Ollie Hurley works at the Tekoa Golf Course four days a week. On his days off, he drives up from Farmington, opens up the clubhouse, puts on the coffee and drives the 11 miles back home. The honor box does the rest.
I forgot to ask him about the dog.
The last time I drove into Farmington, an old hound was stretched across the southbound lane and made me come to a complete stop before he glared at me, pulled himself to his feet and wandered into a yard that may or may not have been his own. This was on a Wazzu football Saturday, so he probably didn’t expect any traffic.
Not that this specifically has to do with Tekoa, golf or the Tekoa Golf Course. But it speaks to the air, the pace, the temperament of life in a rural town, and if that town is blessed enough to have its own 9-hole golf course, then it speaks to the golf there, too. And that’s the kind of golf I want to play.
See, there is a certain lack of, uh, pretension in my game.
Yes, and a lack of skill, too. Never mind that for now.
But I can give you a shag bag full of reasons why Tekoa is an appealing alternative the next time you want to make a tee time – starting with the fact that there is no such thing as a tee time.
“Many nights in the summer, I’m the only one out there,” said Mike Bruegel, who has served on the course’s board of directors for years. “It’s like my own personal golf course.”
What else is there to like about country golf? Well, they’ve zitzed the cheesy names. There’s no Oasis Trail Golf Links, no Chiaroscuro Canyon, no Dozing Buzzard – it’s Tekoa, it’s Odessa, it’s Ritzville. To pay your greens fees, you don’t have to serpentine through a pro shop of $100 polos in colors you can’t identify and $200 putters that will break your heart just as brutally as the WetJet in your bag. It’s $10 for nine holes, $15 to play all day, $6 for students. Screw up a hole? Track back and play it again – it’s unlikely anyone’s behind you.
“I kind of make the rules up as I go along,” said Hurley. “If fellas want to go get lunch, they can leave their bags on the cart and come back and jump back on. I’m very lax. The only thing I enforce is wear a shirt.”
Does it have to have a collar?
And then there’s the course. Tekoa isn’t a beast – only one hole plays longer than 400 yards – but it has some teeth. The rolling terrain can turn into a roller coaster if you stray off the tee (see: skill, lack of), so there will be some blind approaches to greens that, well, have some texture.
The course opened in 1959, when a bunch of folks kicked in $500 apiece and rolled up their sleeves to bring to life what a farmer named Waldo Hay laid out on some property his father owned. The land was given to the city, but the membership leases it back and maintains it. And, like a round of golf there, there have been some tough lies. Money got tight. Winter took the greens one year. There were water issues.
“It got a bad reputation,” Hurley admitted. “Everybody called it ‘the cow pasture.’ ”
But Anthony Farrell, the new greenskeeper, has brought it back nicely. He’s a one-man band, unless there’s a larger project, at which point a membership work day is in order.
According to the board secretary, Yvette Baune, about 5,000 rounds were played in 2010, about 70 percent by the members. Missing is some of the traffic that used to come across the stateline when Coeur d’Alene tribal members would rent the course for a day for tournaments; now they have a significantly more upscale track.
But over there, there are rules.
“This is a relaxed atmosphere,” Hurley said. “If you have a group of eight guys who want to play together, we have no problem with that – just let people through. One group of six comes in from Conkling Park every week. They put their lunches in the fridge, play nine, eat lunch and play another nine.
“And kids under 12 can play for free. If you don’t have clubs, we’ll loan you some for nothing.”
Call it Hooterville Golf if you want. Not me.
And all of the area 9-holers have their charms. Harrington has long been recognized as a jewel. Ritzville, where waiting out a numbing rain recently stretched into the lunch hour, serves up some eye-popping burgers and sandwiches. St. John forfeited some of its cachet when it upgraded from six holes, but is wide and forgiving (see: skill, lack of). And Colfax sparkles in the sunshine along the Palouse River, though with a baseball field next to the course that’s nicer than anything in Spokane, it loses rusticity points.
“I just think it’s unique here,” Bruegel said. “You never have a level lie. It’s fun, it’s relaxed. You can take your kids out and let them hit away. I know some people, when they play they want everything perfectly manicured – and you’re not going to get that at Tekoa.
“It’s not Augusta National.”