We’ve all heard the expression “it’s a small world” and many of us have had those small world moments, but it never ceases to amaze me when it actually happens to me. Back in 2010 I was visiting Sand Hills with a large group, one of whom was a golfer from San Francisco named Jeff. As we played our round together I told Jeff about my Top 100 quest and said he would give my website a look when he got back home. Once Jeff checked out the website he forwarded a link to one of his co-workers in North Carolina who is a die hard golfer that he thought would enjoy the site. Turns out his co-worker is someone that I have known and gone on a couple of golf trips with dating back to before I ever started my Top 100 quest. So, I go to the middle of nowhere Nebraska to meet a guy from San Francisco who knows someone that I’ve been on golf trips with in North Carolina . . . I love that kind of stuff.
A few months after the Sand Hills trip Jeff sent an email that said he has a good friend who lives in Seattle and is a member at Sahalee – one of the clubs where I had no leads. He was pretty sure he could help me set up a game next time I was in the Pacific Northwest, so when I started planning a return trip to Bandon Dunes for April of this year I contacted Jeff to see if he could still help. Not only was he was able to get a game set up for us with his member contact, but he also got our mutual friend from North Carolina in on it too which was great since I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. As I have often said on this website . . . its always nice when a plan comes together!
Sahalee was designed by Ted Robinson and opened for play in 1969. The unique name is from the language of the native Chinook tribe and means “High Heavenly Ground” . . . pretty cool. The intent of the club was for Seattle to have a championship golf course that would be capable of hosting any of the U.S.G.A or P.G.A. national events. Sahalee was to have 27 holes of which 18 would be the “championship” course. The three 9s are referred to as the East, North and South with the North and South being the 9s used for championship play. Sahalee hosted their first national event in 1998 when Vijay Singh won his first major the PGA Championship. Four years later the club hosted the 2002 World Golf Championship NEC Invitational and most recently in 2010 the U.S. Senior Open was held at Sahalee.
The day before we were set to play I arrived in Portland, Oregon at 10PM local time after considerable plane delays and rerouting. Even though my body thought it was 1AM the next morning back on the East Coast I pointed my rental car north and started making the drive to Seattle. We were meeting for breakfast at 7:30am the next morning so I needed to get as close to Seattle as possible. I drove a few hours before finding a hotel to crash and then woke up very early the next morning (still on East Coast time) and made the remaining one hour drive to the Seattle suburb Sammamish where the club is located.
By time I arrived at the restaurant where we were all meeting it was pouring rain pretty good. Fortunately, the good people of Seattle are quite used to this and our host wasn’t phased even a little bit by the rain. The only change to our plan was that we would be taking carts instead of walking. Being accustomed to considerable rainfall the club has set the course up to drain particularly well and even with the rain our host was pretty sure we would not have to stay on the cart paths which would make having the covered carts worthwhile as they would keep us a little bit drier than walking.
Once we finished breakfast we hopped in our cars and wound our way through the residential neighborhood that surrounds the club and up to the clubhouse. After a quick trip to the locker room to change shoes and put on our foul weather gear we were on the 1st tee of the East Course. Because the rain was coming down pretty heavy I didn’t take many photos of the East 9 and not all of my photos from the South and North 9s turned out so great. Below are the best of the group. We opted to play from the 6,321 yard white tees since the course was wet and there wasn’t going to be much roll out there. The yardages listed below are from the white tees.
Hole 1 (South) – 374 yards – Par 4
The opening hole gives a good feel of what to expect from Sahalee . . . tight, undulating fairways that put a straight ball at a premium.
Here is a look at the 1st green. Over the course of the round I found the greens to be much more intricate and undulating than I had been expecting.
Hole 4 (South) – 357 yards – Par 4
I liked this fun little shortish par 4. The fairway is super tight and requires working the ball left to right to be in the best position for the second shot.
Here is a look at the approach into the green from the right side of the fairway. The left side is a little better angle.
Hole 5 (South) – 165 yards – Par 3
It’s not completely visible in the photo below, but where the tufts of grass are poking up is the edge of a water hazard. When the flag is on the right side of the green like it is below the water will come into play for shots that are short or sliced.
Hole 9 (South) – 146 yards – Par 3
Here we have a par 3 with water that comes into play for hole locations on the left side of the green. This putting surface is far from flat so beware the three putt here.
Hole 2 (North) – 503 yards – Par 5
Here we have the approach into the 2nd hole on the North 9. Players going for this green in two need to be in the right position after their drive or the green will be difficult to access.
A look at the 2nd green.
Hole 6 (North) – 375 yards – Par 4
A beautiful view of this hole from the elevated tee box.
Hole 7 (North) – 349 yards – Par 4
Here we have another elevated tee box on this short par 4. Hitting driver here may result in a downhill lie for the second shot.
The hole runs downhill and then back up, so the ideal place to make the approach shot from is the top of the hill in the fairway which is nearly at the same level as the green.
Hole 8 (North) – 143 yards – Par 3
The final par 3 on the course. It’s not long, but balls that come up even a little bit short will irretrievably lost.
It was a shame that it rained on us all day, but that didn’t stop us from having a great time. The silver lining in the rain was that this was the first opportunity I had to test out a new rain jacket I bought two years ago. I was very pleased to find that it worked like a charm. Hopefully I wont have to use it again for a couple more years.
One fun little detail I really liked about Sahalee and that shows the membership’s personality is that when we pulled up to one of the 4th green on the South our host ran over to one of the houses and pulled a few beers out of a cooler. Apparently a group of guys pitch a few dollars into a pot at the beginning of the season and the member who lives on that hole always has cold beer out there for his buddies . . . even on a cold and rainy day . . . I love that!!!
Despite the rain and wet conditions, I enjoyed my day at Sahalee. While I am not normally a huge fan of dense tree planting on a golf course (read: I’ve been known to spray it off the tee), not every course can or should be the same. I like for a golf course to reflect it’s surroundings and I think Sahalee does that perfectly. When I’m playing inland golf in the Pacific Northwest I expect, and want, to play among the huge old growth trees the same way I want to play along the cliffs when I’m in coastal Oregon or through the wind swept dunes when I’m in Nebraska. The trees at Sahalee are as much a part of the character of the course as the rocky cliffs are at Pebble Beach. I definitely cursed those trees on more than one occasion, but ultimately I lost very few balls and almost always had a chance to hit a recovery shot and get back into play. I had a great time playing with a fun group, enjoyed the course and had numerous opportunities to test my shot making ability (I didn’t pass very many of the tests!). All in all another great day on the links!!!