From Logging to Turf

Carl and Bonnie Bates of Timberline Golf Course

Published in the April 2011 Issue Published online: Apr 09, 2011

Retirement is a coveted thing. You work your heart out for decades in order to bask in the glory of free time as a senior citizen. Many people choose to spend that extra time on the golf course, work­ing on their swing.

Carl Bates of Ashton, Idaho, spends more than his fair share on the golf course, but it isn’t to work on his swing. Instead, he and his wife Bonnie are working on the green itself—at Timberline Golf Course, at the Caribou-Targhee National Forest line near Ashton.

Bates has spent much of his adult life in the logging business, but for the past 11 years he’s been running the golf course on property origi­nally meant for logging but is now a getaway for golfers, old and young.

Like many dreams that eventually come true, it all started out as a seedling of an idea that was nourished (with lots of hard, physical work involved—work that still hasn’t come to an end yet) until it became reality.

The Course

In about 1990, while Bates was logging the 127 acres of property, he came up with the idea of eventually turning it into a golf course—in the distant future. Over the course of the next 10 years, he and his wife Bonnie worked on it a little bit at a time.

“It was still in the future, but we went ahead and did it. [We] cleaned up the grounds so if we decided to do it, we could,” he says.

Timber that was less desirable for logging but could be very aesthetic for a course was left alone. Rather than hiring a professional course designer, Bates and his wife used the contour of the land to determine how the course would be mapped out, though it still took several drafts to come to a final design. Once the design was finished, Bates went to work turning the course into a reality. How did he do it?

“[It was] pretty much me and the tractor,” he says.

Bates jumped on an old International Harvester TD-6 Crawler and went to work creating a course that organically flowed with the land, still leaving much of it unchanged.

“We didn’t change a lot. It’s just how we set it up,” he says.

However, it not only took a lot of hours on the trac­tor, but it also took a lot of manpower, gathering up and disposing of residual material and removing stumps. Then he got out the golf clubs—Bates used to play golf a lot but doesn’t anymore—to gauge the course’s feasibility.

The course became a perfect back-up plan when log­ging in the area changed. In 1990, he auctioned off his company, C&B Timber.

When the Bates first started allow­ing people to play golf—while they were still working on the course—they just charged a $5 green fee on an honor sys­tem basis. They eventually built the club­house, bought food and liquor licenses and opened it to the public in 2000.

Timberline is a full-par, 9-hole course, but because they have 27 tees, the degree of difficulty between tees enables people to play 18 holes. The course doesn’t have any bunkers, but it does have water hazards and quite a few trees to maneuver around.

Despite the fact that they have no automatic sprinklers—they water the entire course by hand—they keep the course lush and green.

“People are always amazed at how green we keep it,” he says.

Seeing wildlife is fairly common, but it depends on the time of year. Along with ducks and geese, during the sum­mer golfers may see heron taking off from a pond. Three years ago, there were up to 20 deer spotted.

“They like to graze that rye grass,” he says.

They try to keep the moose off, but people will see them now and then. In the fall, golfers may occasionally see elk.

Summer and Winter

Self employment suits the Bates very well. After all, they’ve been self employed their entire lives. They like working as hard as they want, though they recognize that ultimately they still have to keep the course maintained at all times.

“There’s a level where you can’t just leave, so we’re here all the time. But we like it; we both like outside work,” he says.

Even in the winter, when the area is blanketed in snow, they can’t leave—their resort is on a major snowmobile trail leading to the Bechler region of Yellowstone National Park.

Snowmobilers and cross country skiers stop along the way for lunch, cocktails, fuel and lodging.

“We’re on the map, and so that’s part of our business,” he says.

They have a couple cabins as well as a condo, which sleeps 12 and has a kitchen, hot tub and barbecue grill—everything except the food. They also have an RV park, shaded by aspens, with pads that are spread out and blan­keted by grass, not concrete.

Timberline Golf Course caters for special events such as weddings, class reunions and family reunions, with food and a bar set-up. They even have a dance floor in a pavilion at the condo. They also frequently hold pri­vate scrambles and company parties.

When they hold special events they hire family and friends to help out, but most of the time it’s just Carl and Bonnie working full time along with sons J.C. and Robert helping out part time.

Because they’ve been in business for 10 years, they’re finding they’re now getting repeat business for reunions.

“We’re doing reunions that we’ve done 10 years ago, when we first started,” he says.