Masters Week: The price of perfection at Augusta

I’d love to see Augusta National, and play it, and watch The Masters in person, but with today’s crazy-good electronics, it’s the major made for TV. Only one other golf tournament in the world – The (British) Open Championship – compares as a television spectacle.

If Augusta had any blemishes, the high-def cameras would pick them up and magnify them for the world to see, like the individual pores on the face of a guy like Jason Dufner. But there aren’t any, and the grass and flowers and water features are posed as if for a spring-issue snow globe, with dogwood blossoms standing in for the snowflakes.

– Grey Goatee Golf and Travel, April 10, 2014

He describes it as ”a woodland cathedral,” this peaceful glade far enough off the path of play that no golfer would give it a thought or even know it was there.  The rough trail in, just big enough for a superintendent’s golf cart, joins out-of-play parts of holes 13 and 14 on the Red nine at Eagles Pride Golf Course at Joint Base Lewis McChord, south of Tacoma.

When his day brings him here, David Wienecke can pause and soak in the quiet. He can look around and appreciate that there are no noxious, invasive species as far as his practiced eye can see. There is no more completely natural spot on the 600 acres of the Eagles Pride property, only 40 percent of which, Wienecke is happy to point out, is given over to the 27 holes of the golf course.

Wienecke is sustainable operations and environmental manager for Eagles Pride and Whispering Firs, its sister military course on the base. He’s far from Augusta, Ga., in miles, certainly, but even more in his philosophy of golf course maintenance.

“It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful,” Wienecke says of Augusta National Country Club, site of this week’s Masters Tournament, “but it’s just all artificial. It’s like Disneyland. I mean, nobody thinks Disneyland is natural. It’s a theme park.”

Across Hodge Lake to the 14th green: What natural looks like at Eagles Pride

Across Hodge Lake to the 14th green: What natural looks like at Eagles Pride

Wienecke, who was the original superintendent for Chambers Bay Golf Course, site of this June’s U.S. Open, visited Augusta National when he worked for the United States Golf Association.

“I know what their product is,” he says.

Wienecke works constantly to reduce, minimize or eliminate chemicals and fertilizers at his courses. He’s set aside dozens of acres of grass that will never again feel a mower blade. He lets the natural woodland landscape live and breathe.

At Augusta, every strand of grass, every flower, is managed.

“They do amazing things to make sure they bloom right at the Masters,” Wienecke says, by which he means “tons of chemicals” and heaters and artificial lighting to regulate the environment of the flowering plants.

The greens at Augusta are creeping bentgrass, a cool-season grass in a warm-season environment. Agronomist Wienecke suggests Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass, a totally different genus, would work much better.

“The creeping bentgrass barely hangs on by its fingernails,” he says, “then they have to do heroic things to keep it alive through the summer, for the next year’s event. They have disease issues, insect pest issues, fertility issues …

“It’s too hot and humid, so they have to put shade cloth over the greens.  It’s just a real challenge to keep that going.”

As he stood on the bird-walk trail looking over Hodge Lake toward the 14th green of the Blue nine — another of his favorite places at Eagles Pride — Wenecke said golf courses should be one with the environment, be a part of the environment.

Augusta is not that, he says.

“It’s not golf the way it was meant to be.”

Global Golf Calendar

This week in golf

PGA Tour
April 9-12: The Masters, Augusta National Country Club, Augusta, Ga.

LPGA
No tournament scheduled

Champions Tour
No tournament scheduled.

Out there

USGA
May 2-6: U.S. Men’s Amateur Four-Ball, The Olympic Course, San Francisco.
May 9-13: U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, Pacific Dunes, Bandon, Ore.
June 18-21: U.S. Open, Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash.
June 25-28: U.S. Senior Open, Del Paso Country Club, Sacramento.
July 9-12: U.S. Women’s Open, Lancaster Country Club, Lancaster, Pa.

PGA Tour
May 7-10: The Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
May 18-21: The U.S. Open, Chambers Bay Golf Course, University Place, Wash.

LPGA
June 11-14: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Westchester, N.Y.

European Tour
May 21-24: BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth Club, Surrey, England.

The dickhead says: A martini is gin, no questions asked

MartiniSo the guy walks into the bar, orders a martini, and then steps away from the counter and heads for the head.

This is not a joke.

When he comes back, he fully expects to see a cocktail glass filled with gin and a couple of olives sitting on the bar at his spot. He finds nothing.

The bartender, when he gets back to him, says, “I didn’t get to ask you, gin or vodka?”

The guy says, “I said a martini.”

The bartender says, “Yeah, I heard that … gin or vodka?”

The guy shakes his head, and says, resigned, “Gin, okay? That’s what a martini is made of.”

The bartender says, “Yes, sir,” and goes off to make the drink. But what he’s thinking is, “What a dickhead.”

Who’s the dickhead here?

Most people would say the guy, who is me, is the dickhead, and my wife-like object would be among them. Really? Do you have to take issue every time you order a martini?

So yeah, I’m the dickhead, but I’m not wrong.

I never went to bartender school, but I was taught how to tend bar by the best – by a woman who learned her craft serving drinks and pouring drinks and later managing high-volume bars in the drinkin’ capitals of the western U.S., Reno and Las Vegas.

She taught me that when somebody orders a martini, you go make ‘em a martini. That means gin from the well, with a tickle of vermouth and two olives, in a martini (cocktail) glass, or “up.” Not “straight up.”

Shaken or stirred, your call: it’s not wrong to stir just because James Bond likes it shaken. It’s easier, and more fun, and looks cooler, to shake.

If the customer wants a gin other than what’s in the well, he/she can specify.

If a drinker wants a twist rather than (or along with) olives, he/she can say so. But you, Bartender, need not be burdened to ask all those questions if all you hear is, “Martini, please.”

If somebody wants a vodka martini, he/she should order a “vodka martini.”

It’s gratifying to a guy to sit down at a bar, order a martini and in short order a cold double measure of gin appears in front of him, garnished with olives. The veteran barman at Falls Terrace in recent years got it right. The younger guy at the Dahlia Lounge got it right … no questions asked. They stand out among their peers, and that’s too bad.

So who says they got it right? The dickhead says.

U.S. women’s four-ball comes to Pacific Dunes

Four-Ball logoBANDON, Ore. – I’ve gotten stupidly lucky the two previous times I played Pacific Dunes – sunny and mostly calm, the best way to appreciate its ingenious routing and seaside splendor.

Who can say what the southern Oregon coastal weather will be May 9-13? That’s when the United States Golf Association comes to Pacific Dunes for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, the fifth USGA national championship in the 16-year history of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Four-ball is another name for the two-person best ball you play in your home club. At Pacific, the format is two days of stroke play to narrow the field to 64 two-woman teams for three days of match play.

Four-ball is the USGA’s newest addition to its tournament roster, and replaces the U.S. Amateur Public Links for both women and men.

As I said, I’ve been spoiled by Pacific Dunes. This week, not so much – rain in sheets and winds to 30 mph that got worse after I quit, all awash, after seven holes. I was soon warm, and dry, and ready for the social hour. When the other players joined me in the bar, I heard about it for not persevering through 18. But their eyes said envy.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has three other full-length courses, just as unfairly fabulous, in Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old MacDonald.

A fifth course, Bandon Preserve, is the newest and in some ways the most interesting course at Bandon. The standard phrase for Preserve, is, “Best views on the property.” You won’t get a whisper of an argument from me.

I haven’t played all the par-3 courses in the world, so I can’t say for absolute, but make the claim there’s a better one in the world than Preserve and I will go play it, just to entertain the argument.

If yours is better, it’s awful damn good. I can’t imagine it’s prettier.  None, I’m confident, has 13 holes, no more no less, and none encourages using putter from the teebox of the finishing hole.

Thirteen holes is just right – very different, very Bandon.

I used to work for a guy who was a jerk by any normal measure of human decency, but he had a working definition for what makes a simple bar into a saloon, which to him was the highest compliment you can pay a drinking establishment. A saloon, he said, is hard to define, but you know it when you’re in it.

The Bunker is the manly man bar at Bandon, among an assortment, and despite a pretty good smoke-ventilation system, you’ll know it when you’re in it.

Working March-mad theories before a trip to Bandon

It’s never a bad idea to get out of my head, because it’s weird and scary in there, and tortured, never more than when I’m playing golf.

It’s easy: I need to think less, swing free, let my natural athleticism come out to play. I wrote that with a straight face.

So, my theory goes, if I do something unrelated to golf, for fun, something that I was decent at once, maybe I can feel the feeling when I swing a golf club. Something like shooting a basketball.

I tested the front end of the theory just this morning. I shot around for about 20 minutes, a few short shots, a few long shots, a few earth hooks. I tried not to think too much or steer the ball, just let the old instincts flow back.

I set a goal of making five straight free throws before I left the gym. That wasn’t going to happen, apparently, any time this decade. I readjusted: three straight. It took a while.

I might shoot around one more time before I finally test the back end of the theory – at Bandon Trails and Pacific Dunes, this weekend, in the rain.

Just the facts: A golf ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, which is 39.5 percent of the diameter (4.25 inches) of a golf hole. A basketball is about 9.5 inches in diameter, which is 52.7 percent of the diameter (18 inches) of a basketball hoop.

So why is it so much harder to make a 15-foot putt than a free throw? PGA Tour pros make about 30 percent of their putts from 10 to 15 feet, but even a stiff like me can make 65 percent of his free throws.

Advanced physics: There are obvious differences between a putt and a free throw. One is propelled by a stick along the ground. One is propelled by hand through the air. Ergo, there are different influences on the path of the two shots.

A free throw is undertaken in a wind-free environment, unless Dick Vitale suddenly starts talking just as you let the ball go. The ball goes where you shoot it.

A putt can go wrong anywhere along its path, no matter how well you read it or strike it. You can only blame the putter, never the putter. Of that I am sure.

Bandon in the rain: Golf is only the auxiliary reason for going to Bandon this weekend. The other is to test the waterproof-ness of my outerwear and shoes.

Why would I need to drive 300 miles to test my gear? I expect it to rain all weekend, too, at the golf course closest to Grey Goatee Global HQ.

I don’t know, I can’t explain it. There’s just something about the rain at Bandon.

Five most epic courses in Maui: From the mountains to the sea

No. 18 at King Kamehameha

No. 18 at King Kamehameha

This article appeared first in Vacatia.com.

If it’s Maui we’re talking about, there’s plenty to do, see, taste, and experience that has nothing to do with golf.

But, to be able to throw in a round of golf, or three or four, on a small island dense with some of the best courses in the Pacific, is a little topping of bliss on your Pineapple Paradise ice cream. Really, I get to play golf, too?

Even if you didn’t lug your golf clubs on the long flight over the pond, you’re here, and you’re itching to play, and you should, if you can.

If you feel like a splurge, you can play the same course where top PGA pros teed up last January. Or test out the Gold Course at Wailea Resort, which hosted the Champions Tour Skins Game from 2001-2007.

But you, sir or madam, might be a purist, and your head won’t be turned by a name or a price tag … you just want a great golf experience. If it’s a bargain you’re looking for, you’re in the right place. Maui offers some of the most spectacular courses for your money.

Maui Nui Golf Club

Other parts of the island “have got to deal with the wind and the other elements,” says Lief Smith, director of golf at Maui Nui Golf Club in central Maui, one of the island’s busiest courses. Maui Nui, formerly known as Elleair and now under new Hawaiian ownership, has the least rainfall and wind of any Maui course, protected as it is by Mt. Haleakala and the West Maui mountains.

“It’s pretty cool,” says Smith. “Golf’s got to be in the top five, maybe top three, things to do on Maui. You’ve got the views, got the weather, got all the different layouts, you’ve got mountain courses and beach courses.”

Maui’s diversity in climate and topography make for a singular golf experience. At Maui Nui, the course is player-friendly and the view changes on every hole. Fairways were recently widened and the greens are large, but a player wanting to score well will still need to keep the ball in play.

What you need to know
Address: 1345 Piilani Highway, Kihei, HI 96753
Tee times: (808) 874-0777 or online at www.mauinuigolfclub.com

Kahili Golf Club

There are courses on Maui, to be sure, that are affordable by any measure. One such is Kahili Golf Club, a popular course in the foothills of the West Maui Mountains. Standard green fee here is $99, but twilight rates drop to $59 and online booking can get you even lower. Aloha Fridays are $49 for any tee time all day, every Friday.

Kahili is not overly long at 6,570 yards, but this is a course for shotmakers, with smallish greens, doglegs in both directions and plenty of elevation changes. Kahili is known for its immaculate putting surfaces.

What you need to know
Address: 2500 Honoapiilani Highway  Wailuku, HI 96793
Tee times: (808) 242-4653 or online at www.kahiligolf.com

Kapalua Sister Courses: The Plantation and The Bay

The Plantation Course, at 7,400 yards and par 73, offers a stiff test for elite players with its elevation changes and unpredictable tradewinds. From the amateur tees, its generous fairways and large greens make it fun and playable for intermediate golfers.

Followers of the PGA Tour are hip to the annual Island Swing in early January, which includes the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at The Plantation Course, a tournament open only to players who won on tour the previous year. This year, Patrick Reed claimed the $1.14 million top prize.

As well-regarded as The Plantation Course is, some aficionados rank its sister course at Kapalua, The Bay Course, even higher for its challenge and beauty. Since it opened in 1975, The Bay has been home to more than 20 PGA, LPGA and World Cup of Golf tournaments. The signature hole is No. 5, which plays over the Pacific Ocean.

Take note that The Bay ($208 standard fee) and Plantation ($278) are in the high-end neighborhood for green fees on Maui.

What you need to know
The Plantation Course at Kapalua
Address: 2000 Plantation Club Drive, Lahaina, HI 96761

The Bay Course at Kapalua
Address: 300 Kapalua Drive, Lahaina, HI 96761
Tee times for both: 877-527-2582 or online at www.golfatkapalua.com

Wailea Golf Club

Depending on who’s doing the rating, all three courses at Wailea – Gold, Emerald, and Old Blue – often squeeze into Top 5 lists on the island, and also command among the highest green fees.

The Gold Course, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, is the most challenging of the Wailea courses, with a rugged, rolling terrain to test the best players from the championship tees. But the graduated forward tees make the layout accessible for less-skilled players.

The Emerald Course has been rated seven times among the U.S.’s most women-friendly courses by Golf for Women magazine.  Its pristine, generous fairways and stunning views of the Pacific and Mt. Haleakala make it a fun choice for any golfer, including families playing together.

Fees on the Gold and Emerald top out at $235 a round, but drop dramatically after noon. A three-round package at the Gold and/or Emerald is a deal at $450 during the summer and fall.

At the Blue, the oldest of the Wailea resort courses and the most player-friendly, the top fee is $150 (in the fall) and plunges at midday and again in the mid-afternoon

What you need to know
Address: 100 Wailea Golf Club Drive, Wailea, HI 96753
Tee times: 808-875-7450 or online at www.waileagolf.com

King Kamehameha

The King Kamehameha Golf Club is, among other things, a course with a name that says “Hawaii.” King Kamehameha was the island emperor of legend and history, known for uniting the warring islands into one Hawaiian kingdom.

King Kamehameha, the golf course, is a “pure golf experience,” according to Rick Castillo, director of golf at King Kamehameha and Kahili. No buildings other than its monumental clubhouse can be found on the Kamehameha property.

The 74,000-square-foot clubhouse was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and features artwork throughout by native Hawaiian artists.

“We honor all things Hawaiian,” says Castillo. “Even if you don’t golf, come and visit the clubhouse. We consider it a Maui treasure.”

Kamehameha is the only private 18-hole course on Maui – but you can get on. One way is the “Guest for a Day Pass” ($170). Another is the Kahili Mahalo Ticket, a package priced at $250, offering two rounds at Kahili and one at King Kamehameha.

What you need to know
Address: 2500 Honoapiilani Highway, Wailuku, HI 96793
Pro shop: 808-249-0033
Register to be a Guest for a Day

Leave your clubs at home

Back to the subject of the golf clubs you didn’t bring. More and more these days, golfers who intend to play on the islands are opting not to pay the fee (both ways) to haul their clubs through baggage check.

Fortunately, golf courses on the island look out for the golfer who travels clubless. Maui courses make club rentals painless, and the clubs, unlike your average mainland muni, are sleek and like-new.

For instance, the Dunes at Maui Lani (which fits comfortably in the affordable category with a top green fee of $89) rents Nike VR-S Covert sets. Maui Nui offers clubs in the late-model TaylorMade Rocketballz line.

Aloha and mahalo

Friendly customer service, in the traditional welcoming way of the island state of Hawaii, radiates throughout the Maui golf community, even to the point that proprietors of the island’s courses direct visitors toward the unique microclimates and golf experiences of other courses in other Maui regions.

“We send golfers upcountry to get a different experience in the mountain courses,” says Smith at Maui Nui. “We’ll [also] send golfers down to Wailea, or to Kahili.

“We want our visitors to come back.”

For the love of Vinnie

Vince1 (640x163)

I talked to Vin … he’s going OK, and he wouldn’t shut up thanking me, and I’m thinking what we did was pretty good.

I had fun, and I know Vince and Casey had fun, and you didn’t have to be in the room with Kim very long to know what it meant to her.

We raised hardly enough to put the tiniest dent in the insane costs of the Fucking Medical-Industrial Complex (FMIC), but we aren’t professional fundraisers, either. The Voodoo  Vinnie Open did all right.

 It was cool just watching it unfold, from the day I met with Steve McNelly at Cap City to set the date, right on up to tournament Saturday. Every day it seemed like something surprising and deeply generous would walk through the door.  Dan Castro – you know him, The Chancellor – didn’t let a day pass when he didn’t ask what he could be doing or tell me what he’d already gone and done. The majority of the items in the silent auction came from Dan or through him.

Did you see the Voodoo Vinnie banner? That’s Dan, too. His better half, the excellent Julie, stepped in wherever she was needed and did more than she needed to. Steve Mildenberger orchestrated the silent auction, and me, I brought the autographed bowling ball.

Vin gets his swings

Vin gets his swings


 And it all worked. The weather, well, I’m sorry about that … I was a little bit cold, when I stood in the shade, and the sun was a little bit glaring. Maybe next year.

There were all sorts of little moments through the day when all of you who were there kept on doing the right thing and then more again. Vinnie really is ridiculously grateful. He’s blessed with amazing friends, and so is The Commissar.

P.S. I’ll be sending formal thanks to Jocelyn, Frederick and Jennifer, our stellar servers all day, and their boss, and of course to McNelly and his team, and to our other sponsors and donors. I’ll be speaking on behalf of all of you, if that’s OK. I expect it probably is.

(photos by Steve Bloom)  

Vinnie Strong: The better story to tell

Vinnie buttonIT STARTED with a basal cell carcinoma on his face, and it progressed. That’s enough.

There’s more to tell, but then this would be a story about cancer, and I won’t give it the space.

I’d rather talk about The Voodoo Vinnie Open, and the man himself, and how people who maybe don’t even know Vince Caronna saw a way to let the good human beings inside themselves come out and play golf.

It’s Saturday, at Capitol City Golf Club, and we have 36 players and a raft of Friends of Vinnie helping out. That’s the nut of it … that’s The Voodoo Vinnie Open. I didn’t say the first annual, because I’m well trained, but there will be a second annual, next year.

A golf tournament was such a natural as a way to help Vince and his family that it was all there was, for me. I wasn’t prepared for the people, and how very cool and kind they can be.

I wasn’t prepared for the smiley-face icon in the email response from one golf course professional, reminding me that real fund-raisers come armed with a 501(c) number (just an FYI, he wrote), which said to me, “You’re really too small for us … but good luck on your little event.”

It was Vince who said, “Let it go, man.”

He went to LSU, and he’s a huge Bayou Bengals fan, which is a good thing because their color is purple, and he’s a Husky fan, too, at least when he’s around me. He humors me, at no time more than when we play golf.

Vin has had medical challenges in the recent past, even before this one. I don’t know if he believes in the healing powers of a round of golf in the long shadows of late afternoon, but it was such a round, with me, after his 2012 heart attack, that maybe got him back into life a little bit and should have taught me something about the relative importance of life and family and friends versus a triple bogey on No. 13.

Vince is playing in The Voodoo Vinnie Open tomorrow.

He had his first treatment this week, with an experimental medicine that has the nice side effect of not making him puke his guts out. I won’t say more, because then the story would be about cancer. I just don’t have the space.

Two rounds of golf

IT’S FUNNY HOW OFTEN that old-school timepiece on my wrist gets called on by the same people who wonder why anyone would buy a watch these days because, duh, you have the time right there on the face of your smartphone.

Don’t ask me what time it is, then. Or better yet go right ahead, because it gives me a chance to look at my watch, which – today – is a handsome Alliance model by Victorinox I bought during a period of watch-acquisitiveness last year when I came into some money.

I didn’t stop with the one Swiss Army watch but brought home a couple Citizens, an Oceanaut and another Victorinox.

That last (for now) Victorinox is a comfortingly solid pocket watch that’s lived in my pocket only one day, which by no coincidence was the opening day of the Grey Goatee Golf Association season,  for which the pair of houndstooth trousers I wore, also by no coincidence, has an honest-to-God watch pocket.

Scorecards 1The silver chain looked swell hanging like a watch chain should, and that day I was hoping the sporting gentlemen of the 3GA would ask me how much time was left before the first group went out. Well, I would say, let me look at my watch, flipping it open to ascertain and announce the time of day and then slipping the watch back into its place, ever so casually.

So it works as a pocket watch works, but the face cover also folds under to make it into a sturdy stand-up clock. Lately, it rests on a perch just above my desk in the small space out back I use as a writing room.

Tucked in behind the clock are two golf scorecards from the 1940s  (best guess) from two different nine-hole golf courses in Iowa. One of the players on each of the cards was a dude named Glen. He wasn’t much of a player, judging from the faded pencil scratches, all the more reason to suspect he’s related to me.

I say the 1940s, because if it was early in the decade Glen was still in high school, not yet having taken early graduation to join the Army Air Corps; mid-decade, Cpl. Potter was doing his military duty in World War II; later, he was at Iowa State in Ames and fixing to marry my mother. Anywhere in there he could have found himself in central Iowa with time for golf, I suppose, but who the hell knows.

One of the scorecards is from Rolling Hills in Glen’s hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa. The golf course is long gone. His buddy, identified by the initial M, shot 53 that day, one better than G.

Among the local rules printed on the back of the card: “Do not buy golf balls from caddies.”

The other scorecard is from Pine Lake Country Club in Eldora, 20 miles north and another 10 miles west of Marshalltown. Pine Lake was, and remains, a private club, but they must have allowed some public play because Glen Potter was not then, or ever, a country club guy.

Glen and his friend Don played 18 that day, and though Glen started out par-birdie on 1 and 2, he slipped to a 51 for the first nine and shot 61 on the second.

Scorecards 2Pine Lake local rule: “If a ball lie in a wagon or auto rut, hole made by burrowing animal, casual water, or ground under repair (not considered a hazard) it may be raised and dropped – not placed – one club length distance, not nearer the hole, without penalty.”

How or when I came to have the scorecards I can’t recollect: a lot of boxes were examined and emptied when Glen died, when my mother moved out of the family home, and again when she died last year.

It was only when I needed to decorate a room that I took a closer look. I hope they weren’t Glen’s career-best rounds.

These hese cardboard-and-pencil-lead histories can’t tell me the hour, the day or the year, and they don’t say which club Glen used to approach the green when he finally wrote down a par for No. 9 at Rolling Hills.

All I know for sure is my father played a couple rounds of golf in and near his hometown when he was a kid. For some reason, when he emptied his pockets or cleaned his house, he held on to the scorecards.

He kept time.

The Firestorm Tour, Day Three: The lightning round

Bear Creek Golf Course

Bear Creek Golf Course

WINTHROP, Wash. – They take pride around here that the back side has such a different character from the front. That’s saying something at a nine-hole golf course.

At Bear Creek, here in the Methow Valley in the North Cascades, they didn’t just move the blue tees 10 or 15 yards back or forward of the whites, like your average nine-banger. They radically altered the view and challenge from the teeboxes, front nine to back, on many of the holes. They reduced the yardage enough on one back-side hole to change the par.

And on No. 17, just for us, they called forth thunder and lightning and the roaring wind.

All in all, it made for a lively round of golf in fire country. We’d come, the day before, from Pateros, and the best  that can be said about that is now, at least, the community there and in the rest of the vast acreage of the Carlton Complex fire can begin to think about rebuilding, rather than fleeing.

The front nine at Bear Creek is a good country golf course, and if that was all it was, there’d be a place for it among the top niners in the state of Washington. It’s well-groomed throughout, lush and green at ground level, with the brown and barren hills and peaks of the Sawtooth Range and Pasayten Wilderness as a constant pictographic backdrop.

No. 3 morphs, on the back, into an elevated tee shot, from a completely separate teeing ground, through a narrow break in a thick canopy of trees. That the fairway below is broad doesn’t matter if you don’t get there.

No. 4 becomes a No. 13 with another wide-open fairway, but the dense foliage near left of the tee is a looming obstacle.

On the second time around, what was a 332-yard par-4 No. 6 is a 176-yard par-3 No. 15, down into a smallish green sloping sharply away on the sides.

On 17, we heard the first grumblings of thunder … the lightning in its wake was far off. By the time we got to 18, the lightning was close, and it felt like real life. We picked up our balls, awarded ourselves bogeys, and scrammed for the clubhouse.

By the time we got on the road away from Bear Creek, the wind was tearing limbs off trees and knocking out power. We pulled into our lodging, the rustic Virginian Resort , to find it had gone dark minutes before.

The forecast had said dry lightning storms, the worst imaginable prospect for this parched region. The weather folks, thankfully, got it wrong: The storm dumped rain for a good 40 minutes, not enough to prevent a small lightning fire we could see in the hills above the resort but enough, as it turned out, to minimize its spread.

The Firestorm Tour came to Winthrop, experienced the power of nature, and got a really worthwhile round of golf in just under the wire. And we lived to play again.