If you enjoy playing golf on any of North Idaho's wonderful courses, there's a good chance you have Jim Kraus to thank for the experience.
Kraus, who died Sept. 25 in Palm Springs, Calif., after a long battle with multiple sclerosis at age 74, designed all or part of 26 courses, mostly in the Northwest.
The Highlands in Post Falls. Hayden Lake Country Club. Hidden Lakes outside Sandpoint. The front nine at Twin Lakes Village. The original layout at StoneRidge. Mirror Lake, just outside Bonners Ferry. The remodel of the St. Maries Golf Course. Ponderosa Springs, the par-3 course in Coeur d'Alene. A few holes he remodeled at Avondale Golf Club in Hayden Lake. The greens at Sandpoint Elks.
"He loved his cigars and he loved to laugh," said Larry Schwenke, who was among those who helped him stake out the holes when he designed a course. "And I think that carried him through."
A celebration of Kraus' life is planned for next summer in North Idaho.
ONE SUMMER, Schwenke's summer job was helping Kraus lay out the design of the course at Mirror Lake.
"Bob Reiswig and I were his gofers," Schwenke recalled. "He had a big ol' Cadillac, and he had stakes and twine in his trunk."
Kraus would pound a stake in the ground where the tee box should be, then give Schwenke and Reiswig 200 yards of twine and a stake, and send them down the fairway to where he thought the center of the fairway should be, then tell them to pound the stake into the ground. Then they'd keep going until they reached the green.
"He had in his mind how a hole should look," said Schwenke, who also helped him when he was setting up Twin Lakes Village, and StoneRidge. "It was always a blast working for him. He would buy us burgers; I think that's how he paid us."
Jim Kravik, who officiated with Kraus, said he designed courses almost as a hobby.
“A lot of times he would put a tree in the middle of the fairway, and that was kind of his signature,” Kravik said. “He did that at Avondale on 12.”
“I always thought Jim’s jewel was Hidden Lakes,” said Joe Partington, who coached with Kraus at Coeur d’Alene High. “He took me over the planned course, at one time the 18th fairway, in his Buick Riviera and we got stuck in the spring mud up to the hubs. He was happy as a clam as he described what the landscape would become. Me, I was just hoping to get back to Coeur d’Alene.”
In the basement of his house, Kraus had carpeted flooring, and according to Schwenke, he drilled holes in the carpet to create a de facto putting green.
JIM KRAUS grew up in Moscow and graduated from the University of Idaho, where he played on the Vandals golf team.
He moved to Coeur d’Alene in 1961 and taught biology for 35 years, and was the Vikings’ golf coach for 25 years. He was a national golf coach of the year in Region 7 in 1987.
He also coached sophomore boys basketball for a few seasons.
In part due to his influence as golf coach, some two dozen of his players have made a profession in the golf industry.
One of them was Mike DeLong, a 1976 Coeur d’Alene High graduate.
“Jim made the game fun,” said DeLong, who worked at Avondale and The Coeur d’Alene Resort Course, and now sells real estate though he’s still a member of the PGA, where he plays in tournaments and gives lessons.
“There was no real pressure other than to do your best and have a good time,” DeLong said. “He was a pretty knowledgeable guy, all the way from golf course design to the golf swing.”
Years ago, Coeur d’Alene High renamed its boys golf invitational the Jim Kraus Invitational.
“Jim was beloved by not only his players but fellow golf coaches,” Partington said. “He one season fielded three boys teams ... always competitive, always very classy, cigar in hand he would direct and encourage and help keep the players on balance. He took great pride in the number of former players who were teaching professionals.”
Jim and his wife, LaVon, moved to Palm Springs 12 years ago.
KRAUS ALSO officiated for 25 years, working football, basketball and baseball games. He was one of the original inductees into the North Idaho Officials Association hall of fame.
“He was instrumental in getting me into officiatiating, and he also made it a lot of fun,” said Kravik, who until recently was the District 1 commissioner for football officials. “When I came in in ’68 he was already an official. He was football commissioner before me, and he was usually a white hat (head referee), and guys liked to officiate with him.”
For one high school football game in St. Maries, Kraus took the officiating crew there on his boat. It was during Paul Bunyan Days weekend, Kravik recalled.
“We worked the game, stayed on his boat and came back the next day,” Kravik said. “I got a little worried because I had a game that night at Idaho, and he was taking his time. I started to worry if we had enough gas to get to Coeur d’Alene.”
As it turned out, Kravik made it down to Moscow for the Vandal game in time.
Schwenke also recalled a football game he refereed with Kraus.
“I was the umpire, he was the white hat,” Schwenke recalled. “There was a fumble, and the other team picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown. But I blew the play dead; it was an inadvertant whistle. Kraus didn’t hear it and he followed the play into the end zone and signalled touchdown. I had to run down there and tap him on the shoulder and tell him what I did.
“He looked at me and said, “you WHAT?!?”
“If looks could kill ... ” Schwenke said with a laugh.
Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.