Enlightenment from Above in West Linn

Hello from the History Department –

“Can you find the skull in the clouds?” We’ve been putting that slightly off-putting question to West Linn pub guests coming up on 28 years now, since the pub opened in 1992. It encourages people to immerse themselves in former McMenamins artist Scott Young’s all-encompassing 40-foot mural, inspired by Michael Murphy’s allegorical novel Golf in the Kingdom (1971).


As the local saying goes, it is easier to cascade down the Willamette Falls in an old whiskey barrel than it is to pass through the eye of a needle. While that may seem true, Young’s mind-bending, wall-and-ceiling mural at McMenamins West Linn depicts that notion and takes a page – several pages actually – from Golf in the Kingdom.

Young’s interpretation recreates the metaphysical meeting around the fire, a critical scene from the book. Visionary golf/sage Seamus McDuff looks on as author Murphy is pulled from the meeting and “through the eye of the needle” by Shivas Irons, golf pro, philosopher and central figure in the novel.

More significant is that much of the enlightened philosophy from this book has long been one of the ideological forces behind McMenamins itself – here are a few quotes that may ring true when thinking about the McMenamins “way”:

“Tae enjoy yer’self tha’s the thing, and beware the quicksand o’ perfection.”

“Tryin’ too hard is the surest way tae ruin yer game.”

“Fascination frees our journey through the worlds and opens the doors to where we want to go.”

“All art and love depend on fascination.”

Around these parts, much has been made of the worldly lessons and significant teachings imparted in the book. Just as the book implies that time and form are elastic, the aging and elusive Seamus McDuff has popped up in many forms in McMenamins paintings and on coasters, T-shirts, posters and as the icon for the par-3 Pub Course at McMenamins Edgefield. In fact, Michael Murphy came to Edgefield to give a reading in the mid-1990s. Afterwards, Murphy, Mike McMenamin and others adjourned to the Red Shed, had some whiskey and then proceeded to roam the property with the ambition of laying out where a golf course could go.

However, the inspiration for Scott Young’s mural is twofold. Just a drive, pitch and putt from the Oregon City Golf Course, the West Linn pub attracts many golfers who enjoy a pint after a round. While the pub’s location near the links has influenced its artwork, its proximity to the thunderous Willamette Falls has dictated this spot’s original and ancient history. The pub sits just up the riverbank from the convergence of the Willamette and Tualatin rivers, and a bit upriver from the falls. If you think about it that way, people have probably been gathering here for thousands of years to eat, drink and talk together.

Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom was made into a movie in 2011, filmed at Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and “featuring” our own Brian McMenamin as an extra. [Rotten Tomatoes awarded the film a 37% rating, with one critic calling it “a ponderous cinematic experience,” but we’re sure Brian had nothing to do with that….]

The novel also inspired the Shivas Irons Society, an organization created in 1992 during the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach whose members combine golf and meditation. Murphy serves on its advisory board, along with Oregon PGA golfer Peter Jacobsen and many others.

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