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Dean Pratt sits back and admires a fairway at his Rocky Hills Golf Course. Two years ago, he saw more forest than lawn.
Mina Hochberg/staff photo

'Home on the range': a home-made golf course

  by Mina Hochberg
   Nestled off Highway 2 between Monroe and Snohomish, Rocky Hills Golf Course is not for wimps. It was built by retired general contractor Dean Pratt of Snohomish, who two years ago decided to build from scratch a private six-hole golf course around his home.
   On this course, balls roll everywhere, players have to think and will probably work up a sweat walking up the hills– there are no golf carts. "I don't want them," Pratt said. "Golf should be for exercise." Not one green is level. "I don't want one," Pratt said. "I built a challenge into each green."
   The key to the game here is brain over brawn. Large boulders spot the course, trees sprout around greens and hills may obscure your view of a hole. The longest drive is 234 yards, and on most of the holes, long drives will land the ball in dense brush or jungle. This is a course for short shots.
   Yet despite the challenges built into the course, Pratt built it for players to enjoy. It may be difficult for beginners, he said, but any player can have fun on this course.
   The location is quiet, and the course is cozy, with bordering forests and stray thickets of trees. The clubhouse puts you in a laid back mood. You can get a cup of coffee for a quarter. "One cup free if you make the pot," says a sign scrawled in blue marker onto the wall. A jar on the counter holds three dollars. In the course brochure next to the jar, large bold letters read, "ALL SWEAR WORDS COST ONE DOLLAR- PLEASE PAY JAR IN THE CLUB HOUSE."
   You'll appreciate the pristine rolling hills even more if you know about the months of hard work Pratt put into building the course. When he stood atop the vista of one of his hills two years ago, he saw more jungle and less lawn on his twenty acres.
   "I had no idea how much work it was," Pratt said. He cleared forests of alder trees, blackberry bushes and brush, dug up rocks and planted grass. He did it without hired help, though his two grandsons chipped in. There were weeks when nothing seemed to be accomplished, he said. Last winter's harsh weather slowed progress and gave rise to complications.
   But once he began he couldn't stop. Now, two years later, the course is nearly complete. The grass is filling in and an average of ten players find their way to the course each week. Pratt says he built the course not because he was a golf nut, but because he was simply tired of seeing cows for forty years and wanted to boost the value of his property.
   And this will not be a "Course of Dreams," where "If you build it, they will come." Pratt does not want hundreds of golfers to flock at once to Rocky Hills. He does not plan to advertise, but will instead let the name spread through word of mouth. The purpose of the course is for players to have fun, he said, and a crowded course is not always fun.
   Pratt has golfed for five years. Throughout his life he has been an athlete, having played semi-pro baseball and coached in several sports. Several years ago he began working out regularly at the YMCA– tough workouts. One day he played a game of golf with a friend. Six holes did him in. He let his YMCA membership expire and found his exercise in golf.
   All of his retirement funds went into building the course. He hopes to sell it in the next few years and make the money back. In 1999, he and his wife plan to travel to Europe for a long vacation.
   "Life is to enjoy," Pratt says. He may seem a bit disappointed that no one yet landed a golf ball on any of his rocks. He may wonder why no one has sent a drive into any of his telephone lines. He may relish the intricate challenges built into each hole. But who said enjoyment meant playing easy? It certainly wasn't Pratt.