Golf: Fore scores

A search for local golf happiness.

IT'S 9:30am ON a beautiful Sunday morning, and I'm sitting in the parking lot of a QFC on NE 145th and 15th NE. It's a sunny day—perfect for a road trip, a picnic, or just relaxing—but there's no time for any of that. At the grocery store, I've purchased three items: a pint of orange juice, a Sunday paper, and extra-strength Ben-Gay. I'm 26 years old and, as I sit in my car nursing a sore right hand, I'm jotting this all down with a tiny eraserless pencil. This is my story.

I've just become a golfer. In less than an hour, I'll be off the waiting list at Jackson Park and in the tee box. In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I ought to be the last person to write an article on the local golf scene. Seattle is home to some truly faithful golfers—people willing to drive down to Lacey or shell out 125 bucks to play at, say, the well-manicured Golf Club at Newcastle. Eventually, years from now, that might describe me. In the meantime, I'll play the local public courses, drag my sore body to the driving range once a week, and promise to watch the Golf Channel more than the E! Network. Shit, if the Ben-Gay doesn't work, I might even buy one of those fancy magnet bracelets. But I digress. Without further adieu, here are my tips on becoming a Seattle golfer.

Step One: Getting Equipped Magnets or not, every golfer needs equipment, and Seattle has plenty of places that offer it. Beginners could easily equip themselves for 30 bucks at a local thrift store (bag included). But sooner or later every golfer needs to head down to Southcenter, the Puget Sound's mecca of golf deals. Here, you'll find a handful of superstore clones that sell nothing but golf stuff—shoes, clubs, towels, bags, balls, umbrellas, divot tools, whatever. Pro-Golf Discount (431-0100), Puetz's Golf Store (439-1740), and Golfsmith Golf Center (444-9586) will all be happy to saddle you with gear that has all been dramatically—mysteriously—marked down. A teenager who may or may not actually golf will fit you for clubs and, one credit-card transaction later, you'll be ready to play. Already own the basic hardware? Subscribe to Schwing (888-520-9099), the nation's only (thankfully) golf periodical that reads like a cross between Maxim and Thrasher (nope, not kidding).

Step Two: The Driving Range The driving range can be a magical place, the golfing equivalent of whack-a-mole. There are a handful of driving ranges around Seattle, but nearly everyone seems to be swinging at just two: the University Driving Range (southeast of University Village on Clark Rd and Mary Gates Pl, UW campus, 543-8759) and the Interbay Family Golf Center (2501 15th W, 285-2200) near Magnolia. The University range is cheaper ($3.75 for 45-50 balls or $4.75 for 75-80, versus $5 for 50 at Interbay) and less crowded, but Interbay boasts longer hours, a snack bar, and—most importantly—heated stalls. Such creature comforts are invaluable when you're attempting to "find your rhythm."

Step Three: Actual Golf Beginners can pitch-and-putt at plenty of short local courses (Interbay, Green Lake, Jefferson Park), but where's the glory? Armed with new clubs and a usable swing, I took my first endeavor into Seattle golf earlier this month at the Meridian Valley C.C. (24830 136th SE, Kent, 253-631-3131), a private club not far from glorious Kent. Meridian Valley is simply gorgeous—take the cut-grass patterns of Safeco Field, add a few rolling hills and some water hazards, and you'll get the idea. From the white tees ("white" meaning "men's," not the race), the course is a respectable 6,233 yards, and the surfaces of the greens are impeccable—fast and challenging. Public golf never gets this relaxing, but then again, no public course demands an SUV-priced initiation fee. I shot 122, lost four balls, and was thoroughly disappointed that I couldn't find a single caddy anywhere. Not bad, but I'll probably never be able to play there again.

West Seattle (4470 35th SW, 935-5187) was slated for the following day—the one City of Seattle course that every local golfer seems to heartily recommend. Why? I haven't the slightest idea. In my entire lifetime, I've never head the word "fore" yelled through the brisk morning air quite as often as here. Granted, it's a challenging course, with some narrow fairways, lots of unplayable ravines, and plenty of long holes (yardage here is 6,175 from the white tees). Unfortunately, even great views of the city skyline on the last holes won't help you forget that this is one of the most crowded courses in town. My score? A depressing 129, with nine balls lost.

Fast-forward a week, add liberal doses of Ben-Gay, and I finished a round at North Seattle's Jackson Park (1000 NE 135th, 363-4747). Jackson Park turns out to be a course the (sub)average golfer can really enjoy—lots of hills, wide fairways, a gorgeous 14th hole rimmed by a pond, and friendly people. There's a short par-3 course for beginners with egos smaller than mine, and the pro shop has great old-school charm. A giant old clock looms over the main building, the perfect reminder to the elderly clientele that their time is running out. Best of all, I garnered a score of 108 and only lost three balls!

My favorite Seattle golf experience was the last course I played in my sampling: Beacon Hill's Jefferson Park (4101 Beacon S, 762-4513). Here are links that will never win honors for their difficulty nor their scenery. The lone pond was drained (presumably to keep the Canadian geese away), and the fairways looked like they were trimmed by the guy from The Straight Story. But everything being equal, this is a fun course with wide fairways, a few sand traps, trees that aren't impossible to get out of, and a great vibe. It's short (5,857 yards) and a little sad (the driving range is just a field of dirt), but still highly enjoyable. Final score was 104 (the best of my life), and only two balls went missing. If the last hole was rocked by a giant explosion and Ted Knight's screams, I wouldn't have been happier.

 
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