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Jareck Sheperd, of Conrad, is an avid golfer and part-time employee of Marias Valle Golf Course. Sheperd enjoys hitting the driving range after work, especially after the many improvements that have been made.

With a sense of normality slowly returning to northern Montana this spring, the Marias Valley Golf Course has begun to flourish as well. The course, located south of Shelby, boasts a handful of new renovations and upgrades made across the course of nearly two years, of which several are still coming together.

Those renovations include:

 •A new irrigation system that spans across the 165-acre golf course.

The driving range has a new irrigation system and a paved pathway from the clubhouse.

A new clubhouse that supports up to 210 members and visitors to the course.

A fleet of new golf carts outside the clubhouse.

A refurbished 17th hole that has a new tee box, fairway bunker and pond.

Five bunkers that have been redone.

Despite all these renovations being introduced and available to the public, Course Superintendent Scott Lennemann is adamant that there is more to come.

“There is still a lot that is ongoing and there are little projects that still need to be done,” Lennemann said. “This is a work in progress.”

One of the biggest changes that visitors will notice is the clubhouse, which was torn down and built from scratch. The state-of-the-art facility houses a full bar and kitchen, dining area, patio area, TrackMan golf simulator for winter leagues and a pro shop. Wood beams from the previous clubhouse trim several areas of the new building as well.

The new restaurant area features a top-of-the-line manager as well in Kim Gardipee, who stepped into the position full-time in April this year. In terms of the atmosphere that the facility now boasts, she loves what she has seen develop.

“I am really impressed with the setup that we have,” Gardipee said. “It doesn’t feel like a bar. Its open and friendly and a great place to have a good time.”

Just outside the clubhouse sits two pavilions that house 180-people and can be rented out for private gatherings. Next to them are a fleet of new golf carts, replacing the older models previously used by the course.

Another key feature of the course that will welcome golfers is a refurbished 17th hole. The changes include a renovated pond and fairway bunker as well as a new tee box. A large amount of the brush that crowded the previous area has been cleared out; along with several trees that opened up the fairway.

“We have managed to put in some really good sod on this hole and opened things up a lot,” General manager Joseph Kost said. “We hope to have it up and running in the next few weeks.”

Kost added the additional bunkers that were redone on the course include two bunkers on the first hole and one on the 12th, 17th, and 18th holes.

While warming up for the course though, golfers can try out the part of the facilities that brings the most pride to Lennemann in the driving range.

“My guys work so hard to take care of that driving range and the results have shown dramatically,” Lennemann said. “We take a lot of pride in that range and it being the first thing that people see as they pull into the gates.”

The newly greened driving range and course couldn’t have been accomplished though without the help of water, which is easily dispersed thanks to a new irrigation system. The original system, which was installed in the early 1970’s, was replaced and the results are already showing.

“If water isn’t touching it, the grass isn’t the same,” Lennemann said. “This is a state-of-the-art system we have now and it is the backbone of everything we have.”

The surrounding areas have already taken notice of the changes throughout the course and are making the most of them already. That includes Jareck Sheperd, a junior at Conrad high school who works part-time at Marias Valley.

“The difference is night and day,” Sheperd said of the driving range specifically. “It used to be more brown than anything but the work that has been put into it has made so much of a change.”

The golf course draws visitors from a nearly 80-mile radius from Great Falls to East Glacier to Lethbridge, Alberta. However, with the international border between the United States and Canada still closed due to COVID-19, the course has noticed a dip in its usual traffic, with roughly one-fourth of its daily visitors a year ago being from across the border. That traffic may soon resume though should the border open on June 21 as scheduled.

The draw that the course has on the city of Shelby is no small matter, as the course provides a considerable economic boost to the city year-round. Brice Kluth, Vice-President of the Marias Valley Golf and Country Club Board of Directors, knows the impact all too well.

“The golf course brings a ton of tourists in from all directions and our stay-and-play packages with local hotels help boost the economy here,” Kluth said. “It brings people in who use hotels and restaurants and creates jobs at the golf course as well.”

With golfers coming from all over Montana and southern Alberta though, no one takes more pride in the golf course than the citizens of Shelby. Lennemann continues to strive to upgrade the course and its facilities at every chance he gets for them.

“This golf course was in decline for almost 10 years and it needed to be refurbished,” Lennemann said. “Shelby takes a lot of pride in this course and the people are happy and excited with what we are doing here. We want to make the city proud.”

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