KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — My first golf swing occured sometime in 1968, either in late February (if the weather was good) or July (when the weather was a lot better) at Reames Golf & Country Club.
Exactly how the golf bug bit me escapes my memory, but it might have had something to do with watching a PGA tournament on television with Arnold Palmer making another of his patented late charges to win in front of a cheering Arnie’s Army.
After graduating from San Jose State that January, I was working at the Herald and News, the local daily newspaper, while waiting for the draft board in Yreka, Calif., to come calling. I was classified 1-A at the time and realized it was only a matter of time before Uncle Sam would request my services.
During one of my phone conversations with Mike Keck, who became a good friend during the year I covered the American Legion baseball team, we decided to play a round of golf before the Army sent me off to some faraway place. As a High School senior, Mike was All-State in football, basketball and baseball. He was regarded as the best athlete in the state of Oregon.
His athletic prowess led me to write a story and submit it to Sport Magazine for its monthy “Athlete of the Month” feature. I received a letter from the editor of the magazine. They liked the article and included a check for $25.
I don’t recall whether Keck ever had played golf, but I knew I hadn’t. It was a “rich man’s sport” as far as I was concerned and there was only one golf course within 50 miles of Dorris, Calif.
Way back then, Reames was the only golf course in town. And it was a private course.
The Herald and News sports editor arranged for Mike and I to get a morning tee-time at the club and, using rented golf clubs, I embarked on a golf “career” that would take me to such marvelous places at Winged Foot in New York, Medinah in Chicago, Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill in Carmel, Calif., Pinehurst in North Carolina and North Berwick in Scotland.
Golf has become one of the strongest links between myself and my son, Scott. We have been fortunate to share tee boxes in the south (North and South Carolina), west (Pebble Beach and Chambers Bay), Scotland and even Down Under (Australia and New Zealand).
I must have enjoyed the round of golf I played with Mike because golf has been in my blood ever since. I can’t remember what either of us shot that day, but my score must have been north of 100.
It was a good lesson of hard knocks. First of all, I had no idea how difficult it was to hit the ball straight. At the outset, my mindset was one of confidence. I figured that if I could hit a baseball traveling 70-something MPH, how difficult could it be to hit a stationary golf ball?
Although I’m sure I make considerably better contact now than I did 45 years ago, my score has never dipped below 83. That has not, however, kept me from trying and I now figure the only way I’ll ever come close to shooting my age is to live to be something like 105 years or so.
Now that I’m retired as a full-time sportswriter, being a part of Golferswest.com allows me an opportunity to play courses I might not otherwise get to play.
Places like Reames Golf & Country Club.
It is still a private course but Laine Wortman, the General Manager and Director of Golf, was a gracious host recently when he allowed myself and long-time buddy Bill Newlun to play the 18-hole, 6,340-yard (from the white tees) course.
It was the first time I had been on the 200-acre facility since 1968, soon after it had become an 18-hole course. During the first 40-some-odd years, starting in 1925, Reames was a nine-hole course built on land donated by Evan Reames.
Until 1986, when Harbor Links opened as a public course, Reames Golf & Country Club was the only golf course in the Klamath Basin. Now there are four, including Shield Crest (located east of town) and Running Y, the only course in Oregon designed by Arnold Palmer.
The newest nine holes are now the front side, opposite of what I remembered from ’68. The small trees lining the fairways back then are now very tall and can be daunting. The spectacular views, however, remain just the way they were many years ago.
Looking south from the second green you get a great view of majestic Mt. Shasta, located more than 80 miles away. On this clear day, you can almost reach out and touch the snow-covered mountain.
The fantastic view enabled me to erase the sour mood after getting a “7” I got on the 336-yard, uphill hole. There went the euphoria of parring No. 1, a 395-yard straight-forward par-4.
The fifth hole, a 395-yard par 4, was the most difficult — for me. The hole hugs highway 140, which divides the course from Klamath Memorial Park, the final resting place for Mike Keck, who was tragically killed in a one-car accident near Susanville, Calif., on Jan. 30, 1971.
Mike and two of his Oregon State University basketball teammates were en route to Reno, Nev., during a break in the hoop season. Keck’s two passengers survived the crash.
I bogied the hole. Then came No. 9 and my second triple-bogey of the round. It is a 549-yard, par-5 monster. The tee shot is blind. The second shot is blind. The third shot (for me at least) also was blind. Can you say S-N-O-W-M-A-N?
That hole finished off a front-side 49. My pal Noodles carded a 46, but I had more pars (3 to 1). Birdies? None.
The back side was more of an old-school course, with narrow fairways and huge trees. My shot of the day was on No. 12, which I nearly drove the 259-yard, par-4 hole. A chip shot nearly found the cup, but rolled past and I had to settle for a two-putt par.
One of my favorite holes was No. 16, a 359-yard slightly-uphill par 4 that takes you to the recently-renovated clubhouse. To be honest, I can’t recall ever playing a course where the greens on No. 16 and No. 18 are a long putt away from the clubhouse.
As usual, my consistency was inconsistent and Noodles won the match by four strokes.