2001: Perspective - Misty farewell for Bandon romantic

Bandon, Ore.

The caddies of Bandon are romantics – at least that’s the way I see it – and later this month, on these bluffs alongside the Pacific Ocean, they will raise their voices in farewell to one of their own.

Kip Pinkley, 45, spent the afternoon of Aug. 24 at Bandon Dunes, volunteering his time to train caddie recruits. He was headed home when a motorist tried to pass in a no-passing zone. It was a two-lane highway, and Pinkley, traveling in the opposite direction, was killed instantly when the speeding car hit his vehicle head-on.

He will be remembered in a memorial service Sept. 25 near the course he loved so dearly.

Once upon a time, Pinkley was one of Oregon’s leading figures in the solar heating industry. He owned a solar installation company in Portland. As energy-unconscious America rejected solar energy and tumbled back into the age of consumption, Pinkley closed his business and worked a variety of jobs.

Eventually, he packed up his romantic instincts and his affection for golf and moved to Bandon, where he was an overqualified caddie.

Hell, most caddies are overqualified. As an endangered species in the perilous world of golf carts, caddies are part of a special family. They remain a link to the origins and traditions of golf – when players walked together and talked together, when golf was dominated by the spirit of outdoor exercise and fellowship.

Bandon, with two walking-only courses, quickly became caddie heaven. In the beginning, all the caddies were local. Many came from the depressed timber and fishing industries, and they knew the song of nature. Some didn’t know golf, but they were endearing characters who quickly embraced the small-ball game.

“It was a high unemployment area,” said Josh Lesnik, the first general manager at Bandon. “A lot of the jobs that had gone away were outdoor jobs, so golf made sense. These folks are genuine, helpful and friendly. Caddying came naturally to them.”

Lesnik hired Bob Gaspar, nicknamed Shoe, as his first caddie master. Gaspar described his job experience as “just your basic truck driver.” Actually, he had spent more than 30 years as a Teamster, driving trucks in California and Oregon.

When course owner Mike Keiser brought in 44 of his friends, Gaspar scrambled to find caddies. He got them – “my barber, the grocer, other local people” – and was on his way to becoming a beloved fixture at the facility. His title is director of outside services.

Tim Carver is one of two year-round caddie managers at Bandon. The other is Doug Robbins. Carver, 35, spent eight years as an explosive ordinance disposal diver in the Navy. Before reenlisting, he called his mother, Margaret L. Carver, and said, “Mom, this is your last chance to tell me to get out.”

The reply from his mother, a programmer for a radio station: “Come home. They’re opening a big golf course here.” So Carver returned to Bandon, where he had learned to play golf as a youngster on a tiny nine-hole course called Face Rock Golf Course.

This year, in the high season of July and August, Bandon boasted more than 300 caddies. One was Pinkley, who carried a single-digit handicap at Rose City Golf Course in Portland and occasionally threatened par.

As a caddie, he was even better.

“You could see that excitement in his eyes,” Carver said. “Right from the start he got requests from customers. He would do such a good job that they would go back home and tell their friends about him.”

A year earlier, I had gone to Bandon with Pinkley. We played 11 holes with architect Tom Doak on the Pacific Dunes course, which had not been completed. Someone took a photo of the three of us.

“I’m coming back to stay,” Pinkley told me.

His longtime companion, Mary Wollam, remained in Portland. “He loved golf,” she said, “and I loved listening to him talk about his experiences in golf. He was a gentle man. I feel like I spent my whole life looking for him.”

I called his father, Jack Pinkley, who told me, “He hadn’t been this happy since he was a child.” Then he added: “I have this photo that we brought back with Kip’s possessions – of him and you and Tom Doak. He was so proud of that.”

One photo, a reflection of innocence and dreams and a life cut short.

So the caddies will congregate on these bluffs, and they will voice their sad verse, although I suspect many will be lost for words – romantics muttering in the wind, while their friend’s ashes mingle with the sand and ocean spray.

The family goes on, albeit with a heavy heart, because that’s what families do: They grieve, they persevere, they never forget.

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