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If you Like to Play Rough

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Clark Fork's Phil Kemink looks on as senior Tess Vogel tries out a fairway Clark Fork's Phil Kemink looks on as senior Tess Vogel tries out a fairway

The dream of a community golf course is coming closer in Clark Fork

On something like 17 mostly neglected acres just behind the football field in Clark Fork, Clark Fork High School principal Phil Kemink is making slow but steady progress on his dream of building a community golf course.

The vision, it should be said, is not one of “The Resort at Clark Fork High.” When this course finally opens to the public—maybe this fall with just a little more support—players will be taken back to the origins of golf itself.

In one word, think rough. “This will never be a manicured course,” Phil laughed and then, with his usual enthusiasm, took me on a power-walk tour of what will be come the nine holes of a par 3 course.

Although the history of the sport itself is debated, St. Andrews, Scotland is considered the first true golf course and it was located on a fairly barren piece of land that was sculpted both by grazing sheep and howling winds.

The school’s mostly wooded piece of property may not seem to have much in common with St. Andrews on the surface, but there’s a good chance that grazing animals would feel perfectly at home there, as evidenced by the number of deer flitting through the trees throughout the day. And while there is further excavation work to be done, the final product is not going to be much smoother than it is now, quack grass and all.

“I want this to be a place where people who want to have fun can come and have fun,” said Phil. “They can stop by after work, play a few holes, shake off the day... It’s never going to be pristine, it’s never going to be a money-maker, but it’s going to be ours.” And honestly, a walk through the acreage complete with gopher holes, blowdowns and burn piles is nonetheless serene and peaceful, even at the pace Phil likes to set.

Let’s make clear from the outset that this golf course at Clark Fork, located on property owned by the school district and “under the management” of the administration of the high school, is not getting a dime from district coffers. This is a complete, volunteer effort and that is part of the reason why progress is so slow. “We’ve been working on this for four years,” said Phil, “and I’d like to have it open by fall but I’m just not sure where I’m going to find the time.” In part, that’s because Phil is prepared to do all the work himself if need be; he looks at any community support as an extra.

“I am so thankful for the help people have given,” he said. One person, he related, spent the entire summer weed-wacking the acreage—that’s right, weed-whacking. “I was able to excavate about one and three-quarter holes (and a thank you to Terry Chowning of Annie’s Orchard for loaning the equipment),” Phil explained, so there’s seven and a quarter holes to go. “I just want to get it smooth enough on the fairways that I can mow.”

To mow, of course, he needs to buy a mower, and to get there he needs to borrow or rent an excavator, and then there’s more labor in moving and burning brush, building up the tee boxes and planting them with seed, taking down dead or dying trees... this is a project begging for some hands-on involvement from those who love golf, or those who love community projects.

And that type of hands-on involvement is just what the project got, at least for a day, when Mountain West Bank brought out their employees for a volunteer work day, joined by several members of the Clark Fork community. “We were really able to make some progress,” said Phil. “Now if we can just do that a couple dozen more times!”

Despite the amount of work still to do, there is vast improvement in this area that has long been a bit of a “bum jungle” in the town. Its close proximity to town has made it a favorite of youngsters, and maybe others, who tear through on ATVs and motorbikes, and gather for parties while leaving behind beer cans, cigarette butts and used condoms. “The garbage is all cleaned out of there now,” Phil said, 

That was an important result for local Tim Dick, whose family volunteered on the work crew. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose beautiful, (somewhat) new building abuts the property, he remarked, “That’s our back yard. I’m excited to think about it being cleaned up and looking good.”

A further issue regards liability insurance on the property; there’s a possibility that the city might help fund that bill. “I can’t say enough about how supportive the city has been in helping this all come together,” said Phil. “In the end, this will be a facility for the community, and they have been strongly supportive of our efforts to make this happen.”

So if it all comes together and there’s a brief opening this fall—or if it takes a little longer and maybe opens even later—what can the community expect?

Go back to that word ‘rough.’ If a way can be found to pay for them, there might be what the Forest Service calls “primitive toilets.” If not, expect porta potties. “Or people may have to pee on trees,” said Phil, only half laughing.

And while Phil wants to be able to keep the fairways mowed, mowing is the only attention they’ll get. “When the grass dies in the heat of summer, people will have to play on dead grass,” he remarked. “In no appreciable way will this course be ‘maintained’ the way most golf courses are maintained.”

Expect cheap. “I don’t want people to have to pay more than a few dollars to access the course,” he said. “It needs to be accessible to everyone. Maybe we can even do some sort of season pass in return for volunteer work or something. To tell the truth, we’re not that far along.”

Expect beauty. The rocky spine of the Cabinets, with the snow-covered Scotchman Peaks popping up behind, predominates the approach to the course. Once on the “fairways,” you find typical North Idaho forest land, and wildlife.

Expect surprises. “There’s no way I could ever come up with enough money to fence the property,” Phil explained, “so it’s really going to take community support to keep it in good shape, and keep people from coming in on their recreational vehicles and tearing it up.”

Expect this to be one of the few golf courses that’s dry. “This is school property, so it’s part of the drug-free school zone, which is part of Idaho law,” said Phil. “I probably can’t police it, but I hope people will respect the law.”

And expect fun. “This is going to be a tough course to play. I figure that if someone can learn to play this course, they’ll be able to play anywhere,” Phil said, while the sound of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York,” seemed to fill the room.

“You know, it doesn’t just have to be golf out there,” Phil added. “Frisbee golf is popular and is a possibility,” and he was also open to the idea of extreme croquet. “Primarily, it’s a golf course, but the goal is for a place to have fun.”

If you’d like to join Phil in making his vision a reality, call the school at 208.255.7177 or email [email protected] There are a lot of needs, and maybe you could fill one. Consider the following:

Use of an excavator. Labor on an excavator. Monitoring burn piles. Cutting down trees (not many of those to do, now, but nature happens). Writing grants (a primitive toilet, fencing... you name it). Golf supplies (flags, cups, golf balls). Money. Money is always appreciated. There’s likely ways that most everyone could contribute, if they wanted to and gave it some thought. Why not join in the fun?

Clark Fork High School Principal Phil Kemink watches as state-competition-bound Tess Vogel, a senior, takes a practice hit on Fairway #1 (facing page). Above, Phil and Tess are near hole #4, and views of the peaks of the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. At left, rough plans for the course layout, sketched by CFHS coach Frank Hammersley. 

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Landon Otis

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