Ralph Rodahl's golfing vision lives on
Ralph Rodahl died June 1, 1997. Planners had so underestimated the man and his impact on the community that they held the service in a crowded space at Dowling Funeral Home. Outside in the warm sun that day, many waited to honor him and express their condolences to his family, wife Juanita, and children Randy and Kim.
Rodahl was a generous and kind man and it was his vision that gave this small town a golf course. He graduated from Wahkiakum High School in 1939, and two of his track and field records stand today. He was the shortest fellow on his basketball team, but because he had the highest vertical leap, he played center.
Most of his athleticism was born from talent and hard work. A little bit he owed to Jesse Owens, who visited Wahkiakum High School on an invitation from Julius A. Wendt.
When Wendt introduced Rodahl, “our star athlete,” to the sprinter and long jumper who won fame in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Owens gave him some advice.
“First ten yards of any sprint you’ve got to pretend like your feet are on a hot stove,” Owens told him.
It paid off. Rodahl ran the 100 yard dash in 10.1 and because the race has been modified to the metric system, the record remains. And after 75 years, no Wahkiakum student has been able to beat his long jump record, which stands at 22’4”.
Rodahl’s parents ran a service station and store on the old highway, which ran down Columbia Street and through downtown Cathlamet. The store was located near where St. James Family Center is now. When the highway was shifted north, the family business needed to move in order to survive.
The Rodahls bought the Dyrland farm, land that had once been owned by James Birnie, and built the store that has grown into what is the strip mall housing the video store and Moore’s Auto today.
It was while in the service that Rodahl learned to golf. And it was after he got home that he met the love of his life.
Juanita’s family moved to Cathlamet in 1946. Her sister would sometimes help Ralph’s mother at the gas pumps, but Juanita had little cause to interact with him. A few years later, her sister had moved to Grays River, and Juanita was living in her own apartment in Longview and working for the phone company.
She and her parents would stop by the Rodahl store when they visited her sister in Grays River.
“Mom and Dad knew him,” Juanita said. “He always had the coffee pot going in the back of the store. One time I was with them and he wouldn’t let us leave.”
“He must have liked her,” laughed Kim.
Ralph would come in for bowling in Longview. She’d watch and then she’d cook dinner for him afterwards.
“That’s how it started,” Juanita remembers. “I worked at the phone company, and we were on the phone for hours at a time. My friends at the company would sneak my bill out. It was 30 cents a minute.”
They dated for two years.
“He said he wasn’t going to get serious when he met me,” she added, “because he was divorced.
“Oh well, good gravy,” Juanita grinned.
Juanita knew little about golf, but Ralph’s enthusiasm was contagious.
“Ralph would drive me all over the land in an old black and white Buick,” she said. “We drove down the hill and he would explain to me what he wanted to do. We would sit by the old alder tree on number one. It really was his dream, and he had it all in his head, all figured out.”
After they were married, she would make him play dough, which he would use to fashion the greens he had planned.
In the early 60’s, with help from some student athletes like Wayne Cochran, Jack Burdick and Chuck Wickan and other community members like Wayne Bond, Rodahl turned what remained of the Deerland farm into a three hole course.
“You’d pay at the store and you would play three holes three times,” Juanita said. They would even have golf tournaments. You could see all of it at once, everybody at all three holes.”
He bought more land from the Boege family. Eventually he bought the upper half from Dr. Christiansen.
“The second part of seven was a hayfield,” Randy recalled. “The rest of the land was all woods. Charlie Ward from the Soil Conservation ran the cat and carved out all the fairways for the upper part.”
The afore mentioned high school athletes helped build the greens and seed them.
“There was a lot of community help,” Juanita said. “We consider Wayne Cochran as a part owner in our hearts. He was there from day one and he still helps out to this day.”
“The whole golf course was finished in ’77 or ’78,” Randy said. “It was delayed a year because elk tore the crap out of it just as we got it done. It had to wait because we had to fix the greens again. We opened the clubhouse in ’78.”
Ralph was a warm and generous man and he drew golfers from near and far. With Juanita, they welcomed their children’s friends who learned to love the parents as much as they loved time with Randy or Kim.
“Even when Ralph ran the store down there,” Juanita said, “the young guys would come and help out. They would hang out and play tricks on each other. People enjoyed being around him. He wasn’t mean or vicious to anyone that I can remember. He was just a real nice guy.”
Rodahl was always a big supporter of the school and athletics, according to Randy.
“He would go to all the basketball games and keep the stats,” remembered Kim. He would also grab a golf cart and Kim and head down to the school when there was a home track meet so he could help out at the long jump.
One time a golfer came from Longview. He told them he loved to come to Skyline Golf Course because it reminded him of St. Andrews in Scotland.
“It’s just the lay of the land,” he told them. “A golf course is just the lay of the land.”
Ralph and Randy worked hard to keep the course in good shape for years, even though Randy was working full time.
“We had a lot of activities then,” Juanita said. “Couples night, scotch ball, glow ball, scrambles, men’s club, ladies club, tournaments every weekend.”
Sometimes there would be a barbecue, with hamburgers or locally caught salmon.
“We used to have golf matches with the men’s clubs at Vernonia, Surfside and Peninsula when I was in high school,” Randy said. “We just picked up with Peninsula again this year.”
On New Years Eve, several patriarchs in the Quigley family would arrive with their brood and play poker with the Rodahls and other friends. There would be one table for the men and another for the women.
“When I got old enough, I got to play too,” Randy remembered.
Eventually it all became too much work for Ralph, and Wayne Cochran stepped in to manage the golf course, which he did for about 15 years. There have been others who tried to run the place since Cochran retired, but it has since fallen into disrepair.
The Rodahls are working hard along with many volunteers to try and bring it back to its former glory, always with the memory of Ralph and his love for the course close to their hearts.
“The condition got so bad, word got out it was in bad shape,” Randy said. “It is getting in better shape. It’s starting to happen.”
“It’s tough because we have jobs,” Randy added. “But we still have to keep the mower going.”
They are grateful for the members who have been with them all along and they are grateful for their volunteers.
“If it weren’t for the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to keep it going,” Randy said.
Ralph taught the kids to golf. Kim’s swing is gorgeous, according to one of the high school golf team’s coaches. Her husband, Robin, would like to beat her.
“It would be like winning the masters,” he said.
A local supporter, Fred Carter, recently got a hole in one at number three.
“That’s the only one I don’t have a hole in one at,” Juanita laughed.
“She has three!” Kim exclaimed. “One on eight and two on four.”
“I can’t even get to the green anymore,” Juanita finished.
The course has been returned to its original layout. They’ve taken out a number of trees. The driving range has been taken out, but people are still welcome to go down to the second hole and practice as long as they pick up their own balls. They are working out of the clubhouse at the top of the hill again.
The three intersperse the conversation with work that needs to be done. Fixing golf carts or the sprinkler on number three, buying mowers. Advertising. Upcoming events. Taking down signs and putting in fencing.
They reminisce about some of the people who shared time with them at the clubhouse and on the course. Dewey Smith was one such individual.
“I liked playing with him,” Robin said. “He kept Wild Turkey in his golf cart.”
They remember the time Jerome Kersey, who played for the Portland Trailblazers was up at the course. He’d never played before. Dewey brought a basketball out for him to hit. Kersey plays in the Pro Ams now, according to Robin.
Dewey asked that his ashes would be spread on number four green when he died.
“So that I can finally get on,” he told them. They honored his wishes.
It’s hard for them to consider giving up the golf course. It’s not so much that it runs in their blood as it is the memory of their father. He loved that place and they loved him.
“We might let someone else run it, but we would be very picky this time,” Randy said.
If you would like to play, it costs $10 for nine holes and $15 for 18.