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Grassroots effort slowly turning unused land into rustic Clark Fork golf course

Sat., Aug. 17, 2013

The terrain is uneven in spots and there are numerous slash piles. Thick stands of trees are separated by narrow 20- yard alleys filled with calf-high weeds.

Look closer.

There’s a roughed-in tee box for No. 1 and a slight bend left to a green 130 yards away. There’s No. 4, with a split fairway around a grove of trees. There’s No. 9, a 180-yard hole that finishes about 70 feet from a fence circling Clark Fork Junior/Senior High’s football and track complex.

Take a walking tour of the small parcel of land behind the school and you begin to see Phil Kemink’s vision: A no-frills, nine-hole community golf course.

“When it’s all free labor and donated money to help you do things, it takes a while,” Kemink said. “The biggest thing is if I could get a lawnmower it looks like a golf course. When we did a cleanup day it’s amazing how it looks. Go on Google Earth and you can see the fairways.”

Kemink, principal at Clark Fork, has been at it for five years. There’s more work to be done but he’s making progress.

Kemink and former Clark Fork football coach Frank Hammersley had the idea to turn the unused, school district-owned property into a rustic golf course. They went out on a fall weekend with a measuring wheel Kemink had used for a landscaping job that helped pay for his college tuition.

The pair tromped through wet brush, ducked under tree limbs and sidestepped 8-foot-high thistle and determined it was possible to squeeze nine holes, probably all par 3s between 130 and 220 yards, onto the acreage. Kemink reached out to the community and surrounding areas for help and they’ve responded by volunteering time, equipment and money.

Two contractors, one the parent of a student and the other the husband of a woman who had been a substitute teacher, helped with tree/stump removal and the shaping of the holes. Mountain West Bank made a big difference with a community service day last spring. Volunteers relocated topsoil to the greens and tee boxes. Residents trimmed brush.

Brian Cantrell, who takes tickets at Clark Fork football games, knocked down weeds on four holes last summer with a string trimmer. A teacher with a connection helped bring a donation of four huge containers of Kentucky bluegrass seed that sits in a storage shed, waiting to be planted. Boy Scouts are coming in to assist with the project.

“It’s a pretty monumental task putting this in,” Kemink said. “If I didn’t have the support of the community, I wouldn’t have gone forward with it.”

Kemink stressed that no school district dollars have been used on the course. Some residents have donated money that could be used to purchase a dependable riding mower.

He’s contacted area courses, trying to obtain donated cups, flags and other golf-related items in hopes of opening up one or two holes in the near future.

The closest courses to Clark Fork are The Idaho Club and the Sandpoint Elks, both 20-25 miles away, and River’s Bend in Thompson Falls, Mont., an hour’s drive. Clark Fork’s golf teams practice chipping and shorter shots on the football field and hit into nets inside the cafeteria.

This isn’t a “Field of Dreams” quest for Kemink. He has no illusions of lush green fairways, spotless greens and a fancy pro shop. The goal is a course where youngsters can learn the game and residents can spend a few enjoyable hours.

Kemink played at Priest Lake when he was a kid, picking up range balls in exchange for a round of golf.

“It would die off in the summer and they’d drag metal pipes and sprinklers around,” he said. “Where it was green it was green, but there was a lot of dead grass and it was still a lot of fun.”

Kemink teed it up on No. 1 last summer.

“When we did the cleanup day there were several other balls out there so I know other people have tried it as well,” he said. “It’s something to give to the community so they could come and basically throw two bucks into a lockbox and go have fun.

“It’s not going to be a money-maker by any means. It’s not going to be a manicured course by any means. It’s going to be rough, but it’s going to be fun.”

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