Golf in the Sweetest Town That Ever Sat on a Prairie – Walla Walla
I’ll admit it. I went to college there – Whitman College. If I got the chance to do it over again, I’d go to the very same place. A small town of parks, creeks, pretty golf courses and a culture that plays like a city of a million. Visiting performers always call their agents after the first day and tell them to “scrap the C program. This town deserves the ‘A'” stuff.” Despite my best efforts at foot-shooting, my four years in this town were enchanting. Walla Wallans actually believe that the town disappears once you go over the hill out of sight. They call it Walladoon – honest, they do.
Among the joys of Walla Walla was a lot of golf played on the weekends. In golf terms, you must remember that it doesn’t matter what the prestige level of the course is, although they are nothing to sneeze at. It comes down to who you played with, how you did, and all that scenery that looks like a Disney fantasy. A few minutes one way and you’re in the rolling wheat fields. Go east, and you’re in the forest, southwest and there are the prairies. Due west and you’re in the Columbia River. And, you can find a golf course with all of those topographies, depending on what you’re looking for on a given day.
The Country Club is pretty tailored, refined, and attractive. There’s an awful lot of money in Walla Walla, so they did it right. There’s the Veteran’s Memorial course for munis, and it’s both respectable and attractive. Then there’s Wine Valley for the wine country jet setters. Finally, if you just want to be silly, drive the 11 or 12 miles across the Oregon-Washington border to Milton-Freewater – yes, you heard me right. The course there is nothing to write to the PGA about, but it’s a lot of fun. The final hole is a vertical drop a hundred feet or so, but it looks farther down from the top. There’s one bump in the middle of the course, and you tee off from the top of it. It’s a big bump.
Artists come from all over to paint the hills at various times of day and evening. The light moves across them quickly, giving a spectator a new work of art every few minutes. The same thing happens on the courses.The Country Club is lush, as if it just rained. Veteran’s is also verdant but close to the wheat fields, so you get a mix of woods and prairie. Wine Valley is pure prairie, with bunkers you could lose a tractor in – and Milton Freewater…well, Milton Freewater’s just nice and silly.
Walla Walla is a New Englander’s dream if he or she is far from home. The college was founded by a joint effort of Harvard, Yale and Mt. Holyoke in the mid-19th century. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were massacred seven miles away. They should have played more golf. The courses seem to understand that the inner town has pedigree. One year, the college won “happiest students” in the U.S. Another year, the town was voted “most liveable in the U.S.,” and although no one has ever announced an award, I’ve never had a bitter moment on any of these golf courses – and that was before the huge wine industry made it a chic destination.
The only problem I ever had was showing up to Veterans on a regular basis, just as one of my professors was finishing up. I could not figure out how not to run into him, and I always got that “Ready for the test Monday?” look. The weather is generally incredible, the air is sweet, at 280 miles from Seattle and 245 from Portland.
I’m not making this up. The game of golf is quieter there than anywhere else I’ve ever been. – and once or twice, I could swear that I heard Brigadoon being sung in the distance, by whom or what I’ll never know.