Road Holes — 17 September 2012 by Jim Street
Celebrating Arnie’s 83rd with an 83?

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – It was 15 years ago this year when “The King” played the only golf course his company has designed on Oregon soil.

On a warm August day in 1997, legendary Arnold Palmer visited the Running Y Golf Ranch, located a few miles west of Klamath Falls, shot a 69 and was so pleased with the 7,138-yard (from the tips), par-72 course that it remains among Arnie’s “Sweet 16” course designs.

That’s a high honor, considering Palmer has designed more than 200 courses around the world, including 80 public courses.

To quote Arnie: “The Running Y Ranch Golf Course showcases the spectacular natural landscape of Oregon’s beautiful unspoiled outback. Ambling along meadows and through restored wetlands on the front nine; you will play besides lakes, woodlands and into Payne Canyon on the back. The vision of ‘leave the land as it lies’ played out well in the course design, and I consider it one of my best tracks.”

As you know, Palmer celebrated his 83rd birthday on Sept. 10. Instead of sending him a birthday card, I decided to give a little tip of the GolfersWest cap by playing “his” course on my way to visit my parents and brother in Dorris, Calif., some 20 miles south of the renowned course.

Mike Pisan, a long-time buddy and associate head coach of the Oregon Institute of Technology’s National Champion Hustlin’ Owls basketball team, arranged for a 9:10 a.m. tee time.

Mike is a good driver...in the cart and on the course

This was the third time I’ve played Running Y and, once again, one hole stood out more than the others, although each has its own personality and challenges.

“I think we have 18 very good holes,” said George Martin, the head pro. “There are no weak spots. You never think any hole is boring.”

But to me, No. 9 is the most fun hole to play. For one thing, it’s like standing on top of the world. There is a 150-foot elevation drop from tee to green.

“That’s the one everyone comes to talk to me about,” Martin said of No. 9.

Arnie’s layout has stood the test of time. Virtually every hole has remained the same as it was when first built.

However, in June of 2006, a 20-foot section of a levy at the south end of Klamath Lake broke and flooded parts of four holes — 2,3,4 and 5.

“It was a big mess for three months,” Martin said.  “Not a good summer.”

All is good now, though, and despite the Great Recession knocking the Running Y Resort for a loop, the golf facility has weathered the financial storm, averaging between 16,000 and 18,000 rounds per year.

 

A bad lie in the bunker led to a bogey

“It has picked up quite a bit this year,” said Martin, adding that the Stay and Play Specials have been well received.

The idea going into the day was to further honor Arnie by shooting his age — 83.

My all-time low is 82 and Mike, who is too busy with his hoops day job to spend on a golf course so doesn’t get to play nearly as often as I do, had more rust on his clubs than I did — although it was tough to tell.

Therefore, we decided to play from the white tees, making it a 5,976 yard, par-72 course.

The weather could not have been better. It was close to 70 and perfectly calm when we hit our first shots at 8:40 a.m., 30 minutes before out scheduled tee time, and it climbed to the low-80s by the time we finished, 3 1/2 hours later.

Mike almost always used an iron off the tee, so I dubbed him “Iron Mike” during the round. His driver never left the bag. His 3-metal hit one ball that I can remember. He played “position” golf and was good at it.

I played a different kind of game — turning it into a tortoise against the hare contest.

Some highlights:

Hole 1: 381-yards, par-4
Best advice: This is a long par four with an ample fairway. On your tee shot aim for the bunker on the right of the fairway and you’ll be off to a great start on this beautiful opener.

How we played it:
Mike: Hit a 6-iron off the tee, hit another 6-iron into the short rough on the right and punched a 9-iron onto the green, two-putting for a bogey-5.
Jim: Smoked a 265-yard drive slightly to the right side of the fairway and proceeded to chunk a pitching wedge about a foot short of the green. Bad read, bad putt, bad result. Bogey-5.

Hole 2: 447-yards, par-5
Best way to play the hole: This par five can be reached in two big hits. On your tee shot you will want to aim to the center of the fairway or just to the right of the center. You can find trouble on the left, so guard against a hook left.

How we played it:
Mike: Iron Mike stayed with the 6-iron, working his way towards the green. He just missed his par putt and settled for a bogey-6.
Jim: Good drive. Bad second shot into the left yuck. Hello snowman!

The Signature No. 5 yielded two pars

Hole 5: 135 yards, par-4
Best advice: The par three is the signature hole; you’ll be glad you remembered your camera. The short par three places a premium on proper club selection.

How we played it:
Mike: He still has honors and hits an 8-iron to the right of the flag, some 35 feet away. Short grass is good and he two putts for a par.
Jim: Also using an 8-iron, the ball lands about 10 feet from the hole and backs up a few inches. The birdie putt lips out to the left. Bummer, but still a par.

Hole 9: 342 yards, par-4
Best advice: Play your tee shot to the left of the green on this pretty par four. Watch out for the eight bunkers that guard the green.

How we played it:
Mike: The 6-iron  was hit straight as a string and down the sleep slope and it rolled forever, it seemed, leaving him within an 8-iron to the green. But he hit half an eight. . .and then a pitching wedge. Finally on, he two-putted for a double-bogey. Ouch!
Jim: A little hook took the ball into some trees and other bad stuff on the left side of the fairway. I  thought sure the Callaway ball was a goner. But I found it, pitched short of a bunker on the left side of the green and eased a sand wedge to within a foot of the cup. Another par!!!

The scenic ninth hole is a cool hole

Hole 12: 153-yards, par-3
Best advice: This par three is another picturesque hole. Club selection is everything on this downhill hole.
How we played it:
Mike: He came up a few yards short of the green, pitched onto the green a coverted the putt for a stellar par. Iron Mike is deadly on the par 3s.
Jim: A 7-iron goes right of the target, close to some trees and high grass. Oh, oh. A few minutes into our search, I find the ball plugged in the grass. No problem. Dig it out, clean it up and hit the white thing over a sand trap onto the green.  A two-foot putt is made for a par.

Hole 16: 376-yards, par-4
Best advice: This hole is course designer Arnold Palmer’s favorite. You’ll want your drive to be left of the center of the fairway. If you’re a big hitter you can reach the bunker on your left. You can expect the ball to hit the green and role on your downhill second shot.

How we played it:
Mike: The dependable 6-iron goes a little left, but not bad. The second shot, an 8-iron, comes up short and Mike settles for a bogey-5.
Jim: The drive goes a bit right. Well, maybe more than a bit. I have no choice but to play left of the green and end up with a bogey-5.

Sorry, Arnie but you must live a lot longer for me to shoot your age. I went 44-48 for a 92. Mike went 45-49 for a 94. It was a tie for most fun on a great course.

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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