When I arrived at Middlefield Golf Course, I had no intention of being there for six hours. As someone who doesn’t golf, it seems like an excessive amount of time to be somewhere and not participate in the sport. I was there to get a firsthand look at the always-exciting Ladies’ Golf Club.
This group of over 20 women ranging from my mom’s age to my grandma’s age were just a delight to be around. Created in 1995 (the year I was born, which was much to the chagrin of the golfers when I told them this fact) this group is centered on comradery and competition but what keeps it going is its cast of characters. From the Linda who helped start the club to the Linda who told me about the club to the Linda who just joined the club, it is a group of women who are witty and supportive; retired and working; "old" and less "old" but are brought together each week from April to October to play the frustratingly enjoyable game they love.
Berta Rawie and her husband Buzz first learned about Cottage Grove, as many travelers do: via I-5. On one of their road trips in the early 90s from their home in Manhattan Beach, Calif. to the Seattle area to visit one of their daughters, this blip on the map caught their eye. More accurately, the golf course caught their eye.
“Every time we came through here, my husband would see, ‘Gee, that looks like a nice golf course’ because it was just newly built and the trees weren’t up so you could see both sides. So, I said, ‘Well, let’s check it out,’” said Berta.
What began as just checking out the golf course turned into packing up and leaving the city they had lived in for 30 years to move north just a few months later. The area, roughly in the middle of two of their daughters, became their new home. After getting settled into the area, Berta decided to join the golf club that was in its first year.
“I didn’t realize it (was new), because I was new up here. And I only played nine holes because I really wasn’t a golfer and I was embarrassed,” she said. Still shaky on the nuances of golf, she was quick on the uptake.
“But it was amazing because my husband played regularly and talked golf and we watched golf on TV. He talked rules so I was amazed how many rules I knew… and just golf courtesy: you don’t stand in somebody’s putting line, blah blah blah. You don’t talk when someone is hitting a shot. So I really learned a lot just listening to him because he just really loved it,” she said.
Both Berta and Buzz worked stints in the pro shop at the course they enjoyed to stay close to the golfing community while also getting free rounds of golf. As Buzz’s eyesight started to go Berta painted white stripes on his clubs so he could see them and after he passed away seven years ago, Berta stayed active on the greens and as a member of the Ladies’ Club. Last year, Berta moved from Cottage Grove to Eugene where she stays active (“I hike and bike with a bunch of young gals in their 50s. Well, they’re young to me. They’re old ladies to you, I’m 82.”) and makes sure to come down to golf in Cottage Grove each week.
“What keeps me is this group of ladies,” said Berta. “You know and it’s a challenging little course, I love the course and we played invitationals at some of the clubs up in Eugene and elsewhere. And just you hear they’re clique-ish. You play with the same group. And we draw numbers so we play with different people. It’s just a fun group of ladies.”
On a cloudy and cold morning, Linda Levings served as my tour guide for the day. Levings is perfect for this role as she is a Cottage Grove native that got the club started along with Mary Triska and she loves to talk.
“(The club) gets me out of the house. I can’t talk to walls,” she said with a pause. “Well, I guess I could.”
Due to a number of leg surgeries that were the result of having Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer in her leg, the 63-year-old Levings spends the day driving the course in her golf cart and joining the various groups as they putt. Shouting encouragement, giving friends a hard-time and reminding a group of the hole where she hit a hole-in-one, she is engrained not only as part of this group but in Cottage Grove golf. The former Cottage Grove High School girls golf coach knows seemingly every golfer that passes – either members of the Ladies’ Club or other golfers who are on the course – and can provide a brief history that often seems to start with the common refrain of “I went to school with them.”
As she drives through the course and points to notable spots or explains that this area used to be a farm in the 1950s, we stop to watch a group of four tee off.
“You can tell it’s the first day because a lot of these ladies aren’t playing well,” said Levings as we watch another ball go a different direction than intended.
“Pretty good for an old lady,” says the oldest member of the Ladies Club, 86-year-old Raye Jackson as she walks by the cart with a smile. “Well I got a new knee in January and the doctor said how many yards I was going to improve and I’m going to go get my money back.” Despite any refunds, Jackson ended up with the best score on the day.
As Levings and I make our way to another hole, she explains different responsibilities she has had with the group over the year.
“Handicap rules director, director. You name it, I’ve done it,” she said. Levings is also currently the rules expert of the group (“I’ve done a lot of things with the rules, I don’t know it’s just been what I’ve always enjoyed”) and in charge of keeping track of the handicap of each golfer. A job that has become much easier now that instead of plugging scores into a formula can now be found by entering those numbers into a computer that does the work for her.
“Most of (the groups handicaps) are right in the between 24 to 34. That’s pretty much the range of these ladies out here… I’m the lowest handicap. I was pretty much a 14 and so they’ve had... fun with the club championship because I haven’t been able to play,” she said.
While she hasn’t been able to play of late, Levings is eyeing a return to the course later this year. When she is able to join the group that she started over two decades ago, she will be in the city she has always known, right along with the same group of women that she has played with, enjoying the game that she loves.