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Bully Pulpit course copes with driest season yet

The Bully Pulpit Golf Course in the Badlands of western North Dakota is experiencing its driest season yet, but the greens and fairways are still postcard perfect.

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Casey Moen, golf pro at Bully Pulpit Golf Course south of Medora, talks about the three large storage ponds near the golf course used to water the 18-hole public golf course. The water was pumped from the adjacent Little Missouri River before June 1, Moen said.

The Bully Pulpit Golf Course in the Badlands of western North Dakota is experiencing its driest season yet, but the greens and fairways are still postcard perfect.

The course gets its water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River, which is flowing by the golf course at rates significantly below normal as the region copes with extreme drought conditions.

But Bully Pulpit is not in danger of running out of water for irrigation because water is pumped from the river in the spring and stored in ponds.

The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation has a permit from the North Dakota State Water Commission to pump water for the golf course from the Little Missouri between March 1 and July 1.

“By pumping in the spring, they're able to take advantage of the higher flows and more volumes of water as a result of spring rains and snowmelt,” said Daniel Farrell, hydrologist manager for the State Water Commission.

The permit allows for 400 acre feet of water at a rate of 5,000 gallons per minute, as long as the river flows at the Medora gage don’t drop too low and certain conditions are followed.

This season, dry weather and hot temperatures have forced Bully Pulpit to irrigate more often, using more than 500,000 gallons of water each day to keep 90 acres of turf grass in good shape, said Bully Pulpit golf pro Casey Moen.

“Our system is basically at max capacity,” Moen said.

Rainfall is significantly down this year, with Medora recording 0.33 inches of rain in June, compared to a normal June rainfall total of about 3 inches, according to National Weather Service.

So far in July, Medora has recorded high temperatures that average 91.6 degrees, 10 degrees hotter than the average high temperature in July, according to the National Weather Service.

The ideal temperature for the turf grass is between 60 and 80 degrees, Moen said.

“So when you get however many days above 80 degrees, some 90 and close to 100, the plant itself almost is in survival mode,” he said.

Bully Pulpit, which opened in 2004 south of Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, has been ranked one of the top 100 public golf courses in the country.

“To have a national park backdrop as far as scenery goes is unbelievably unique,” Moen said.

To keep up with that reputation, which attracts golfers from around the world, staff members have had to change how they approach course maintenance during this dry season, including relying more on irrigation.

The course has three storage ponds that hold 320 acre feet of water, Farrell said.

Moen said that's enough to last the golf course two years.

This year, the course stopped pumping out of the river as of June 1, Moen said.

If the river flows are below 20 cubic feet per second at the Medora gage, which has been common since mid-June, the golf course is unable to pump water, according to conditions of its permit.

The permit also gives priority to other irrigators that have held water permits longer and states that the golf course’s irrigation cannot exceed 3 acre feet of water per acre.

Allan Andersen, a golfer from Scranton, said the Little Missouri is the lowest he’s seen since Bully Pulpit opened. He recently enjoyed the course for the third time this season.

“It’s in pretty nice shape for as dry as it is,” Andersen said.

About 17,000 rounds of golf are played at Bully Pulpit each year, down from a peak of 20,000 rounds in 2015 when the region had more oil workers, Moen said.

Hot temperatures haven’t kept golfers away this season, but many schedule their tee times earlier, Moen said.

The course also has had to cope with the opposite extreme, with flooding of the Little Missouri in 2011 requiring the reconstruction of several holes, Moen said.

“I’d much rather fight warm temperatures than floods,” he said.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or