Thursday, June 30, 2011

The golf clubs that followed him home – Part 1

This is a tale of an orphan 9-iron and the vagabond golf clubs that came after. And a driver that was just too loud.

Before all that, there was a simple question: “You play much golf, Steve?”

He said, “Nah, I’m (terrible).” Or something like it. Valandra is nothing if not profane.

“Wanna play sometime?”

“Yeah, OK. But I’m (terrible).”

So he played, and then he played again, and then he was playing a lot. And he was (terrible).

He knew, even then, in 2008, it wasn’t just his equipment. He knew he had to get help with his swing. But in fact, his clubs were (terrible).

So our guy, Steve Valandra, mid-50s, by day the communications director for a Washington state agency, set about building a set.

Realize, by this time he was full-on buggy about golf. Unhinged. He was then on the first of the three instructors he would work with in a year’s time.

With the focus of a newborn zealot, he got acquisitive. First he bought a driver, from The Golf Club Co. in Olympia, where a lot of people around here get their first made-to-order clubs.

His irons were the (worst) of all – old, off-brand, not very good even when they were new.

The set didn’t include a 9-iron, so he picked one up on eBay – MacGregor NVG, a couple model years old, which in the breathless world of golf marketing means it was hopelessly obsolete.

He hit it for the first time on the par-3 15th over the water at Gold Mountain Olympic. Stuck it on the green and made par. He kept on hitting it and kept on liking it.

By this time, he’d made the acquaintance of Craig Foster of Craig’s Custom Clubs in Olympia. Valandra asked him why he was hitting the 9-iron so well.

Foster, who’s seen equipment madness in many forms and many degrees in his business repairing, adjusting and customizing golf clubs, told him it was because it was a lot better club than any other iron in his bag.

So Valandra went looking for the matching full set of NVGs and found it, on the Golfsmith Web site.

Around in here, he acquired a MacGregor MacTec driver. New on eBay, around $40.

 He didn’t warm to the MacGregor, and he wasn’t driving the ball well that summer, at all, so he wasn’t using it or any of his various drivers. He gave the Golf Club Co. driver to a friend and put the MacGregor aside.

But he was going to Portugal, and taking his sticks, so he needed a driver. Before he left town, he picked up an Adams RPM driver online from Dick’s Sporting Goods – 460cc head, 10.5 degrees of loft, and loud.

When he got back, he played the Adams on the front nine of his first home-turf round. It wouldn’t have mattered if he was hitting it well (which he wasn’t) because he was hating the way it sounded, the grating peeng at impact.

On the back nine, he switched to the MacGregor, which he hadn’t swung in months.

“It’s got that oval shape (head),” he said. “I liked the way it looked.”

He liked the way it sounded, too, and suddenly he was hitting it fine.

He used the MacGregor in an October 2009 round at Tumwater Valley, drove it well all day, and shot the best score of his life.

“I’m sticking with it after that one,” he said. “I don’t think it’s so much the club, it’s the instruction. But it doesn’t make that stupid sound.”

By this time, he wasn’t even such a (shitty) player.

But was he done? Had he found a big stick to stick with? Was he down with his irons? Maybe … for a minute.

All that churn in his golf bag, all this restlessness in his golfer soul, only takes our story to late 2009.

Next: Part 2, in which our man finds inner peace, solves the world monetary crisis and gets a new putter.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gold Mountain Olympic: Just your everyday championship golf course

BREMERTON, Wash. – The roughs are long and sticky and will only get longer.
The greens are fast, and might get faster.

And while members and visiting players battle through – and maybe curse – the challenging setup at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course, it’s all in the game plan as Gold Mountain and the United States Golf Association zero in on the U.S. Junior Amateur here July 18-23.

It is exactly this dynamic tension between common player and championship-caliber golf course that makes the Olympic Course a Pacific Northwest mecca for affordable, accessible public golf that gives up nothing in quality and challenge for elite players.

Good young amateur players will be in abundance for the Jr. Amateur’s six days of match-play competition, including current phenom Jordan Spieth and defending champion Jim Liu, the youngest  ever (at 14) to win this tournament.

The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain

The bountifully scenic course that will test them was designed by John Harbottle III and opened by the City of Bremerton in 1996.

“When we hired John, we said we really want a championship golf course, for sure, but not at the expense of the bread and butter for us, which is the everyday customer,” Gold Mountain director of golf Scott Alexander said this week.

“The course exceeded my expectations. He really gave us exactly what we wanted.”

Harbottle had for his canvas a broad swath of ruggedly wooded foothills, in the southern reaches of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, when he set out to design Gold Mountain’s second course alongside the existing Cascade Course.

He was able to skirt the fine line between playable and fun and a course for shotmakers only.

What Alexander calls Harbottle’s “little bumps,” for instance around the No.3 green, don’t unduly penalize a slightly errant shot, but truly reward an outstanding shot.

“It’s not unplayable,” Alexander said. “He’s just shaped it in such a way that he really does identify an OK shot from a really, really good shot.

“Around the greens you have to have some touch to score well. The greens really separate the golf course.”

When media members at a kickoff news conference played the Olympic course earlier this month, the heavy stuff off the fairway measured roughly three inches. By the Jr. Amateur’s opening day, expect the rough to have grown out to a thick and stingy four inches.

Putting greens that day rolled out at between 11 and 12 feet on the Stimp meter, Alexander said. He expects they’ll play at 12, where they roll best, by tournament time.

USGA officials will arrive in Bremerton a week ahead of time for a final assessment of the golf course and to verify the parameters they set a year ago for Gold Mountain superintendent Ed Faulk.

“When they come in a week in advance it should be as they requested,” Faulk said. “If they need certain tweaks here and there, we can do that for them.”

Faulk has the advantage of recent experience in meeting the logistical challenges of a USGA national championship. The Olympic Course was the site of the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links.

Faulk and two crew members went back to Lebanon, Ohio, for the 2005 Publinx at Shaker Run Golf Club. They watched the tournament for several days and talked to the superintendent there.

“That was very helpful,” he said, “instead of going in completely blind.”

Faulk said Gold Mountain pro shop employees keep the public forewarned about the dense roughs in the run-up to the Jr. Am. Playing the Olympic, he said, is simple.

“If they keep it in the fairway they don’t have a problem,” he said. “That’s why we cut those fairways nice and short for ‘em.”

Gold Mountain Golf Club: (360) 415-5432;
U.S. Junior Amateur

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Get your short game on for Washington Par 3 Championship

Look at it this way: You have a good chance of scoring in the 60s (or better) for 18 holes.

You won't wake up Saturday a scratch-plus golfer (unless you already are one). But you can wake up Saturday, make your way to Tacoma's Highlands Golf Course, and compete for a prize on every hole in the first Washington State Par 3 Championship.

The event, a production of the Seattle Golf and Travel Show, features a 9:30 a.m. shotgun start for 36 players at the Highlands short course, 1400 Highlands Parkway N., Tacoma, Wash. Remaining players in the field will tee off beginning at 1 p.m., with the low 16 players from Saturday play progressing to the finals on Sunday.

As of Thursday night, there were still spots open for the tournament. Visit or call (253) 759- 3622 to get signed up.

Highlands is a par-28 nine-hole course in Tacoma’s north and west ends, near the Narrows Bridge. There are eight bunkers and three water hazards on the course, and distinct sets of tees for the front and back. The one par-4 hole measures 255 yards and the par-3s range from 100 to 187 yards.

Hole-in-one prizes on holes 1, 4, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16 and 18 include golf vacations in Atlantic City and Sun Mountain Lodge, golf equipment, and at 18 – a 125-yard teaser – the grand prize for an ace is a new Buick Lacrosse.

All other holes feature prizes for closest to the pin (or drawings for anybody whose ball stays on the green), including golf for two at Chambers Bay, a Las Vegas golf package, Mariner tickets, dining gift certificates, and golf equipment.

Go low, get it done in a couple hours, and win a prize ... you're the man.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Golf goes on without Tiger ... let me count the ways

There have always been young guns in golf, celebrating the perks of extreme youth and outlandish talent. 
It’s not hard to imagine the young Arnold Palmer and Champagne Tony Lema and Lee Trevino and Ernie Els (in a ragged chronology) partying well and hard and storming the gates of The Willard, a stone’s throw from the White House.

But did Red Smith and Herbert Warren Wind tell the tales? Dan Jenkins did, some, and it’s easy to imagine him right in among them.

 I can attest that Jenkins, born in 1929, tweets now … and who could have dreamed such a sentence would exist?

But it was a little different then.

There were newspapers, and magazines, hard copies that you could spread out on the table and turn pages by hand. In 1964, when the first U.S. Open was played at Congressional in Bethesda, Md., in suburban D.C., sportswriters worked on manual typewriters.

And it was journalism, real journalism, but what a guy wrote about (and they were all guys then) was all between the ropes.

In ’64, a personal computer existed maybe in science fiction. Cell phones? Beam me up, Scotty. Laptops, USB ports, digital cameras, digital anything … not part of the culture.

Three TV networks, only one of which covered golf at a time … no ESPN, no Golf Channel.

By 1997, when Els won the Open at Congressional, the phrase “social network” had not entered the language. The word “blog” had not been invented. Twitter? Uh, what? “Facebook” was just another word for a yearbook that lined up mug shots in rows.

This is NOT a lament for the old days. I tweet, I blog, I “friend,” and I push my work on the people in my social network.

Come on. How cool is this?

I can go online and see a video of Ben Crane, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan cavorting in ways another generation would not have been able to fathom (find it under "Oh Oh Oh" on YouTube; I'm using the technology -- I didn't say I'd mastered it).
Tour rookie Andres Gonzales, playing in his first U.S. Open this week, has a sizable band of followers based more on his native wit than his golf game. Gonzo's Amigos, his fan club, is a brand new Twitter account.

The kids aren’t cooler these days … wouldn’t you have killed to have hit the streets with a young Arnie when he’d had a few pops? There are just more ways to see them, to hear them, to know them, and they are embracing it all in unprecedented ways.

The down side, for a player, is there’s no hiding. Ask Tiger Woods. Did serial adultery not exist on the Tour in 1964? Of course it did. Red Smith wasn’t interested, or didn’t write like it.

Never in golf history has the absence of a player from the U.S. Open been squinted at quite so thoroughly as the missing Tiger.

It’s all right. The kids are all right. The game’s all right.

And we have so many ways to confirm it for ourselves.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The book on Bill Tindall: Great golfer, better person

Former Junior Amateur champion comes back as honorary chairman

BREMERTON, Wash. -- He was as reluctant to leave the golf course as a kid called home when there's still late-evening light in the late-summer sky.

There was still a whole back nine to play. But Bill Tindall, no kid anymore, had to go see about one of his own: a grandson, in this case, and a playoff baseball game.

Bill Tindall addresses a
U.S. Junior Amateur
news conference June 8
at Gold Mountain.
He even tried to work it so he could get in a couple-three more holes and end up close to the clubhouse, but Gold Mountain Olympic doesn't lend itself to that kind of cross-country improvisation.

So he left, with sincere regrets, and in fact the regrets were ours, the other members of yesterday's foursome. Pretty simple: he's a great guy to play golf with.

Tindall at 68 still has the smooth game that made him one of the Northwest's finest playing pros. His ability to look at a swing and help a struggling player begin to fix it has earned him a reputation as one of the region's best teachers of the game.

But it is his unforced people skills that make him a natural as the honorary chairman for the U.S. Junior Amateur, July 18-23, at the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain.

And there's this: Tindall is a former U.S. Junior Amateur Champion himself. In 1960, he overcame a precarious first-match position -- one hole down on No. 18 -- to win in extra holes, then won his next six matches to claim the trophy.

He won an Oregon Open, played on 20 Hudson Cup teams (18-1-1 match record), won a Pacific Northwest Section Senior PGA championship, and was inducted into the section's Hall of Fame.

Tindall worked 22 years as head professional at Seattle's esteemed Broadmoor Golf Club, and later worked at The Members Club at Aldarra in Sammamish, Wash., and The Tumble Creek Club at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Wash.

His first club pro job was at the Longview Country Club in Longview, Wash., my hometown, from 1969 to 1977. I didn't play any golf in those days, but I read about Tindall in the local sports pages.

It wasn't until yesterday that I met the man, in a round of golf that was about half as long as it should have been.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Olympia native Andres Gonzales will take his road show to the U.S. Open

Andres Gonzales is no wide-eyed innocent -- check his Twitter tweaks of Tiger Woods -- but there's nothing like your first.

Your first U.S. Open.

Gonzales, 28, a PGA Tour rookie from Olympia, Wash., played his way into the Open Monday with a 36-hole total of 133 (67-66) to tie for third in a sectional qualifying tournament at Tunica National in Tunica, Miss.

Gonzales' buddy, Pat Putnam, of Lakewood, Wash., also qualified with a 133 at the same sectional.

In his first year with full PGA status, Gonzales has missed more cuts than he's made, but it hasn't been all about the golf. For instance: He's a Twitter legend. He's become the favorite player of a host of fans and press types and fellow pros -- it's true, read the tweets (@Andres_Gonzales) -- who appreciate his refusal to be stone serious about himself or the game or the Tour.

Gonzales shouts tweets out to Woods, wondering why Tiger won't reply ("Why u big-leaguing me?").

One of his classic tweets: "@TigerWoods did you know that Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation? I learned something new today."

He's got Twittertown all aflutter about whether Tiger will offer him an exemption to play in his tournament, the AT&T National, starting June 30 at Aronomink in Newtown Square, Pa.

As for the golf, it hasn't been a smooth ride. He's been out of character -- more frustrated than normal.

"That's not how I like to play," he said last week. "I'm starting to go out and play and have fun, and it's making golf fun again."

Gonzales is in the field this week for the Fedex St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis, and he's got an Open date on his calendar -- July 16-19 at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

Gonzales has acknowledged an invitation to be a guest blogger right here, where he can let his freak flag fly without the constraints of 140 characters. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Raley in town to read from his book about the old hometown ball team

That stuff up there under the Blogolfosphere heading is all about the blog being all about golf. Except for days like today, when it’s about Raley, who isn’t much about golf at all these days.

Dan Raley, lately of Atlanta, Ga., is plenty busy with other things.

In another venue a couple years ago, I wrote about Raley’s 30 years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

He covered lots of golf on assignment, but was a weekly golf columnist for only a relatively short time before the fall.

He got to know the historic figures of the game, including Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson. He argued with Greg Norman.

“Jack Nicklaus walked me through Snoqualmie Ridge with his arm around my shoulder,” he says.

His work appeared in Golf Magazine, Golfweek and the Wall Street Journal.

He wrote a piece in the P-I about the seedy side of Augusta, Ga., site of the pristine Augusta National and The Masters. It’s not “the slice of Southern heaven” the ruling fathers of the Masters would have us believe, he says, and when he wrote it that way it raised eyebrows and won a national award from the Golf Writers Association of America.

Raley is now a story editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It pays the bills, and was not a bad place to land after the P-I imploded in 2009.

But he hates the weather. And misses his family. The Seattle native has kept his house in east King County, with an eye toward getting back home someday.

All the while, he’s an author.

His first book, the well-received “Tideflats to Tomorrow,” about Seattle’s Sodo district, came out last year.

His third book, about a star NBA player with Seattle ties, has fallen through with one publisher, but can’t yet be called dead. A fourth book, which he’s chipped away at for years, is about 90 percent done and, he believes, sellable.

But it’s book No. 2 that brings Raley to Seattle today. He’ll be at Elliott Bay Books, 1521 10th Ave., at 5 p.m. for a reading and signing of his “Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers.”

Reviews have been warm: Bruce Baskin in wrote, “I’d recommend “Pitchers of Beer” highly to anyone who wants a well-written, well-documented history of what still stands for many as the true Golden Age of Seattle Baseball.”

And this from “In baseballese, Raley not only jacked his story of the Seattle Rainiers out of the park, it’s a four-run, tape-measure, walk-off shot. Rarely does a book fuse history, humor and storytelling as well as this one.”

It ain’t golf, but that’s OK. Raley notes the irony that he lives in golf country – a couple hours from Augusta National – and doesn’t play.

“I do have my clubs,” he said this week.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What's on your plate at the turn?

Comes the news just yesterday, from your United States Department of Agriculture, that the Food Pyramid is out. The Plate is in.

Bold prediction: This development will not rock the golf world .

The plate symbol, they say, makes it easier to visualize portion sizes relative to the kinds of food you put on it. Vegetables and fruits are still supposed to be good for you, and they should take up the biggest part of your mealtime platter. Same old message, new visuals.

Meat is relegated to being more of a "flavorful condiment" than "this belly-bludgeoning, plate-burying hunk of protein," according to Steven Raichlen, host of PBS' "Primal Grill," quoted Thursday in NPR Online. 

For a golfer, a "condiment" doubles as the vegetable course, by which I mean, pretty much, pickle relish.

It's reasonably rare to hear a golfer making the turn say, "Yeah, I'm gonna go grab a salad and an Evian."'

The "plate," for a golfer on the course, is more likely to be a cardboard tray buckling under the weight of a jumbo weinie and oversized (white flour) bun.

I don't like to wear mustard with my carefully accessorized ensemble. So I opt for a nut mix for my on-course snacking, which, we're learning, is not so bad nutritionalistically speaking: the right fats, good protein-carb balance.

There I was, just last week, feeling virtuous as I headed for No. 10, chewin' on some nuts and sipping water.

I caught a whiff of my buddy's hot dog. And damn, it looked good.