Derby is special because of the eclectic group of participants. Some players openly smoke dope, while other participants are deputy sheriffs who pretend not to notice.
By: George Noga – July 25, 2016
During summer I lighten up my blog with anecdotes about my summer home in Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is sited in the Flathead Valley of NW Montana only 50 miles south of Canada and 100 miles east of the upper panhandle of Idaho. I belong to the Whitefish Lake Golf Club that has a half-century tradition called Derby, which is open to anyone; I have been playing Derby for the past seven or eight summers.
Each Thursday at high noon, anywhere from 15 to 27 golfers are divided into three man scramble teams made as equal as possible by the commissioner, the member in charge of Derby. The commissioner is chosen to maintain the Derby tradition and serves for life. The teams compete with only modest stakes of one dollar per person per hole. This could happen at almost any golf club in the USA, you may be thinking.
Your thinking would be wrong; Derby is unique. For starters, all 15 to 27 golfers play as one group and manage to play 18 holes in about 4.5 hours – an average time for the course. Usually three people hit simultaneously; it is a miracle no one has been injured. Imagine the scene with 27 golfers and 15 golf carts barrelling down a fairway toward an unsuspecting foursome of visiting Canadians. Note: I spent several summers playing in Derby before I learned that drunken Canadian was two words.
What makes Derby special is the eclectic combination of participants. Players range in age from 18 to over 80. Some earn minimum wage; others are multi millionaires. Some are scratch golfers; others are high handicappers. Some lack higher education; others are professionals with doctorate degrees. There are Americans, Canadians and Native Americans. Many are Montanans; others like me hail from throughout the USA.
Some players openly smoke dope while other participants are deputy sheriffs who pretend not to notice. Other players imbibe liberally from adult beverages in ubiquitous coolers in many golf carts. Some do both. There is a cohort of Mormon participants that conveniently ignores strictures against drinking and gambling. Some players have Derby nicknames too ribald to include herein. The repartee is incessant and priceless.
Everyone clearly revels in the camaraderie despite what, on the surface, appear to be wide chasms among the various cohorts: young and old, rich and poor, accomplished golfers and duffers, dishwashers and attorneys, dropouts and PhDs, potheads and law enforcement officers and Mormons coexisting with gambling, drugs and alcohol.
Two factors combine to make Derby an enduring tradition: (1) shared love of golf; and (2) Montana. Derby probably wouldn’t work outside Montana as there clearly is something very special in the air up here. If you golf and visit NW Montana, consider playing in Derby; you will understand why there is nothing quite like it anywhere.
But if you should visit the Treasure State, please don’t stay too long; Montanans are fond of their bumper stickers reading: Welcome to Montana – Now Go Home. Recently, the population of Montana surpassed one million for the first time and the news was greeted universally throughout the state with great sorrow, gloom and melancholy.
The next MLLG post from Montana will be distributed in about a week.