I was born in 1960 in the center of town—not literally, but culturally. Prineville Golf and Country Club was the center of the Prineville universe. Carved into the hill, the first six holes were bulldozed by a group of golf enthusiasts in 1949. Three more holes were added in the early 1950s to make “the best little nine holes in Oregon,” par 35. My father arrived in 1958, and he and my mom lived in the pro shop next to the kitchen. By the time I was walking, I would play the first and last holes, over and over. I had “two drivers and a putta” in a miniature golf bag. It was 1964.
Prineville was the quintessential small town then. My father employed a smart high-schooler who cleaned clubs, sold merchandise and babysat me for a whopping $1 an hour. My father bought his own merchandise and made his own margins. He was also the guy who hooked our sled to a golf cart and whooshed us up and down the fairway. Often, once the players were off, I would toddle over to the clubhouse with my sister and drain all the drink glasses (no wonder we were such good nappers). Sometimes I was able to talk someone into buying me Orange Crush in a bottle, and I’d come home sporting “lipstick.”
When I played the course a few years ago, it hadn’t changed much. The clubhouse still screamed 1960s and the bar still served mixed drinks at 10 a.m. I still played like I did when I was 4—I lost five balls in the adjacent cow pasture and two more to the creek, to the mixed merriment and embarrassment of my teenaged son. On the eighth tee, my old babysitter Tom MacDonald, who now lives on the course and takes his dog, Murphy, on every round, marched across two fairways to give me a hug, welcoming and earnest fifty years later. He remembered my dad as a gifted golfer and a real mentor. I thought that was pretty good—God knows my dad could be remembered several ways.
As I was leaving, I peeked into the pro shop. My old bedroom was full of dilapidated golf parts. I realized with a pang that things change so quickly, it was miraculous Prineville Golf and Country Club still exists at all. In 2015, the building became fodder for the local fire department, a “successful burn.” As can happen with childhoods, a part of mine went up in smoke.
Time inevitably marches on. Some places, though, retain what author Brian Doyle calls “Oregonness.” Prineville certainly does, despite modern conveniences like stoplights. The statuesque courthouse still towers over Main Street, Prineville Western Wear still sells mini cowboy boots and Dad’s Cafe is still the best place in town—maybe the state—for a cup of coffee. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could still get an Orange Crush somewhere, maybe even at the country club.