Have clubs, will travel.
That was my motto last October when I headed south by car from Seattle to Tucson, a little earlier than most snowbirds that I have run into on various Tucson-area golf courses.
I have been making the Seattle-Tucson trek for several years now and one of my longtime ambitions was to play golf along the way. Now that I’m retired, my ambitions could finally be realized because there was no hurry to get there.
My first stop was Klamath Falls, Ore. and golf with Mike Pisan, a real good friend of mine whom I wrote about more than 40 years ago when I was a cub reporter for the local newspaper and Mike played for the KF Falcons, an American Legion baseball team.
He is now an assistant basketball coach at Oregon Institute of Technology – one of the most successful programs in NAIA history. Head coach Danny Miles has more than 950 career wins at OIT, including two national championships.
There are four golf courses in Klamath Falls, including the Running Y Golf Ranch, an 18-hole gem designed by Arnold Palmer. It’s the only Palmer-designed course in Oregon, and it’s located near Klamath Lake.
The course is honored by Golf Digest as one of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” and is consistently recognized as one of the best golf courses in Oregon.
I’ll attest to that.
Mike set up an early-morning tee time and, because the greens were over-seeded a week earlier, there still was some sand on the green. Therefore, we received a $50 rate, down from the usual $79.
After a few practice swings on the driving range, we embarked on a four-hour round through some spectacular holes, front and back. We decided to play from the white tees and the first hole was a slight dogleg left, 327-yard par 4.
My shot veered slightly to the right. Well, not slightly. Actually, the ball went far right into some high grass. Mike was down the middle.
If nothing else, the ability to find my ball that is practically buried in yuk is one of my game’s strong suits. I found the ball, pitched it out onto the fairway and salvaged a bogey. Mike parred the hole.
The front nine at Running Y meanders through some marshes and then up a hill or two where you run into some thin pine trees. There are some spectacular views of Klamath Lake and you’ll often spot a deer or few. We saw one on the second hole, a par 5 measuring 447 yards from the whites.
Mike got a 5 and I got a 6. He tells me back-to-back pars for him are very unusual. I responded, “sandbagger!”
I finally get my first par at the par-3, 135-yard fifth hole. A majestic 8-iron landed on the green, some 30 feet from the hole, and I two-putted. Mike put his tee-shot into the water. I win the hole.
The front nine ends with a 342-yard, par 4 that seemingly drops at least 200 feet from tee to green. It is one of the most scenic holes on the course. Both of our drives go slightly right, ruining any chances of a birdie or par.
We are joined by Wayne at the turn, so we have a third in our little party. He keeps calling me ‘Ron’. I correct him, but I’m still ‘Ron’ on the back nine. ‘Ron’ plays a little better than ‘Jim’ – carding a 43, compared to Jim’s 48 on the front.
The signature 167th hole, a par-4, 376-yard hole goes downhill with trees left and right of the fairway. I nail a drive, am on in two, about 15 feet away, and just miss my birdie putt. But par feels good.
Next stop: Lake Shastina Golf Course.
The 27-hole complex – owned by one of my teammates on the College of the Siskiyous baseball team in 1964 – is located a few miles from majestic Mt. Shasta, a 14,000-plus foot mountain that dominates the area.
When weather permits, my annual trek includes a round of golf with Bill Newlun (aka ‘Noodles’), my long-time buddy, and another COS baseball teammate. Noodles, a former school teacher and now retired, lives near Weed.
He has set up a round that includes other former COS baseball stars – seven in all.
The wind is howling and my score soars. Noodles and I play military golf – right, left, right, left. We soar into triple digits before the long day is finished. The course is challenging, but we make it seem like Pebble Beach. Through the magic of a handicap system, I win $3 and Noodles wins $2. Go figure.
Despite the rocky round of golf, I would recommend Shastina to anyone. It is in terrific shape and has some spectacular holes. It’s worth the time.
Next stop: Santa Teresa
The final stop on this golfing journey was Santa Teresa Golf Club in San Jose – the course I played most often when working at the San Jose Mercury-News from 1970-85. I like to think of it as the place where I learned to slice and hook.
The par 71, 6,842-yard course is a fun track, especially for golfers like us – me, Dennis, another longtime friend and former colleague at the M-N, and Jerry. Dennis and I go way back and now we have a tendency to miss fairways. He used to beat me like a drum on the golf course, but I held my own this time, actually shooting a lower score than him. But I didn’t’ rub it in too bad. I fib.
The highlight of my round was a 275-yard drive right down the middle on the 373-yard 10th hole, an advance wedge about four feet from the pin on the elevated green and a birdie putt that found nothing but the bottom of the cup. Now we’re talking.
Despite a triple-bogey on No. 8 – we had to sit in the cart while a rain squall passed over us – I shot a great-for-me 83, posting a 43 going out (that darn No. 8) and a 40 coming in.
Dennis easily won the prize for best-dressed.