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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ralph Walter: No Wet Dog Fur Open golf tournament this year, but that’s no reason to be teed off

UPDATED: Mon., June 8, 2020

From left, Jess Walter, Jim DeFede, Ralph Walter and Steve Bergum set to tee off before the start of the 1989 Wet Dog Fur Open golf tournament. Outdoors editor Rich Landers supplied orange vests to the group after Defede ran over Jess Walter with a golf cart in the 1988 tournament. (Courtesy of Leslie Kelly)
From left, Jess Walter, Jim DeFede, Ralph Walter and Steve Bergum set to tee off before the start of the 1989 Wet Dog Fur Open golf tournament. Outdoors editor Rich Landers supplied orange vests to the group after Defede ran over Jess Walter with a golf cart in the 1988 tournament. (Courtesy of Leslie Kelly)

I still remember the final hole at my first Wet Dog Fur Open golf tournament.

It was 1989 at Liberty Lake Golf Course, and our four-man scramble team – captained by former Spokesman-Review golf writer Steve Bergum – sat safely in the fairway with a one-shot lead, a small gallery gathered behind the 18th green as my brother Jess lined up for a simple little approach shot.

No problem. Hit the green in regulation, two putt, celebrate.

That didn’t happen, of course. He yanked it left and broke his collarbone instead.

This was the Wet Dog Fur, after all.

For 35 years, the S-R sports department’s unauthorized golf tournament has rarely followed script while producing enough embarrassing moments to make even John Daly blush.

Dancing in the fairways. Golf carts gone awry. Ball washers magically catching on fire. The Wet Dog Fur’s early years were to golf what Velveeta was to fondue.

Started in 1984 by longtime Spokesman-Review sports editor Jeff Jordan, the tournament was inspired by an angry reader telling him his sports section smelled like Wet Dog Fur.

And we’ve stunk it up ever since. Dozens of current and former S-R staffers – and so many others, including friends, relatives and even strangers – have played over the years.

Always scheduled for the second Monday of June, the Wet Dog Fur is circled on most of our calendars like Christmas.

Until this year.

Like most everything else this spring, our tournament was shelved by COVID-19. While not exactly a sad moment (on a scale of 1 to 100, the Wet Dog Fur barely registers a fore!), it’s a nostalgic one nonetheless.

So instead of teeing off on Monday, we’re looking back.

To the Hall of Famers. Former S-R news reporter Jim DeFede, whose reckless swing and cart driving in the late 1980s singlehandedly scared away more potential golfers than a lightning storm; Steve Bergum, the player EVERYONE wants in their foursome, and current golf writer Jim Meehan, the other player EVERYONE wants in their foursome. Fun guys who actually know how to golf. Go figure; John Blanchette and his uncanny ability to recite every word from “Caddyshack” while coming up with exactly three good drives per round; Ann Letourneau, a copy editor who broke the gender barrier, showing that women staffers could be crappy golfers, too; And of course, Jeff Jordan, the man who started it all, who still stands today as the sports department’s Godfather.

To the Outsiders. Broadcasters Dennis Patchin, Rick Lukens, Keith Osso, Sam Adams, Bud Nameck, Larry Weir and so many others have all played. We’ve had coaches (former Spokane Shock coach Adam Shackleford and ex-EWU basketball coach Kirk Earlywine.) Even the occasional golf professional has joined in, although I’m sure Gary Lindeblad wouldn’t want his name included with this motley bunch. Oops.

To the Jacket. Oh sure, the tournament has matured enough to reward the winner with a green jacket now, but that wasn’t always the case. For years, the winning captain would be forced to wear a thrift store suit jacket, only to get doused in mustard and ketchup at a post-tournament awards ceremony. It was the captain’s duty to then store the jacket in a garbage bag until the following year, when we did it all over again. I’m not sure when that original jacket finally got tossed, but I’m fairly certain it’s partly to blame for the rise in sea level.

To the Music. Before iPhones and iPods, we had 8-track plungers and boom boxes. (You try pleasing a picky foursome with a mix tape featuring Earth, Wind and Fire, Frank Sinatra, the Bee Gees and John Prine.)

To the Swag. From former S-R cartoonist Milt Priggee, to artists Ann Washington, Bridget Sawicki and Molly Quinn, some of the best illustrators in the newspaper industry created some really memorable Wet Dog Fur T-shirts. (From former S-R graphics editor Vince Grippi, though, not so much.)

To the Spirits. It takes a special kind of golfer to bore out an Al Czervik-size golf bag to build in a portable bar. (Note: Gatorade makes an intriguing mixer.)

I’m in my fourth year now as sports editor, which also requires me to organize the tournament and pick the teams. My stacked 2019 team included two bartending friends and my brother. (I actually picked bartenders for the obvious reasons … who knew they could golf, too!)

Somehow, Jess and I won for the first time since that first time 30 years ago.

And Monday, June 12, 1989, still seems like yesterday.

“I think you need to take me to the hospital,” I remember Jess calmly telling me shortly after executing a perfect, Chevy Chase-like pratfall following his disastrous approach shot.

“Not until you guys putt,” Bergum yelled from his cart.

Victory finally in hand and Jess’ collarbone sticking out of his shirt, Bergum convinced us to hang around long enough to collect our Dog trophies. Two hours later, we were still there, still celebrating, as we all medicated to help Jess through the pain.

It hurts to go through these months without our usual favorites. Bloomsday. Hoopfest. Ironman.

But everything will be back eventually. Even our little Wet Dog Fur Open.

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