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Gene Warnick: Playing my own private Idaho as a golfing outlaw

By Gene Warnick The Spokesman-Review

I have a confession to make. I’m a golf scofflaw.

I’m not talking about giving my friends a gimme putt during a casual round or that I play 25-year-old Ping Eye-2 irons with non-conforming square grooves (figure I should be grandfathered in on that one, considering I’ve had them since before the U.S. Golf Association banned ’em).

No, the golf gestapo isn’t after me.

It’s the real coppers I’ve been on the run from.

During the age of coronavirus, with Washington’s courses closed until recently by Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” order, I repeatedly skipped across the border into Idaho, hitting the links from Coeur d’Alene to Worley.

And I went to elaborate lengths to remain undetected.

I had an accomplice from the Gem State (in the spirit of “Reservoir Dogs,” we’ll call him Mr. Green). We’d either meet at his house or at a prearranged location near whatever course we happened to be playing. One day it was in front of a physical-fitness center that was closed by the pandemic. I’d load my clubs into the back of Mr. Green’s car and he’d drive the rest of the way, just in case the Kootenai County Sheriff happened to cruise through the course’s parking lot that day to ticket those with out-of-state license plates (don’t laugh, they were doing it).

I’d keep my head down as I passed the “Idaho residents only” signs posted at the entrance to the parking lot and the clubhouse, and paid cash so they couldn’t track my credit card to my Spokane address. If they asked me to sign in for the golf cart, I was prepared to list a bogus address.

With first-tee handshakes a thing of the past and one rider per cart, it wasn’t hard to keep a social distance and avoid the chit-chat that normally involves divulging where you’re from. Although one day at the Coeur d’Alene “Muni,” Mr. Green let it slip to the rest of our foursome that one of us shouldn’t be playing there that day. “Oh, you’re from Washington, huh?” one of the others asked. I nodded sheepishly, but they assured me that my secret was safe with them.

In case I got pulled over on the highway on the way to the course, I had a story prepared that I was merely going to help my Aunt Farley with her grocery shopping, since she recently had taken a fall (no, I don’t have an Aunt Farley). Never mind that there wouldn’t have been any room for the groceries in back, with my collection of golf shoes, gloves, towels, umbrellas, clubs and other assorted necessities. The pros get a locker in the swanky clubhouse; I have the back of my Ford C-Max Energi hybrid.

The Idaho courses went to great lengths to make sure the players were kept safe. They put up a port-a-potty or two, plus some hand-sanitizing stations, to keep anyone from having to enter the clubhouse. You generally checked in at the front door, although at one course you walked halfway up the ramp behind the clubhouse before reaching up through the back window to hand them your greens fee.

On the course, they allowed only one rider per golf cart and wiped them down after each round (the cart, not the rider). All ball washers and trash cans had been removed, as well as the rakes in the bunkers. Some courses had signs on the flagsticks reminding players not to touch them.

One of the most interesting variables was the cup on each green.

At one course, the cups were raised out of the hole, so all you had to do to make a putt was to “tink” the ball off the metal base. Most courses made use of cut-up pieces of foam swimming pool noodles in some way. At the Highlands in Post Falls, the noodles extended from the bottom of the hole to about 3 inches above the level of the green, with any putt touching the foam considered holed. This was of great benefit to me, a 13.7 handicap, as it eliminated the possibility of any lip-outs. (Heck, I lipped out twice on one hole last week: first on the chip shot, then on the 6-foot putt coming back.)

Other courses encircled the flagstick with a short portion of the foam noodles and placed them inside the cup so the ball would only drop into the hole an inch or two (leaving open the possibility of the dreaded lip-out).

I’m not proud of what I’ve done, making these illicit Idaho trips. But in a time of such uncertainty, it provided a bit of normalcy. Four hours spent in the outdoors, a chance to put some of your worries aside.

Now that Washington’s courses have reopened, I’m back to playing closer to home at the Spokane city and county courses. But I’ll always have my time on the links in my own private Idaho.

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