5 minute read

Special Insert: Destination Golf Northwest

Golfing Solo

The beauty of walking golf courses and playing for yourself

written by Kevin Giffin

COVID-19 HAS GIVEN us a chance to reflect and reset our lives. We’ve discovered that we have more time to experience things that are solitary and remote—ourselves.

This is no consolation prize, of course, for the tragedy unfolding before us. Nonetheless, we’ve come to an inflection point in culture and personal habits. Have I been eating right? Have I been overeating? Drinking too much? Is this a good chance to catch up on the classics of literature? Am I getting enough exercise?

Playing a round of eighteen holes stands out as one form of recreation that COVID-19 didn’t completely disrupt. Courses have their own restrictions around the number in the party and have kept most of their communal facilities out of bounds. Some courses even went so far as to install no-touch golf ball retrieval elevators in cups. They are operated by a golfer using his putter to pull up on a hook that is attached to a false floor in the cup.

Because golf is largely an individual mental pursuit that can be played solo just as easily as part of a foursome, many courses remained open throughout the lockdown, providing some relief and a good walk to those who kept their games sharp over the spring months.

The Retreat, Links & Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch is about as remote as you can get.

The Retreat, Links & Spa at Silvies Valley Ranch is about as remote as you can get.

Silvies Valley Ranch

A Walk Through History

After all, golf began as a walking sport and probably should have stayed that way. A game of leisure that may have begun as a startup in Scotland in 1547, it was immediately banned because it distracted from military training and falconry—two pursuits James II found useful in Scotland’s posture against the army of England’s Henry VI. Golf itself remained on lockdown for forty-five years until Scotland and England signed the Treaty of Glasgow in 1502.

It didn’t take long for the successor, young James IV, then the king of Scotland, to break free of the golf quarantine and resume royal spending with the first recorded purchase of a set of golf clubs, fashioned by a bow maker.

Golfing ensued, and did very well for centuries without the need to drive between strokes. By walking courses, golfers’ conversations had a chance to flourish after the requisite spate of cussing that followed a preponderance of shots. A course walked could reasonably fall in the category of recreation. Eventually carts entered the scene and eliminated almost all of the recreational aspect of the game. Driving a golf cart between shots preempted time between cursed shots and foul language, interspersed by battery-powered road rage. Driving a golf cart for a round of golf became a disruption of civility, a solution without a problem.

Now that we’ve all had some time to reflect on our values and laugh at what we’ve let creep into our culture, it’s time to return to the beautiful act of walking a course as a solo pursuit, to remake golf as recreation.

The exercise alone is worth noting. Walking an eighteen-hole course is the equivalent of walking 4 miles and burning 800 to 900 calories, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. If you were to ratchet that up to twice per week, you’d hit a minimum standard for weekly adult exercise.

There are few forms of recreation and sport that are naturally resistant to COVID-19. Golf is one. It is best when played outside, doesn’t call for hand-to-hand combat as in football and soccer and has no shared objects such as Ultimate Frisbee and tennis and can be played by oneself. Aside from hiking, few forms of recreation offer such beauty in the Pacific Northwest as golf.

Hit the links at one of Oregon’s classic courses—Salishan.

Hit the links at one of Oregon’s classic courses—Salishan.

Salishan Coastal Lodge

A Game of Beauty

Think of the courses whose features are at their best when contemplated on foot and without the constant interruption of others.

Imagine walking along the shore of the Oregon Coast, though you’re a hundred feet above the blue-grey churning sea, walking along cliffs lined with neon yellow gorse, acres of rolling shades of green muted and brightened by the passing billows of white clouds. This is walking Bandon Dunes’ Scottish linksstyle course in Bandon, Oregon.

Imagine teeing off along the banks of the Puget Sound along a green fairway with a snow-covered Mount Rainier rising head and shoulders directly in front of you. You watch your ball sail off the tee and into a sea of white, losing it in the snowy backdrop only to see it fall seconds later back into the green fairway. This is walking The Home Course in DuPont, Washington.

Alderbrook Golf Club

Alderbrook Golf Club

Alderbrook Golf Club

Imagine walking in the shadows of towering pines and into a layered Impressionist painting, with a stand of lower green pines in the foreground then receding to darker, undulating foothills of pines, and a black and white eruption of the snow-capped Olympic Range towering in the distance. This is walking Alderbrook Golf Club on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Imagine walking along a rolling links-style course in the high desert of Central Oregon, with the Cascades in the distance and the yellow and green and brown of the Scottish gorse, fairway and sand under foot. Ponderosa pines are sparse throughout the course, but dense on the northern perimeter where the course abuts the Deschutes National Forest. This is walking the course at Tetherow Golf Club in Bend, Oregon.

Get outside at Tetherow’s Scottish-style links in Oregon’s high desert.

Get outside at Tetherow’s Scottish-style links in Oregon’s high desert.

Jonathan Kingston/ Tetherow

Imagine again a high desert setting, with all of its greens and browns beneath a cobalt blue sky. Now think of it as being set in one of Washington’s greatest wine-growing regions of Walla Walla and thinking about the gorgeous wines you’ll have as your reward for walking the beautiful course at Wine Valley Golf Club at Walla Walla.

Finally, take a solo walk in a green oasis in the middle of the white-topped Cascades and the starkly contrasted and aptly named Black Butte in the foreground. This is the sort of picture you’ll envision for years to come through meditation. This is walking the course at Black Butte Ranch near Sisters, Oregon.

Even in times as dark as these, there is beauty and solitude to be found if we just slow down, walk the courses of the Pacific Northwest and smell the roses along life’s only round.

Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla combines beauty with the reward of world-class wines at the nineteenth hole.

Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla combines beauty with the reward of world-class wines at the nineteenth hole.

Wine Valley Golf Club