Golf Nostalgia in Yakima

Playing the Home Courses After Years Away

I spent the day in Yakima, Washington today, something I haven’t done in decades. I lived there from the age of seven to eighteen, and haven’t really been back since. My first course was the brilliant 9 hole pitch & Putt, Fisher Park. My range and fantasy course was laid out in Gilbert Park, and once my brother got his drivers license, it was as if we were on tour. Yakima and the surrounding towns are full of good courses, and we could reach every one, sometimes two a day.

Yakima is in the center of Washington state, just skirting the forest lands of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. It’s sunny most of the year, and boasts two gorgeous rivers that come together in town, the Yakima and the Naches. The Elks course, my first regulation 72, sits between them – perfect.

Here’s the deal for me and golf in this very cool town, though. Some of the nine or ten courses I used to play were, at the time, fairly new, which meant that the trees, in many cases, were no taller than I was. In my absence, Yakima’s gotten onto me. All of those woods have grown up, and they differ from course to course. The Applewood course draws a lot of players from long distances. With the mania of island greens, and being famous for apples, they put a beautiful green apple in the middle of a lake, and dare you to hit it. The little leaf at the top of the apple is, of course, a bunker. I saw it when it was built from rolling hills of apple orchards. Now, those refined little saplings reach out in every direction to grab a shot, looking like a Grimm fairy tale.

appleThe Elks went birch happy as it got close to the river, and they are more vertical. I used to impress myself by hitting what I thought of as very clever trick shots over them, no matter what trouble I was in. Now, it feels like trying to shoot from the key with Kareem Abdul Jabbar blocking everything you send up. The Yakima Country Club, besides having expansive, long-armed trees, play on my fear of heights. The course appropriately sits on Terrace Heights, on the hills to the east, beautiful, but half the course looks down on the other half as if from a Himalayan monastery. There’s a course out in Selah with trees that were once so small that I laughed at it all those years ago – today, it got the last laugh. Out at the Mt. Adams Country Club in Toppenish, I can almost drive the first green. Years ago it was a safari to reach that green. But, I don’t remember the willows being so intrusive, to the point of hiding the green altogether. Miss a drive, better pack a chain saw.

Yakima fairway grass is wonderful. The clean air and bright sky are hard to beat. The rivers are crystalline, and the wildlife is fascinating, and very wild. The layouts are interesting. None of that back and forth stuff – bring a compass. The people are friendly, and you can catch rainbow trout waiting on the third tee. I am reminded of the old adage that I should have minded years ago – “Go home before you become an old folk.” The only thing is, don’t go into the woods. They’ve grown up right along with you.

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