GEARHART, Ore. – It took 200 dump-truck loads to cart away the trees, uprooted so as not to leave stumps behind on the golf course.
It looked like a war zone, they say, but the course never closed for a minute, even during the thick of it, and this week, more than a year and a half after the project began, it’s seamless – you can’t tell where they were, those 400 shore pines, and you don’t miss what you can’t see.
Gearhart Golf Links, by all accounts, is better for it.
“The golf course sort of revealed itself once we took out the trees,” says Jason Bangild, general manager and director of golf at Gearhart. “The ground became a whole lot more interesting – all these bumps and rolls and mounds that were hidden by trees before are very much in view. You can see Tillamook Head and the Coast Range a lot more than you could before.”
“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to this course,” says Zdravko Barbic, the head PGA professional and an employee of the course, as assistant or head pro, since 1996.
The weather helped – a brilliant Sunday on the Oregon Coast, low 70s and, by local standards, damn near windless – as the Road Warriors tested the oldest course in the Pacific Northwest.
The new look is the old look – the look of a seaside links course through the dunesland. The already-existent fescue grasses were allowed to grow out into sticky roughs, one of many ways you can get in trouble playing Gearhart. But one Roadie played the same ball on all 18 holes of the compact (100 acres) layout, and you can recover – even when you’re approaching from a neighboring fairway.
From the ashes – The clubhouse at Gearhart — including the pro shop and the food, beverage and lodging operation run by McMenamins (the Pot Bunker Pub, the Sand Trap restaurant and lounge, and 18 hotel rooms on the third floor) — has the feel of permanence about it. But history suggests otherwise.
The original Gearhart Hotel, built in the late 1800s across the street from the current property, burned down. They built an even bigger hotel on the same site, and it burned down. They built another monster hotel across the street, Bangild says, and it managed to last 50 years before it was torn down. Most recently, in 1997, the popular original Sand Trap bar and restaurant, with pro shop attached, burned to the ground.
“Lots of fires,” Bangild says, “for a place where it rains a lot.”
How did the tree removal change the playing experience? The long answer, Bangild says, is there wasn’t a whole lot of thinking before — down the middle, down the middle, driver on every driving hole.
“There are holes out there now, for example 17,” Bangild says, “where if you’re downwind, the fescue to the right is definitely in play, the bunker to the left is definitely in play, and if I was playing for a hundred bucks, I’d use hybrid to stay back of the hazard and give myself a full shot in.”
The short answer: “It’s a whole lot more fun, more interesting, and you get to use more clubs — instead of just driver, bomb and gouge.”
Bangild’s perspective of Gearhart is from a good player, a former college golfer and a PGA professional for 27 years. The Road Warriors don’t fit that description, but we got around, and even managed to cast our eyes to the horizon now and then and reap the rewards of a coastal golf panorama.
Like that one pure shot a round, Gearhart will bring us back.
Tomorrow: Zdravko “Z” Barbic in the Teacher’s Corner.