Ron Agostini

Agostini on Golf: 9-year-old’s 108-hole marathon helps a friend

Clark Van Gaalen, 9, is pictured with Ellie Hart, 7, Aug. 11 at Turlock Country Club. Clark had a fundraiser to raise money for a service dog for Ellie.
Clark Van Gaalen, 9, is pictured with Ellie Hart, 7, Aug. 11 at Turlock Country Club. Clark had a fundraiser to raise money for a service dog for Ellie. Amethyst Schlecht-Van Gaalen

Clark Van Gaalen of Turlock enjoys the sound of his putts plopping against the cup liner as they disappear into the hole.

It is golf ear candy, one of the game’s most addictive moments. Some golfers keep their heads down after contact and wait for that glorious split-second.

Van Gaalen, 9, already has it figured out.

“I love the noise when the ball goes in the hole,” he said.

Van Gaalen heard golf’s best music, over and over, during a 108-hole, two-day benefit golf marathon at Turlock Country Club for his friend, Ellie Hart. He even coined the title for his project: Clark’s Drive “Fore” Ellie To Thrive.

Ellie, 7, a patient of Van Gaalen’s mother – dentist Amethyst Schlecht-Van Gaalen – was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in February. The Hart family wanted to provide Ellie with her own service dog, which is trained to detect hypoglycemia in its diabetic owner.

Enter Clark, a friend with a heart as big as his golf bag.

He and others spearheaded a fund drive that netted more than $15,000, enough for Ellie’s dog. Money came from service clubs, Turlock CC members and the rest of the community as Clark prepared for his two long days.

One thing you must know about Clark – he loves golf. He rolled his first putts at age 3 and is a fixture most days at Turlock CC and often takes part in Junior Golf Association of Northern California tournaments. The marathon, helping Ellie via golf, was a no-brainer.

He teed it up Sunday, Aug. 9, at 7:10 a.m., and off he went for 54 holes (three rounds that day), followed by an additional 54 holes on Tuesday, Aug. 11. His journey was charted by a cart caravan, led by his mom and other friends and relatives, as they played through supportive members.

“People were wonderful. We made sure he would shake members’ hands,” Amethyst said. “People get side-tracked these days with their cellphones. We want Clark to look people in the eye and make contact. That was part of the life lesson.”

Ellie’s cause is well-known in Turlock. She even met rocker Bret Michaels, a fellow diabetic, before his July show at the Stanislaus County Fair. It is doubtful she has a better friend, however, than Clark.

“It was a lot of fun. Helping Ellie kept me going,” he said. “I would do it again if she needed it.”

The goal was $10,000, which clearly was exceeded.

Clark, who holed a 30-foot putt along the way, grew weary late in the second day. Or so the family thought.

“After the 108 holes, he saw a friend and wanted to play nine more,” Amethyst said. “We talked him into cooling off. But I’m sure he was ready to play more!”

Forest Meadows – The delightful Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed executive course east of Murphys off Highway 4 has been shortened to nine holes this year due to the drought. Most of the lost holes spanned the scenic edge of the Stanislaus River Canyon, including the demanding 190-yard 15th.

What’s left, however, is a challenging par 33. The par-5 first remains, and the course finishes with two fun par 4s – the former 10th as No. 8, and the former 18th as the ninth.

“Eighty-five percent of the people like it. I think it’s a lot tougher now. Many of those old holes were just wedge shots,” said Dick Christensen, a PGA pro for 53 years. “We were really hurting (for water) last October, but we’ll sail through this year. Our greens are gorgeous.” The fee, $21 including cart, is worth the trip.

Holes-in-one – Kevin Schenk, Ripon, 104-yard first at Peter Hay Course at Pebble Beach, driver. The Pebble Beach staff awarded 4-year-old Kevin with a special certificate ... Jeff Bowman, Modesto, 178-yard fifth at Creekside, 4-hybrid ... Hart Yoshida, Ripon, 115-yard 11th at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, gap wedge.