Fortunately, Soo can always tell when I’m losing it and need a little alone time so on Saturday she told me to go away. I had heard there was a driving range near Kingston, which is off the island on the north Kitsap peninsula. To give you a general idea of the geography, Las Piedras is less than ten miles west across Puget Sound from Seattle, which, and this might come as a shock to some people, is about 100 miles away from the Pacific Ocean. The Olympic Peninsula runs interference, holding a protective wing over the Kitsap Peninsula, which in turn holds a protective wing over Las Piedras Island, making the island look either like the bullseye at the center of rings of land and water or some cocooned chrysalis waiting to sprout wings and fly away, depending on your perspective. I was leaning more towards the former so decided to get off the bullseye for awhile.
To get to Kingston, or, to be more precise, the driving range on South Kingston Road on the way to Kingston, I crossed over the Agate Passage Bridge turned right at the Casino (yes, casino), went through the Port Madison Indian Reservation (slowing near the grave of Chief Sealth [Seattle, to you and me]), and then just meandered until I saw something that looked like a place to hit balls. I needed to stretch my conception of what that was. The range was barely noticeable from the road, the sign was concealed behind some bushy trees (honestly, I will study the local flora at some point. For now, let’s call them cedars), and the gravel drive looked half-complete at best. If it weren’t for the stubby flag plunged into a swath of sad grass masquerading as a putting green I would have rolled right by. A trailer abutted half an old barn. To enter, you slid open the barn door. Once I had done this, all my snooty preconceptions went out the window. But for the lack of grass to hit off, it was an ideal little setup. And, the lack of grass could be forgiven, afterall the range was covered (remember this is a land synonymous with rain), it’s hard to grow grass under a roof (see: Houston Astrodome circa 1971). The matts were good as far as matts go, the distances on the range itself were well marked, and the view was not displeasing, leaning towards the pastoral/welcome-to-Mayberry feel. But what really set the range apart were the images of Ben Hogan framed and hung on the inside wall of that half barn. They were enlarged copies of the illustrations from Ben Hogan’s “Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” the one book everyone who wants to know how to play golf should read. It has taken some heat lately as being overly technical and not as modern as it once was, but you don’t have to take everything in it as scripture. It was one of the first golf books I ever read, and combined with Jack Nicklaus’s “Playing Lessons” would provide a solid foundation for anyone’s game.
There was one other person on the range. I bought some balls, (it was self-service, put your money in the tin and take a bucket) and set up shop at the opposite end where a mirror stood so golfers can check out their swings. After I’d pounded about half my bucket I saw the reflection of the other guy walking over towards me. Now before you get the idea that this is going to be one of those mystical golf stories, forget about it. I like hitting balls because it’s therapeutic, it helps me get out aggression, and it might help my game, (which needs it), but it's no more spiritual than a good piss is. I’ve read a lot of crap about golf and the soul, my opinion is the two should be kept as separate as meat and milk. What follows is my recollection of an awkward conversation (more or less) and that’s all.
“Howdy,” he said as I placed another ball on the tee. I stood up and said hello.
“Haven’t seen you around here before.”
“Haven’t been here before,” I said.
He looked down at my shoes, “New around here, then?”
I was wearing a pair of white FootJoys that I had put on in the parking lot (a habit developed from years of playing at public courses). There was no real need to wear golf shoes on mats. My new friend was wearing hiking boots.
“Yup.” I wasn’t quite sure where this interrogation was going and I hadn’t really gotten a warm and fuzzy feeling from this guy. But, it became apparent that he wasn’t going to just walk away.
“Over on Las Piedras Island,” I told him.
I looked at him quizzically, “Ahh?”
“Well, it’s nice over there, ain’t it?”
“We like it,” I said.
I nodded and then waggled my driver a bit, trying to convey politely a desire to return to the reason I was there.
“Kids?” he said, clearly not picking up the subtleties of my body language.
“One,” I told him and then decided to look for a way out of this conversation. So, I smiled and said, “Does everyone who comes here get this treatment or have I done something suspicious?”
He laughed a bit and I laughed, and then he said apologetically, “Oh, no, no, it’s just there’s only about 30 or 40 guys around here who use this place and we all pretty much know each other, so when I see someone new I like to know who they are and how they found the place.”
“Not sure how much longer this place will be in business with only 30 or 40 customers.”
“Oh, we’ve got a pretty low overhead,” he said.
“You’re a part owner then?”
“Well, it’s more of an informal investment, a handshake deal, nothing in writing. A bunch of us just got tired of driving to places we didn’t like all that much so we decided to make our own.”
“Makes sense. My name’s Billy, by the way.”
“That’s a funny last name you got there, Billy. My name’s Bob.”
“Huh, oh yeah, it’s Dutch,” I stuck out my hand, “Nice to meet you Bob.”
And really that was about it. We talked a bit more, I told him we’d moved from California (did I notice a wrinkle of the forehead, or am I just being overly sensitive), somehow I got rid of him, hit the rest of my balls, and left. Except, as I was walking through that sliding barn door, Bob looked up, saw me leaving and said, “Welcome to Cascadia.”