A week before teeing off in the Bellingham Open on the beautiful Lake Padden layout, 74-year-old golfer Terry Moore of Bellingham had endured an experience on the same course he fervently hopes never happens again.
“I nearly got hit by a falling tree while I was playing!” Moore said Monday, Sept. 7, after playing in the 41st annual event.
That unforgettable danger, of course, occurred during a club tournament on Saturday, Aug. 29, when the Lake Padden course sustained severe wind storm damage.
“It looked like a war zone out there,” said director of golf Mel Fish, in his 26th year at the course. “Nobody here had ever seen anything like it on a summer day.”
Moore, a retired Bellingham architect, used his quickness — the speed that enabled him to play center field for the old Queen Anne High in Seattle — to avoid the falling tree.
“I was chipping through branches on the greens, when from holes 4 through 7, we had at least eight to 10 trees falling in the woods,” he said. “Then, when I’m 40 yards from the green, chipping to a pin, this huge wind came up. I heard a cracking noise and saw this tree falling toward me.
“I’m not really quick any more, but I can still run!” he said. “I ran and was about 50 feet away when the tree landed about five feet from my golf bag. My first thought was whether my golf clubs were insured!”
Fish, course superintendent Scotty McBeath and head pro Josh Fish led a large staff effort to clean up the course, beginning at 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 30, knowing the 54-hole Bellingham Open was five days away.
“The greens were tremendous here today,” said Bellingham’s Ken Gunning, a 14-handicapper who won low net honors at 208 in the third flight. “We’ve just got a tremendous superintendent here, and everyone worked their butts off to clean it up. If you missed a putt today, it was your own fault.”
The overall tournament champion was Simon Fraser University golfer Rocco Vigna. His final-round 7-under 65 — the best round of the tournament by three strokes — gave him a 6-under-par 210, one stroke ahead of Battle Creek’s Halen Davis and five strokes ahead of Michael Belle of Vancouver, B.C., and Patrick Sato of Seattle’s Plateau Club.
Bellingham High senior Nick Nolan and former teammate Cody Roth, now a freshman golfer at Western Washington University, both finished at 218.
Nolan shot a pair of 1-under 71s to come back nicely from an opening round 76.
“I hadn’t played competitive golf for a few weeks,” said Nolan. “I got a little too aggressive on the short pars and had double bogeys on both holes 8 and 14 in the first round. But I made it a learning experience and my total score on both holes for the last two rounds was par.”
Nolan also had more good news.
“I have verbally committed to play for Gonzaga University,” he said, indicating he plans to sign in November when permitted. “They recruited me and I feel it will be a good fit.”
The second flight low gross winner was 8-handicapper Kyle Jessop of Vancouver, B.C., at 228-204. Former Bellingham High golfer Josh Helderop shot 232-207 and Bellingham’s Brandon Hundt, from the local baseball/softball facility Inside Pitch, enjoyed a good day at 230-215.
In the third flight, Eaglemont’s Ryan Mriglet took low gross at 246 to join Gunning as a winner.
Moore, having fully recovered from seeing that tree fall so close, found himself playing in the third flight for the first time. He was listed with an 11 handicap and has a 9.6 index handicap.
“I was surprised to be in the third flight. The talent in this tournament sure has gotten a lot better,” he said with a smile. “For 20 years I played in the second flight.”
Josh Fish was thrilled to observe, as he put it, “The course was fantastic,” after what he had seen only a few days earlier.
“I was absolutely shocked to see the damage when I came out early last Sunday morning after the wind storm,” he said. “Coming into this tournament (as opposed to during the days of the tournament, which were rough a few years ago), this was the worst anyone had ever seen. And we didn’t have any power from Saturday until (some time) Tuesday.”
But at least, after Saturday, no more trees fell. Just ask Terry Moore about that.