Let’s stay on the topic of fun. Tall Chief was a golf course in Fall City, Washington. I grew up playing golf there. It was the place I truly learned the game and discovered my passion for golf. Over the 15 years I played golf and worked at Tall Chief I was blessed with many things. There were great friendships built. The memories created on and off the golf course will last a lifetime and the blessing I’m most thankful for surrounding my time there is the acceptance I felt. At the age of ten I met the son of the head golf professional. It was during a junior golf camp, following the camp we became friends. He and I played golf together nearly every weekend for the next 8 years until college took us in different directions. The time spent at Tall Chief with the group of friends created there, helped shape my thoughts about cerebral palsy, golf, and friendship.
The golf course itself wasn’t much to write home about. It still ranks as one of the top 5 golf courses I’ve played. It’s the place I learned the game and it has a special place in my heart, but not for its impeccable design or meticulous condition. Tall Chief was straight forward in design. Similar to the design I described at Palouse Ridge, it had a, “here it is, let’s see what you can do feel.” The golf course was shorter than most places I’ve played and during the summer it would dry out leading the course to play even shorter. It had a fair amount of water hazards, which I think gives golf courses extra character, but not much bunkering. The greens were small and bumpy, but had angulating complexions leading to challenging putts. A golf shot could be chased onto each green providing easy playability for all. Tall Chief still stands as one of the most fun places I ever played golf.
Tall Chief was designed in a way that helped halt my golfing discouragement, which could have lead me to give up on the game. It was much shorter in length than any other course I’ve played through the years. There was an extra par-3 on the front and back nine shortening the course even further. From the back tees were most golfers played from, the course only measured about 5,600 yards. Most golf courses are anywhere from 6,800 and 7,200 yards from the back tees. From the white tees a golf course is usually around 5,800 to 6.200 yards. There was a drastic difference in the length of Tall Chief compared with other courses. During the summer that length got shorter as a golf ball would roll out on the dry, hard fairways.
Many factors made Tall Chief the perfect place to learn for a kid with cerebral palsy. With CP causing a lack of coordination throughout my body I couldn’t hit the ball nearly as far as my friends. However, the lack of rain in the summer meant my shots would roll for days. It all helped me feel included. We all played from the same teeing area. Today I play a more forward teeing area from the friends I play with because the golf courses are much longer. The length makes for a substantial distance between a red, white, or blue teeing area. Back at Tall Chief the distance between the three tee boxes on most holes was maybe a total of 15 yards. On most other courses the distance between three teeing areas could be upward of 100-150 yards in some cases. When I’m the only person in the group playing the forward tee, things can get lonely.
Along with the sense of belonging I found on the golf course Tall Chief gave me something else important. The head golf professional provided my first job as a cart boy. For two years I spent my summer evenings washing golf carts and cleaning up around the pro shop. At the beginning of my third summer, the head professional took a kid with cerebral palsy and gave him the opportunity to work in the pro shop. I checked people in, answered the phone for tee times and spent those summer evenings responsible for the golf facility. It was challenging for me and became overly hectic at times, but I will always be thankful for the confidence my boss and everyone I worked with had in my ability. Tall Chief gave me a sense of belonging.
If you drive by Tall Chief today along the Snoqualmie River you won’t see a golf course. In the last ten years the land has been sold and cultivated into farmland. Yet, each time I drive by the old golf course I’m drawn to pull off for a moment to look around. It doesn’t look like a field of grass grown up to my waist with small sections devoted to growing crops. For me, I still feel the late afternoon sun creeping behind the trees. The fairways and greens are still there in my mind’s eye with four teenagers riding in golf carts to get in a few more holes before the summer light disappears. It was more than a golf course; Tall Chief was a home.