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Chambers Bay Golf Course: A Moment with Bill Reflection
In exactly one week, the greatest golfers in the world will converge on University Place, Washington, for the U. S. Open Golf Championship. Tens of thousands of golf fans will watch from the sidelines. Millions around the world will watch the event on the television.
This is the first time the U.S. Open has come to the Pacific Northwest. The choice of Chambers Bay is astounding in that it is a public course (open to anyone) and has only been in existence for eight years. Add to that the fact that this is a “links” course, an unusual choice for a U.S. Open, and it is easy to understand why the golf world is fascinated by this upcoming event.
I am not a golfer. I tried it for about a year and failed miserably. I’ve never picked up a club since then.
So why am I writing this article? Why am I so interested in a former sand and gravel quarry turned golf course?
My father, Dale LeRoy Holland, was discharged from the United States Army in September, 1945. He returned home to Charles City, Iowa, gathered up his wife, Evelyn, and step-daughter, Darlys, and moved the family to the Pacific Northwest. He at one time had been stationed at Fort Lewis just outside of Tacoma, Washington, and vowed to return there if he survived that damned war.
Survive he did, and in January, 1946, the young family escaped the cold Iowa winter and drove west to Tacoma and its incessant rain, green trees and promise of a good future.
Finding work in Tacoma at the end of the war was not easy, but eventually Dale Holland found a part-time job at Pioneer Sand & Gravel on the outskirts of Tacoma in a sleepy bedroom community called University Place. An odd name for a town, for sure, since there was no university located there, but be that as it may, Dale Holland was determined to make that part-time job into a full-time job. He believed in hard work; he believed in giving it your all; and he believed a man provides for his family and does everything necessary to do so.
The years rolled on. The family of three moved out of a tiny apartment into their first house in 1948 because their tiny family increased by one, a tiny package named William Dale Holland. Three years later they moved into a bigger home, and there they would stay for the next twenty-seven years.
And all that time, Dale LeRoy Holland worked for Pioneer Sand & Gravel.
Dale LeRoy Holland died in 1969, a cold January night in a cold January month. His funeral was attended by all of his co-workers from Pioneer Sand & Gravel. Most of them had worked by his side for all of those years, and a member of their family had died…so they were there.
The years passed, and Pioneer Sand & Gravel was sold to Lonestar Sand & Gravel, and the calendar kept turning its pages and eventually demands changed, marketplace influences changed, and Lonestar closed the business, leaving Pierce County with 950 acres of seemingly unusable land.
Today that land is Chambers Bay Golf Course. One-point-four million cubic yards of sand and gravel were removed from the former quarry, and one of the greatest golf course designers was brought in, and from a waste land came a world-class golf course.
Time Marches on but Memories Remain
I look at it today and I barely recognize it. A portion of the great dock that seemed to stretch forever can still be seen in the background. We used to fish off that dock. I would call up a friend, ask him if he wanted to go fishing, and then ride to work with my dad and spend the day in the sunshine fishing from the dock. Exciting times for a young boy. The trains would stop at the dock to be loaded with sand and gravel. Barges loaded from that dock. Huge machinery, the bulldozers and front-loaders, went by constantly, moving earth, hauling earth, sorting the earth, all to satisfy demand in a thousand cities across the country.
Of course all the workers knew me. I was Dale’s kid. They were big men, hard men, men who worked eight long hours, five and six days a week, out in the sun, out in the rain, out in the snow, sleet and howling winds. They worked as long as their bodies held out. The day would end with a loud whistle; the men would climb in their cars and trucks, dirt and dust caked to their faces, hands and clothes, and drive home for a well-deserved dinner. Those who had children, like Dale Leroy Holland, would play catch with their sons after the meal, or give their daughters rides to dance recitals. They would then climb wearily into bed, sleep like the dead, and get up the next morning to do it all over again.
And they were my friends. There was Oly, a Swede from Minnesota who also moved to the area after the war. There was Gus from Topeka, and Louie from Brooklyn. They worked hard, they played hard, and they laughed hard at raunchy jokes I was privileged to occasionally hear. When the lunch whistle blew I would join my dad, and his friends, and I happily sat on a bench and ate with these strong men, men who had defended their country, and they would ask me about school, and talk to me about girls. They would ruffle my hair with their large hands, and tell me secrets reserved only for men. When I graduated from high school they were there, sharing in my triumph, and they were proud of me for going on to college, a privilege none of them ever had.
And then it was all gone. Dale LeRoy Holland died, then Oly, then Gus and Louie. I graduated from college and none of them were there except in spirit. I had achieved what they had not, and I’m quite certain they were with me that afternoon when I accepted my diploma, hard men who had lived hard lives, and who had taken moments during their lives to make a young kid feel welcomed and cared about.
And then the quarry was sold, and then closed, and the wind blew over an empty landscape for many years until a golf course was built.
I’ll most likely watch part of the U.S. Open on television next weekend, not because I’m terribly interested in over-priced athletes, and certainly not because I’m interested in golf. I’ll be watching because the guys will be there. As Phil Mickelson lines up a putt, I’m sure I’ll see Oly standing nearby smiling. As Tiger Woods hits a three-iron, I have no doubt that Louie will be watching the ball soar majestically over the dunes that were once sorting stations. And as Rory McIlroy hits a long drive, there will be Dale LeRoy Holland, smiling that smile, telling me the secrets of life, and once again sharing time with his son.
So it was.
So it is.
So it always will be.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)