DAYTON, Wash. – Touchet Valley Golf Course has decent length, tricky-quick greens, crispy sand in the bunkers and a character that sticks in your brain well after your round is done.
It’s not just a golf course. It’s a movement. Whether they know it around here or not.
It’s Pasture Golf, which even its most ardent advocates have a hard time defining precisely. It’s better that way; you don’t want to over-think it.
Pasture Golf has nothing to do with impeccable grooming or big-name designers or high green fees or listings in the “best of” ranks of the national magazines.
It has everything to do with course designs that were never really designed, with fairways and greens built out of spaces that might not scream “golf course” but end up being one anyway.
At Touchet Valley, it’s about split-grilled hot dogs on toasted buns, which is really how a hot dog deserves to be presented.
To get to Touchet Valley (which is not in Touchet, city of, an hour or so west), drive northeast on Highway 12 from Walla Walla, through Dixie and Waitsburg and the barley fields and pea fields into Dayton, the county seat of Columbia County, which is the next-to-southeasternmost county in the northwesternmost state in Grey Goatee Nation.
Who’s the golf pro? There isn’t one.
“I am, from these windows,” and Linda Harting nods her head 30 yards straightaway out the front of the shop to the tee box for No.1, a shortish 90-degree dogleg par-4 that right off the knock demands precise shotmaking.
Harting runs the Sand Trap restaurant on the site and takes the green fees for the golfers who come in off the highway or are dedicated regulars on this unassuming country layout.
She makes sure every player signs a name to her tee sheet, partly so her bosses at the county can keep track and partly because she gets 20 cents a name.
Touchet Valley qualifies as a Pasture Golf course in its loose parameters, we can suppose, because parts of Nos. 3 and 4 are on pastureland owned by a resident family, the Stedmans, and donated to golfers in the region. The course, according to its link from the Pasture Golf site, was built in 1910 on a dairy farm.
Holes 7 and 8, a pair of par-4s, lie in the infield of the Columbia County Fairgrounds horse track; the seventh tee is right by the bucking chute. The course stretches to 2,931 yards from the back tees.
Harting had never heard of Pasture Golf. Once she learned a little about what it was, she suggested the course in Touchet proper might be a good candidate, by which she means it’s more of a pasture than her course.
In fact, the Touchet course, Pheasant Creek, is listed at www.pasturegolf.com along with two other Washington courses, Paradise Blackberry Country Club on Vashon Island (for which the fee is listed as “one six-pack Negra Modelo”) and Pend Oreille Golf and Country Club in Metaline Falls (with sand greens and a fee of $1.50, deposited in a box on-site).
The site lists Pasture Golf courses in 29 states, including nine in Oregon; five Canadian provinces; plus Australia, England and of course Scotland, which exists as the spiritual forebear of Pasture Golf.
As far as a working definition of Pasture Golf, there’s this from the Website: “Some concern has been voiced as to what is a Pasture Golf course. Do we mean that Pasture Golf courses must be actively involved in providing fodder for ruminants? The answer is no (although it could be a definite plus).”
It’s no joke that the Pasture Golf folks think it’s possible to take golf too seriously.
Linda Harting doesn’t think there’s anything funny about Touchet Valley, and in fact she says her course is due for a re-rating (current course and slope, 69 and 114) because of the addition of several bunkers.
On the day of a recent visit, the course’s pin placements took full evil advantage of the shelves and humps and undulations on the greens. Pasture Golf or not, Touchet Valley is no novelty act.