The M&M could never be M&M after Charlie Bugni.
But it is sure great that they are trying.
The Muni stopped being the magical place after Crowley retired in 1996. We had a party for Jack after the golf season, but the pro retired to little fanfare.
The next spring, the course quietly opened up with new management. The pro shop was remodeled, and the place was a little more sophisticated.
It felt like Cheers after Diane left and Sam sold the bar. Everyone still knew your name, but it was not quite the same.
Without question, the improvements to the Highland View Golf Course will be great. More importantly, the renovation will give us a chance to finally honor the old pro as we move the old course into the future.
It will not have to be much to honor Crowley, who passed away in 2010, but something has to be done. A few photos and a plaque on the wall of the new clubhouse could tell about the man who made the Muni such a special place for so many years.
Somehow, we have to do something to pass on to the future generations the story of the pro who gave “people like him” our badge of honor.