Komen Tourney a Success at Whispering Rattlesnakes

By: Bob Spiwak

I wish I could begin this with "it was a dark and stormy . . ." It was not. July 14, 2007, was a hot, humid, sultry, stultifying summer day in north-central Washington, the temperature brushing the 100-degree mark.

It was the third annual putting tournament to benefit the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, one of hundreds of "Rally for the Cure" golf events held around the country throughout the year. Compared to many, our version is relatively small potatoes, as our putting course - at just over 4 acres - has a comfortable max of 45 players in fivesomes. We can accommodate six in a group, but it does get crowded and the rounds slower. At temperatures in the 90s this year, quicker was better.

A look back is required. When I first built Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club in the late 1980s, it was a pitch-and-putt course, with pencil-thin fairways, from 30 to 110 yards long, lined by brush that would shame the thickest Scottish gorse. The first hole involved a 60-yard carry over a pond to a green about 750 square feet in total size. This was the median configuration of the greens; the largest, No. 9, was almost 900 square feet and was a fine finishing hole. We also had an island green at No. 8 and an "L-shaped" putting surface at the seventh.

Every year we've had one, and sometimes two, tournaments to benefit the local Montessori School and library. We had a couple of special events, including a large party for my 60th birthday and the Parker Smith Semi-Memorial, an event that honored an old friend and golf writing colleague of the same name. ("Semi-memorial" came about because Smith had several near-death experiences. We figured that if he actually did bite the dust, all we had to do was scratch out the "semi" on the trophies and signage and keep the tournament going.)

Aside from these events, the course was seldom used. But the Penncross bentgrass greens still had to be mowed at least every other day.

At some point around the turn of the latest century, as I was playing golf and having a beer at the turn, I realized golf had permeated my life for 50 years and I had little to show for it but an 18 handicap. I quit the game right then and there. The golf course was converted into an "arboretum" and a modest sculpture garden. I no longer had to push a 200-pound walk-behind Toro greens mower - all the mowing could now be done with a John Deere sit-down rotary. It was a nice respite.

During this down-time of the golf course, there were frequent requests for another tournament, and by 2003, I was ready to get back into the game. I laid out a putting course - not putt-putt, and began to rehab portions of the old greens while adding new ones. The new layout wound through the specimen trees we had planted and was highlighted by the sculptures, mostly a collection of Japanese lanterns and natural wood objects d'art.

I called our head pro, Wiffi Smith, a powerful force on the LPGA Tour in the early 1960s, and told her the "Pro's Cottage" (a pickup camper) would be ready for her in the upcoming year. Fate, however, flung its fickle finger my way and, over four months in 2004, I had two heart surgeries, a prostate surgery and oral surgery. The tournament and final prep of the course would have to wait for another time.

The year 2005 marked my personal re-entry into golf. My handicap was up 10 points, but the putting course was coming along nicely and in June we resumed play for the Komen Foundation, where we had left off during the Pitch & Putt era. Between the entry fees of $15 mandated by the Komen Foundation and a raffle, we raised about $1,300 the first year back. As part of the total $25 entry fee, we provided beer, pop and bottled water and the payout for three places in the tournament. (In addition, we shell out about a thousand a year for maintenance, repair of equipment, seed, fertilizer, plantings, fuel and other expenses.)

The following year we had close to 50 players, and the take for the Komen Foundation increased to over $1,400. There was a problem, however, in that for two years the runoff from the nearby mountains had raised our water table to the point that several areas of the course were flooded until mid-June. So in 2007 we moved the date to mid-July. It was a calculated risk as at that time of the year are our hottest days, the thunderstorms are at their most sinister, the mosquitoes are at their hungriest, and the yellow jackets are just beginning to congregate. The latter invade the two screen houses that contain the potluck food and hover or share one's repast as attempts to shoo them from the plate go for naught.

This year's endeavor brought in almost $1,700 for the Komen Foundation, from 39 players. Class reunions, forest fires and out-of-town guests whittled down the original complement of 48 entries. The heat was bad, even with the shade the larger trees on our property provided. But everyone was in good spirits and we received a lot of reminders for people to be included in next year's mailing list.

During the years of the Pitch & Putt tournaments, the contests were always won by skilled, experienced golfers. However, during the first two years of the putting event, the first-place crystal was won by a firefighter, Gary Westerman, who plays golf about twice a year. This year the winner was the local pastor, Randy Picklesimer, who took first in a putt-off with our pro, Wiffi Smith. They both finished regulation with two-under 52s.

We are currently drawing up plans for next year, when we will return to a June date. The major plans are to re-route the course if the water rises again. We'll see. After all, this is a work in progress.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he's back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob's most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultraprivate Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.