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Country cool

Fri., June 3, 2011

Escape the city for few rounds of unique golf

In a region noted for its wonderful array of affordable and accessible 18-hole championship golf courses, it is easy to forget about the small-town nine-hole courses on which so many of us learned the game.

So every few years, I make it a point to talk a few friends into making a swing through some of our neighboring farming communities to sample golf on a simpler level.

The plan this time was to hit the nine-holers in Harrington, Odesssa and Ritzville on Day One of our road trip, spend the night in Colfax and play the

courses in Colfax, St. John and Tekoa the next day.

That plan – like so many mapped out during this cold, wet spring – fell through, however, when we found Harrington Golf and Country Club and Odessa Golf Club closed because of inclement weather. So we ventured on to Ritzville, where we spent almost two hours in the Greenside Café at the Ritzville Golf Course in a vain attempt to wait out the rain.

From there we traveled to Colfax, closed down the Hyde Out Tavern, spent the night and successfully made it around Colfax Golf Club, St. John Golf & Country Club and Odessa Golf Club the next day. And about a week later, another friend and I were able to pick off the three courses we had whiffed on in our first at-bat.

It was refreshing, in the end, to learn that not much had changed since the last time we made such a trip.

So what we found, once again, were a diverse sextet of rural courses that are unpretentious, fun to play, and still catering to much more than just the golfing public in their respective communities.

These courses, in many cases, also serve as gathering points, diners, event centers and even day-care facilities, where parents can drop their kids off with a set of golf clubs and let them entertain themselves for the better part of the day.

And they can also have an economic impact.

“For our town, the course is very vital for tourism,” said Cory Morley, the greens superintendent and club house manager at Ritzville Golf Course. “It brings a lot of people into town, and most of them end up spending money at other places, too.”

The nine-hole courses we visited all have groups of members or season-pass holders, many of whom help with maintenance and clubhouse operations and events. Those members share a fierce sense of pride in their courses, and it shows.

Ritzville, for instance, has about 60 members, many of whom pay an additional fee to belong to the Ritzville Golf Association.

“And that’s kind of how we help fund some of our maintenance and our parties,” Morley explained.

Some of the courses we played were not in the best of condition, mainly because of the ugly spring weather the region has endured. But each had its own wealth of character and charm.

The diverse collection of holes play along wheat fields, rivers, creeks, railroad tracks and even cemeteries. And nearly every tee box provides a view of a grain elevator.

Greens range in price from $17.50 to $10 for adults and can often be paid on an envelope honors system when no one is staffing the clubhouse.

The courses in Ritzville and Harrington feature full-service restaurants, where locals can meet for morning coffee and lunch. The others are equipped to host events such as potluck dinners and wedding receptions.

And with very few houses surrounding most of these relatively flat layouts, each offers a great opportunity for beginner and young children to learn the game – along with a great opportunity for many life-long golfers, like myself, to revisit their roots.

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