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Pro helps beginner get into the swing of golf

Thanksgiving is almost here, and many residents are dreaming of snow-covered slopes. But not golfers. Instead, they keep their golf bags by the door, and dream of a November heat wave, so they can get out on the links just one more time.

With about a dozen high-quality courses open to the public in Spokane County, our area is fast becoming a bona fide golfing destination.

Alas, my only experience with the sport has been on courses that feature miniature windmills and plaster frogs. But then I got an assignment from a publication that required me to explore Spokane’s outdoor recreation scene. This particular magazine requires first-person coverage. No more watching. It was time to play.

I made an appointment with Mark Gardner, head golf pro at the Creek at Qualchan.

On a crisp October day, we met at Spokane’s newest and some say, most challenging course. Nothing like starting at the top.

We climbed into a golf cart and toured the beautiful surroundings. The phrase “over the river and through the woods” came to mind. The Creek at Qualchan is a member of the New York State Audubon Society. It’s easy to see why. A meandering creek runs through the course which features craggy cliff tops and five ponds, in addition to the obsequious greens and sand traps.

Ducks and geese sailed by or wandered along the water’s edge.

The scenery was so breathtaking I’d almost forgotten why I’d come. But Gardner parked the cart and asked, “So are you ready to give it a try?”

“Sure,” I replied. I mean, how hard could it be? You take the iron thingie and hit the white ball into a tiny hole. Not exactly like running a 40-yard touchdown while being chased by 300-pound linebacker.

“Have you ever played before?” Gardner asked. He didn’t seem impressed by my Wii Golf statistics. Apparently, Nintendo has failed to lure true golf-lovers indoors.

After a few pointers I felt ready to start. “Okay,” I said. “Where’s the hole?”

“Watch out for the first hole,” a fellow in the pro shop had warned. “Just don’t look over the cliff.”

I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Gardner pointed over a cliff to a stand of trees. It appeared he wanted me to hit the ball approximately the distance between Spokane and Ritzville.

“Right,” I said and grinned.

“Right,” he replied and nodded.

I lined up my hands along the club, just like he showed me. “Keep your eye on the ball,” he advised. That wasn’t a problem. I couldn’t see the hole, anyway.

I took a breath and swung. And missed. “That’s OK. Try again,” said the patient pro. Little did he know how often he was going to have to repeat those words.

When I finally made contact and sent the ball sailing over the cliff and onto the green below, I wanted to jump up and down and squeal, but I’ve watched Tiger Woods play. He doesn’t squeal.

With all the excitement of actually hitting the ball, I momentarily forgot I still had to get it into the hole. Which I still couldn’t see. We climbed back in the cart and drove onto the green.” Now what?” I asked.

“Now, you hit it again,” he said. “Aim for those trees over there.”

A beginning golfer must build a trust relationship with the pro. At this point I had to trust him. I could see the trees, but not the flag. Plus, he had the key to the golf cart and it would be a long hike back to the clubhouse. And yes. We were still on the first hole.

“What’s the record for most strokes on this hole?” I asked. “We don’t keep track of that,” he replied.

I swung and missed. “Maybe you should.”

I discovered several things that afternoon. One being my vocabulary is far too limited for golf. When I grew up I got a bar of Lifebuoy soap in my mouth if I said, “Gosh, darn it.” Trust me, “Gosh, darn it,” didn’t even begin to cover how I felt each time when what I thought was a powerful swing moved my golf ball only inches from its starting point.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say that every time my club actually connected with the ball, I felt a small thrill of victory. It was addictive. And Gardner said I have a natural swing. I’m pretty sure he was referring to golf.

As we headed back to the clubhouse, I had a better understanding of what compels golfers to hit the links at the slightest rumor of sunshine.

“Give me a call when you’re serious,” Gardner said. And as I drove off I wondered, what made him think I wasn’t?

Contact correspondent Cindy Hval at