By Jack Rubinger

Spring is here and that means it’s time to bust out your golf clubs. Local golf courses, putting greens and driving ranges are open during our current health crisis with some restrictions including keeping a six-foot distance between players, paying in advance by phone and not touching the pin. Otherwise, it’s golf as usual.

While there were rumblings in the local press about the financial health of local golf courses, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) and the Mayor’s Office are not actively considering selling courses.

“We are proud to continue our robust efforts to engage more people of color, women and young people with the lifelong sport.

“Portland Parks Golf is an enterprise fund that relies on user fees rather than the City’s general fund, with only one exception for emergency general fund support since its establishment in 1918,” said Mark Ross, Media Relations/Community Relations, PP&R.

My local course is Eastmoreland on SE Bybee; a lovely setting with geese, lots of water hazards, bridges and wide-open fairways and some long, challenging holes. The course is spring-typical mushy right now, the creeks are full and the grass off the fairway is high.

Eastmoreland Public Golf Course began back in 1916, the brainchild of Superintendent of Parks, James O. Conville and T. Morris Dunne of the Multnomah Athletic Club. Both men felt strongly that Portland needed a public golf course.

In an effort to drum up seed money, a committee solicited popular subscriptions ($100 for a lifetime membership). They quickly raised $3,000 and with the tax-free use of 160 acres, granted by the Ladd Estate Company, Eastmoreland Public Golf Course was on track to become a reality.

The course was laid out by National Amateur Champion, H. Chandlar Egan in 1917. Today, Eastmoreland is ranked by Golf Digest among the top public courses in the country to play. The course is as beautiful as it is challenging, bordered in part by Portland’s Rhododendron Gardens and Crystal Springs Lake.

The environment provides a home for thousands of birds including great blue herons, mallards, wood ducks and more. The tree-lined fairways are beautiful year-round and the natural hazards such as ravines, streams and lakes require the best from any golfer.

In the early days of golf in Portland there were basically three clubs: Tualatin Country Club, Waverly Country Club and the Portland Golf Club. Waverly, based in SE Portland, started holding tournaments in 1904.

Currently I’m getting to know my 17-year-old son through golf. On a recent outing, because we weren’t paired with two other golfers and weren’t so self-conscious, my son and I talked more openly about golf and about life.

While I’m happy when I connect solidly with the ball, my son can actually hit par, which means that he can sink the ball in the hole in a minimal number of strokes.

He took the time to watch my swing and make some suggestions which I followed and were successful. We still cursed bad shots and bad form, but we hung out together the whole afternoon and got into the game.

We talked about the quality of the early evening light, which clubs we liked and having another outing. Together we took a break from life during COVID-19.

Two memorable events happened the last time. First, a guy hit a long drive and wound up hitting a goose. Unfortunately, the goose didn’t make it. The guy approached the goose, took off his shirt, wrapped the goose in the shirt and gently carried the deceased goose off the course to a quiet spot off the fairway.

The second occurred when I found someone’s phone. Toward the end of our round, two guys came cruising by on a cart asking if someone had found a phone, and so it was returned.

For those who are just starting out or are rusty from not playing often, experts recommend taking lessons, practicing on putting greens and driving ranges and finding a role model to study and admire.

Jason Latula, a SE Portland golfer who has been playing golf since 1994, raved to me about a Canadian pro named Moe Norman.

Latula, who plays three to four times a week, enjoys organizing competitions and golfing at night, shared a YouTube video about Norman and I found myself admiring the guy, too, for several reasons.

He didn’t look like a typical pro golfer. He was kind of overweight, wore loud and obnoxious pants, had bad teeth and a colorful personality. Norman used to recite golf poetry and hit the ball off soda cans, but he had a consistent game. He hit it long and hard and straight down the fairway every time. Professional players like Tiger Woods still talk about him today.

“He hit the ball really straight. He played through the course and simplified the game,” said Latula.

He was a legend in Canada and Latula continued: “I wish when I was just starting golf that somebody would have showed me this man. That’s who I would have modeled myself after.”

The cool thing about golf is that it offers both reflection and interaction, socialization and contemplation. You’re always a student of the game and these days, my weekly golf outings with my son are the highlight of my week.

Photo by Jack Rubinger