LAYING UP MIGHT BE the smart play on a given hole on a given day at a given golf course.
Playing it safe, however, is not in the business plan for Charlie Thurston’s entrepreneurial golf venture.
Thurston, a 45-year-old PGA professional, recently fell victim to a downsizing at Spokane Country Club, where he’d been working as a teaching pro. Just like that, his job and his comfort zone were gone. But he still had his teaching chops … and time to devote to his dream.
Thus, Pacific Northwest Golf and Wine Tours LLC. It’s far from the only tour company combining wine and golf. It might be the only one that throws golf instruction into the package.
And you, the tourist golfer, get to customize your journey.
“This just feels like something I should be pursuing,” Thurston says. “Win, lose or draw, I’m excited to be doing something innovative.”
You can visit the Website for examples of tours – the courses, the duration, the after-hours wining and dining, the room to lay down your weary head. In short, pick your destination, and Thurston will help you chart your road trip.
Wine tourism is a nice niche if you can carve one out in a crowded marketplace. Golf tourism is in recovery, not yet at full health.
So it might be a tough nut to crack, but Thurston is in his element. He’s a student of the game as much as he is a teacher, he says. He loves the history of golf and exploring the places where the game took root and flourished.
“Name another game that has 600 years of history,” he says. He might have added, but didn’t, that wine has an infinitely deeper history than golf.
And where there’s golf, there are players yearning to play it better. Thurston’s teaching sessions will include not only swing tips but specific techniques for attacking the course of the day. For instance, he might offer his thoughts on the bump-and-run approach to the fescue greensides of Chambers Bay, or how to play into the wind at Horn Rapids.
If the golf turistas in his group are into a little friendly gambling, he’ll help set up the day’s game. He’ll see to it that the beverage cart does not neglect his people. And, at the end of the round, he’ll get you to the wine-tasting or whatever is next on your itinerary.
While he loves the history of golf and all the places where it lives, he also loves the Pacific Northwest. In his view, the region is underappreciated for its golf and underutilized by tourists.
He’d like to be the guy to shine a light on the Northwest for the rest of the globe. Spokane, for instance, is one of the great regions for affordable golf. Thurston has a special fondness for Wine Valley Golf Course in Walla Walla and the wine region around it.
The golf boomtown of Bend, Ore., has wineries, to be sure, but is better known for microbreweries and craft distillers. In fact, Thurston has cooked up a promotional offer for Bend featuring tours of the Deschutes Brewery and the Oregon Spirit Distillery, with lodging at Pronghorn Resort and golf at Pronghorn and Brasada Ranch.
Bellingham, Wash., is rich in good and low-cost golf, and head an hour north over the border into British Columbia and new worlds open up.
Portland, well, come on, there’s no better city golf in the world, and the potential for tie-ins to wine, beer and spirits is limitless.
The Coeur d’Alene region of Idaho, with its ravishing scenery, boasts golf that ranges from the iconic (Coeur d’Alene Resort course and its island green) to the sublime (Circling Raven).
And ring in the new: Salish Cliffs, near Shelton, Wash., is Washington’s newest active course and connected to a sprawling resort and casino. Gamble Sands, a new David McLay Kidd design, is due to open this summer near Brewster, Wash.
Which finally brings us ‘round to Bandon Dunes, the one place outliers will mention if they know anything of Northwest golf destinations.
“People don’t know it,” Thurston says, “but there are 20 wineries within reach of Bandon.”
Thursday: Charlie Thurston in the Teacher’s Corner.