Committing to the trip to Gearhart Golf Links made this quest to play the oldest public golf courses in the US very real for me. Sure I’ve been planning this nation wide quest for about a year or so, and yes, looking at the map in the Golf War Room helps put all the destinations into perspective, but actually doing it is totally different. Execution is the key to success for any plan, and getting down to play Del Monte was all about executing the plan. Now the plan has moved to the hardest part for any plan; sustainability. When I sat down in the sand at the beach, after I had flown from San Francisco to Portland, and drove to the Oregon coast. I was looking around this coastal town of
Gearhart and I realized I have truly begun the quest. As the last bit of light was still shining I thought to myself, the next day I would be rolling up to Gearhart Golf Links to play the second course on the quest, I guess this adventure is not going to be a “one and done”
What day for golf. 62 degrees, very light winds in from the ocean, and sunny. I arrived at about 8:15 for a 9am tee time, which is when the Gearhart Mens Club tee off. I had the distinct honor to be playing with the club today. I had been emailing Jason, the General Manager and Director of Golf over the last few months working on tee times and learning little tidbits about the course. Some time near to my visit he asked me if I wanted to play with the Men’s Club instead of going out as a single. It took me about a ½ second to think that over; what a great opportunity to be inserted into a local game, of course, I jumped at the chance to play with them.
There is no sightings of the course as you approach from Oregon Coast Highway, Route 101 once you make a left onto Gearhart Lane you sort of get a hint that there is something down the road, and the good news is you don’t have to wait very long to experience Gearhart. Once you cross Neacoxie Creek and you begin your drive to the Clubhouse you basically drive between the front and back nine, and with the Clubhouse looming to the left it makes for a very impressive introduction.
As I approached the Pro Shop to check in I saw a bunch of player chipping and putting on the practice green, I figured that was the Men’s Club, and, as I got closer to the putting green I was quickly met by Don. I guess because I had my phone out taking pictures and sort of gawking at the scenery he figured out I was the guest player. We had a quick introduction and I was whisked off for a quick tour of the club house with Jason. It was great to put a face to the name and he was very generous with his time. We circled the pro shop, clubhouse, and I was lead back into the pack of players for today's event; $10 dollar Two Man Blind with a $5 dollar prize for “closest to the pin” on all Par three’s. So $10 dollars gets me in, and if I get closeted to the pin each time I’m up $10 bucks. No problem, I’m good to go!
Three practice putts, a quick stretch, and we headed right out to the first tee. Naturally we were the first group to tee off and this time I was last to tee off in our group... I’m thinking this lack of warm ups and teeing off in the first group might be a thing… Feeling the eyes of entire GearHart Men’s Club on me as I approached my drive, which was totally in my head by the way, no one was really paying much attention. I slowed my swing to 75% mode. I hit my drive down the middle to join Don and Rick drives, which were also in the middle of the fairway. The walk was great, it helped slow my mind down from the world wind introductions and tee off. I made sure I reached down to feel the fairway, take in the clubhouse slowly disappearing behind us, and as I got to were by ball had come to rest I was ready to hit. We went 6 (Rick), 5 (Me), 4 (Don) on the first hole, very respectable, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, and we crossed the street to take on the first half of the course.
Don and I were just getting into the light introductions when I learned that Rick has a condo on the second hole. He pointed it out and mention that the cooler on the porch was always filled with sodas and water and we can help ourselves any time we come through the second hole.. Good to know, and I will take him up on the offer the next time I'm here...local knowledge, go figure. Don, I learned is a Commercial Photographer and he has the privilege to photograph the course from time to time. I believe the photos on the Gearhart Links web site are his. He, like Rick, plays this course all the time and was a great help for me sharing his own local knowledge of the course.
As we made our way to the 4th hole, which was the first par 3, and it meant my first chance at the “closest to the pin” prize. It was playing 176 yards long with a slight breeze sort of in our face, not easy. I went first and I decided to hit a 4 iron mostly because it’s my confidence club and staring down this hole with the wind in my face I needed the help. While aiming I took notice of a small hill to the left, which made a small valley between the green and the hill, I thought if I can hit it near that hill the ball would roll up to the green.
My shot was a great one. The ball left the tee box like a shot rising up in the air, and as I thought the ball got caught by the wind, but with the slight draw I put on the ball it held it’s line. When the ball landed near the top of the hill it slipped off the hill to the right and rolled up on to the green just about 4 feet from the pin. Soooo that’s called visualization, this is called reality...I did hit the ball like a shot out of the tee box...but I completely miss it the ball to the left, like to the other fairway left. In fact, I was about to yell Fore left, but with some luck I hit the ball with an open club face so it was slicing fiercely back toward the hole. The ball was slicing so violently it bounced about 5 feet left of the hill, skidded over the hill and onto the green. Somehow, maybe because of the thick grass on the hill the ball slowed down, and yes, it did, roll to about 4 feet from the pin. Once we all stopped laughing we headed to finish up the 4th hole. It that moment in the round I was the closest to the pin, the question was will my lucky shot hold up for the entire day?
Don and I were walking the course so I had a little more time to catch up with him then I did with Rick. I did learn that Rick is originally from Walnut Creek and I’m hoping Rick and I can meet up the next time he’s in the area. We can get out and play one of his old haunts; Boundary Oaks. Don and I were talking about the concept of feeling the game of golf versus the over stimulation the game of golf, based on where he gets to play everyday, it's no surprise he’s in the slow down and feel the game camp. At some point as we were wrapping up the sixth hole I asked Don about his photography and where can I see it. He paused for a second and said he could show me one right now. We start walking toward the 7th tee box and he starts to slow down and I’m thinking he’s got some images on his phone.
He starts to walk to a course side restroom, he motions to me to join him, ah ok...and in this tight, oldish, darkish bathroom sitting right over the urinal is this great photo of Gearhart at night. And without missing a beat he says that this is the most requested picture from his entire collection of course photos. That still makes me laugh, Ahhh the glamour of the arts.
As we were gathering our composure from the bathroom photo gallery we got to the top of the seventh tee box where I discovered this was first hole that some teeth. Elevated tee and sort of a blind shot down the fairway. I got some more course management; hit toward the house to the left, stay away from the right side because there’s water, and if you go left hope that ball doesn't go into the thick stuff...Glup. At about the same time I was plotting my shot I heard Rick say you better get your scoring in early, the back nine is hell… good to know.
I can sum up the back nine in one word; unforgiving. This side will test your tee to fairway accuracy and the best advice I can give to anyone is if you’re going to miss the fairway hope with every fibre of your being you miss two feet or 100 feet left or right off the fairway Anything in between, goes into the thick long sticky grass. When the ball goes in have a look for the ball, give it your best to find the ball, and be prepared to take advantage of the “unplayable” rule. It’s not giving up, nope, it’s the only way to get your ball free from the grip of the thick stuff. Place your ball back in play and take your stokes, and be happy to play again.
The other interesting experience I had, and maybe this is because I have never played a true Links course before, but my depth perception was absolutely shot by the 14th hole. The front nine had very few houses and few trees along the side of course, but just enough to give me a little depth perception. While standing on the Ninth tee it started to hit me...I can’t quite tell how far the green was, a turn in the fairway, or even the nasty rough. I had not realized how much I relied on these natural and man made landmarks to ground me to the course. I began to feel somewhat disconnected to the holes, as if I couldn’t find the right line to aim at.
At one point, on the 14th Hole I think. Don was getting ready to tee off and I was looking down the fairway, which kind of has the funnel to it, but it also plays tricks on your mind. I was looking at the green, or at least trying see the green. It looked like it was a mile away, seriously my arms went weak thinking about how many times I will have to hit this ball to go a mile. My feet started to ache thinking about the mile long walk I had in front of me. How cruel does a course layout have to be to put a mile long hole at the 14th hole after you have already walk 3.5 miles...brutal. As Don backed up to take aim I took that moment to shuffle back to the Stones tee’s, I looked down and the yardage maker...376 from the tips! Ahhh that’s not even close to a mile, that’s like a short par 4.
It didn’t matter at that point. I had already had my internal melt down, at this point the driver felt like it weighed 1000 pounds and I had to get my drive out into the fairway at last a half a mile to even have a chance at scoring well. I was doomed... I slammed my drive into the ground about 3 inches in front of the tee and the ball went left into the thick stuff about 50 feet in front of the tee box. So cruel.
As I came to the end of the round I stood for a moment on the elevated 18th green.
It was a beautiful site. From this vantage point you get an almost unobstructed view of the entire golf course. The Mountain range off to the right serving as a perfect backdrop for this living masterpiece. To my left is the club house where it all started earlier this morning when I was introduced to Don, Rick, and the rest of the Gearhart Men’s Club. This great experience exceeded my expectations in so many ways, but nothing beats the round of golf I had in a setting like this and with great playing partners.
As we made it around the course I could tell Don and Rick were very proud of their course.
Everyone I met here seems to take a bit of ownership of this course almost like a small piece of Gearhart is in their blood. I took a four hour stroll through the course and I could feel the golf course’s presence below my feet I can only imagine if you played a few times a week here you would bleed Gearhart Golf Links.
I’m not sure how many folks in the country know about Gearhart Golf Links? I know I was unaware of the course until I was doing research for my quest, and now that I have had the privilege to play a round here I feel the need to shout out loud; COME PLAY GEARHART. Maybe, just maybe, it’s best if this historic jewel stays under the radar.
No, I don’t believe that, and here’s why; the course is great motivation to make your own journey to Gearhart. But to me it’s not the course that’s the star it’s the people. If you come you need to introduce yourself to Jason, the General Manager and Director of Golf. Talk golf history and talk golf present you won’t be sorry. Find “Z” and ask for a lesson, and once you’re tuned up try and get out on the course with Don and Rick. Grab a soda from the cooler on the second hole, and get a photographer's point of view of Gearhart. Feel the game and enjoy the walk!