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Year in Yosemite: Fore Ever

The Wawona Golf Course was our nation's first organic course.

Yosemite National Park is one of the only national parks to host a golf course within its boundaries. For the public record, I own the sixth hole. Not own as in, I hit a hole-in-one there and now both the sixth hole and I are famous. I don’t golf. But I think of it as mine just the same. That’s because each year during Wawona Elementary School’s Golf Tournament and Fundraiser, it’s the place I sit waiting to witness someone else make a hole-in-one. If they do (and so far no one has), they instantly win a car. And while it would be thrilling to see someone win both the hole and the car, it’s not the reason I sign up for sixth-hole duty each year. Nope. My reasons have to do with its quiet and beauty and the sheer audacious resilience of the place.

Originally designed in 1917 for the Washburn brothers (the original owners of the Wawona Hotel), the Wawona Golf Course became part of Yosemite National Park when the Wawona Hotel and its surroundings were deeded to the federal government in 1932. More interested in wilderness than golf courses, the federal government found they couldn’t get rid of the course (it was there before they took ownership), but they could let it die of benign neglect. Which is exactly what they set out to do until a man named Kim Porter showed up in 1980. He became obsessed with restoring the nine-hole golf course to its former glory — no mean feat when it’s inside a national park.

Clearly, using pesticides to restore the greens was out of the question, so he went organic, making Wawona the first organic golf course in the nation. He combined natural grasses to keep the fairways and greens healthy, relied on the area’s hawks, owls and eagles to keep the rodent population under control and watered it all with reclaimed water. Once the fairways and greens were in good working order, he turned to the wilderness, letting it take over any sections of the course that weren’t crucial to play. To me, one of the most beautiful sections of the course is, you got it, the sixth hole, where a restored riparian habitat sits side by side with a par-three hole.

DSC_1130But I’m not the only one impressed by Kim Porter’s strategy. The Wawona Golf Course garnered the prestigious Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Award, a nod to the fact that this ecologically correct piece of earth is beloved by golfers and non-golfers alike. Where else can you sit at the edge of a green and listen to wildlife (bears and mountain lions included) root around in the forest? Or watch deer mosey across the fairway between players? Or take a hike on a trail when your game is done? It seems fitting to me that this is the place where our little school holds its major fundraiser each year. Because, like the golf course, in order to exist we’ve had to learn to work with what we have, relying on the love of the community that fought to keep the golf course here and now works like mad to keep the school alive.

Two years ago the local school district shut our school. The federal government gave us money to keep it going but those monies are caught up in a bureaucratic boondoggle of epic proportions. And so we have to count on the kindness, and donations, of both friends and strangers to keep our doors open, all the while hoping for a miracle.

On the day of the golf tournament, the sun filled the sky and the scent of autumn filled the air. Then around noon, clouds moved in, bringing with them colder temperatures and worry. If it rained, would our fundraiser, with its moneymaking silent auction and BBQ, be cancelled? At 2 p.m., a call came in from Yosemite Valley—a freak storm had dumped over an inch of rain in just an hour. The Valley was flooded; restaurants and stores were closed. At 3 p.m., with storm clouds building, a roll of thunder went so long and loud that I scurried from my sixth-hole chair and headed for the safety of the Wawona Hotel. At 4 p.m., the sun returned ... only a few sprinkles had fallen on our day. I took it as a sign. Perhaps, like Kim Porter and the golf course, the school will flourish, proving the power of an audacious dream and a resilient nature. That’s a hole in one I’d like to see.

-- Jamie Simons/Photos by Jon Jay

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Jamie and her family have since lived in the park. Check out all of her blog articles by clicking here.

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