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.