BILLINGS — Matt Stricker can’t even count the number of range buckets he’s scooped out of the Exchange City Par 3 bin.
“I’ve already worked here for 19 years," Stricker laughed while filling another one. "It was my first job when I was 14 years old for Rob Jerhoff.”
And that wasn’t even the beginning of the story.
“My dad worked at the street and traffic department - their fence was on the other side down there off the front nine," Stricker said, gesturing toward the southeast corner of the property. "He would drop me off because it was cheaper than daycare, and as long as I didn’t get in trouble I could hang out all day.”
Par 3 made Stricker who he is. At 21, he became the assistant golf professional for 13 years before leaving Montana for a couple of dream golf jobs - as he puts it - in the Dakotas. But this past Feb. 9, one phone call changed everything.
“At first I thought he was just calling to say we have to get going on the Yellowstone County calendar and this and that," said former Par 3 head pro Mark Hahn. "And then he said, ‘Mark, that’s really not the reason for my call.’”
Longtime Laurel head pro Tom Anderson made that call to Hahn, telling Mark that after 31 years in charge, Anderson was looking for his successor.
“I was pretty blown away by it," Hahn said, "and so there was a lot of thinking for Kelly and I, trying to figure out what to do.”
For many, Hahn is the only Par 3 head pro anyone has ever known. He took the job in 2001, hiring Stricker as his assistant the next year, and Hahn wasn’t sure he could say goodbye to two decades of relationships.
“The leagues at Par 3 are really strong - the ladies league in the morning and the Thursday senior men’s league," Hahn said, proud of the culture he's been primarily responsible for growing. "You think about all that sort of stuff and you think about the neat community tournaments we had and things like that.”
There was also Anderson’s sizable shadow to consider.
“How do I come out here and how do I replace somebody like him? I mean, his accolades on the golf course and what he’s done here," Hahn wondered. "But all I can do is try. I’m just so thankful. It doesn’t come around like this.”
And just like that, it was Stricker’s turn to get the call.
“You know, this place has given me everything, so if I can give back, I’m more than happy to do so," Stricker said. "To be mentioned in the same statement with Mr. Hahn is pretty special. I think my first tournament I got to go out of town on, his dad actually took me. I’ve known Mark ever since then, and what he’s done for the facility here, it’s some big shoes to fill.”
“Everything went so quickly for the two of us when we were trying to work all this out," Hahn added. "It has worked out really well and I just wish and hope the best for him, and I know he’s ready for it.”
Need more proof? Twenty years ago, Stricker etched a constant reminder that will always point him home.
“Right when Mark took over, I told him I was going to get the logo tattooed on my leg, and I did," Stricker said. "Par 3 is running in my blood and always will be.”
As for Anderson, his plan is to stay on as the Laurel director of golf through the 2022 golf season, before handing the reins over Hahn full time.