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Hardin school admin worried about future of golf program following course closure

Posted at 6:37 PM, Apr 30, 2024

The Fort Custer golf course in Hardin has shut down for good, and that has raised questions over the future of the community's high school golf programs.

Hardin Activities Director Travis Krieger said it's a tough loss for the community.

"It's a blow to the community," Krieger said Tuesday. "There's a lot of people that did go out there and liked going out there."

The greatest impact might be felt by the Hardin high school golf teams. Krieger said they'll be forced to travel hundreds of miles next season just to practice.

"We're going to have to travel to Billings, or even to Huntley, even Pryor Creek, or even to Forsyth," Krieger said. "It's going to be tough."

Krieger said they'll continue to have programs for the fall 2024 season, but that after that the future of the programs are up in the air.

"That is a possibility where the program could end up getting cut because we don't have the facility here," Krieger said.

Course owner Riley Cooke said the course didn't generate enough revenue to stay profitable.

"They want it here," Cooke said of the community speaking up about the closure. "I get it. I want it here too, but the community is just not large enough to support the golf course."

After buying the course in 2020 and not seeing much success, Cooke sold it on contract nearly two years ago. When the course continued to struggle with the new owner, Cooke took back control in March. He said he never intended it to be a golf course again after regaining ownership.

"I know how much money the golf course can gross, and it won't cover the overhead," Cooke said. "It's a golf course and that's what they want it to be. I totally understand it, but it don't work. I'm now going to reuse my property."

Cooke's first plan at reusing the property has come with some backlash from the community on social media, as he has brought his traveling carnival to the course. The carnival is currently spread out on the former fairways and will kick off Wednesday night with plans of running through the whole weekend.

His carnival travels to many different places in the region. Cooke said they'll be at the Billings mall in a few weeks and later this month will travel to Wyoming.

The addition of the carnival has created some safety concerns for Hardin Police Chief Paul George.

"I've heard about the history with this particular carnival here in Montana, that the carnivals typically bring crime to an area," George said.

George said he's wary of bringing the carnival to town after seeing multiple shooting incidents at Billings carnivals in the past few years. Last year, a 20-year-old was shot and killed inside his vehicle a few blocks away from the carnival at Berry's Cherries auto lot in Billings. In 2022, security was increased at MontanaFair following a shooting on Midway at the start of the fair.

"It's now putting a strain on the sheriff's office and myself to try and get law enforcement presence there to stop what happened here in Billings from happening there," George said.

At the time of his interview, George said he had yet to be contacted by Cooke about the carnival, which is another issue he has with the event coming to town.

"We're not against events coming to our community," George said. "We love growth. We want growth in our community, but we want to go about it the right way."

Cooke said he had let the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office know and that he believes there won't be any problems.

"We have informed the sheriff that we're coming," Cooke said. "We're not selling any alcohol. We don't have a beer garden. We're family entertainment and I don't anticipate any problems."