After two days and 72 holes of golf on the Oregon Coast, I drove north toward Seattle. I planned to drive to Vancouver, Washington, spend the night then drive the remaining three hours to Seattle the next morning. The Marriott hotels in Vancouver were booked full. I don’t know how familiar you are with the area between Vancouver and Seattle, but there isn’t much until you get to Olympia and Tacoma. I decided to continue to Seattle. I was starting to get a wee bit sleepy around 1:30 am as I approach Tacoma. I took the first exit with a sign for a hotel and got off the road and into a bed. Tacoma is about an hour south of the Sahalee Country Club which is slightly northeast of Seattle. My tee time wasn’t until 1 pm. I still had enough time to get a good night’s sleep sleep before finishing my drive the next day.
I awoke earlier than I would have liked the next morning, to a beauty sunny day, but felt well rested. I left the hotel around 10:45 to make the drive to the bedroom community of Sammamish, Washington. The Sahalee Country Club is tucked in a neighborhood with homes that blend into the environment with their wood sides and cedar roofs. As I wound through the neighborhood I got the sense that the golf course at Sahalee would likely be one that fit into the environment as well. As I approached the club, my sense was confirmed. This course was built in a forest where I don’t believe a single tree was removed. I think they converted the hiking trails into fairways. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration! However, the Sahalee fairways are the narrowest I’ve faced so far during my quest.
The narrowness of the fairways and the fact that I was in the Pacific Northwest, brought to mind the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I studied the collapse of this bridge as a civil engineering student. This bridge spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound, going from Tacoma to the Kitsap Peninsula. Its failure was caused by a phenomenon known as aeroelastic flutter. We will just call it flutter for short. Flutter occurs when the winds flowing by or around an object cause it to oscillate at varying frequencies. If the frequency happens to match the frequency of the natural vibrations of the object, it can cause the amplitude of the vibrations to increase and lead to violent movements of the object. These violent moments can lead to stresses greater than what the object can withstand, which leads to failure of the object. In the case of the Tacoma Narrows bridge, failure of the bridge.
What I needed on this day was flutter. I needed the spend of my balls to generate a wind that caused oscillations in the trees that matched the natural frequency of the movements of the trees in the Sahalee Narrows fairways such that the trees oscillated just enough for my golf balls to pass unimpeded. The course is a beautiful course, so I didn’t want the trees to fail, just oscillate more. Unfortunately, the only thing to have violent movements on this hot afternoon in Sammamish, Washington was my golf swing.
I met Jason in the Pro Shop as we were paying our greens fees. If he’d had a tan, I would have thought he fit in better on a Florida beach than a Seattle golf course. He was very relaxed and easy going. He was one of the two other unaccompanied guests that I was to play with at Sahalee. I went through my routine of paying my greens fees and purchasing my 19th hat and medallion on my Top 100 Golf Course Tour. Sahalee was the 20th course that I played. The reason it was my 19th purchase of a golf cap and a medallion was that Baltusrol had two courses on the Golf Digest 2017-18 course rating listing, but did not distinguish between the two courses with their caps nor medallions.
The young assistant in the Pro Shop directed me the dressing room where Scott, the studious locker room attendant greeted me and showed me to a locker. I changed my shoes and walked to the driving range where I met Bart, the other unaccompanied quest in our threesome. While Jason looked as if he’d very much be at home on the beach, Bart looked like he’d be very comfortable in the corporate world. He looked squared away and button down.
Jason and Bart seemed to know each other very well. It wasn;t until several holes into the round that I realized that they were brothers. The long haired relaxed guy who was probably the cool kid in school was the brother of the buttoned down corporate guy. I would have never guessed it.
Jason and Bart grew up in the area. Jason still lives in the area and works with an independent private school. Bart lives in San Francisco where he is partner in a law firm whose name includes his. Bart received his law degree from Emory Law School in Atlanta. He is very familiar with the Business School at Emory where my wife is Dean.
Bart, Jason, and I agreed to walk the course. I decided to use a push cart. There were no caddies available and we didn’t want to take golf carts. I prefer to walk a course because it provides a better feel for the course. The only problem with walking with a push cart rather than a caddie, is it makes it difficult to take notes.
Ok, you are about the learn how the sausage is made. I take notes during my rounds to record the details of each hole and how I play it, in addition to the impressions I get of the course, along with any interesting stories or details about my caddie and playing partners. On this sunny afternoon at Sahalee, there would be no note taking. Everything I write in this blog is from a memory that is not as young or crisp as it once was. So, if I tell you I shot par for this course, whether its true or not, you must believe me because that is what I remember. Unfortunately for me, even my aged memory isn’t that bad. Had I shot par, I probably could remember all 72 strokes. There were a few more strokes than 72 on this day, there were actually 95 and at least a fourth of them probably hit or brushed a tree.
I will only highlight a few of the 18 holes that we played and then let the pictures of the course tell you the rest of the story.
My round started poorly right out of the chute. And that was the problem, my drive didn’t go down the narrow chute created by the trees that lined and overhung the first fairway. Sahalee has three sets of nine holes. We were playing the South nine followed by the North nine. We chose to play from the white tees which on the South/North combination measured just over 6300 yards with a 135 slope and a rating of 71.0.
The first hole on the South is a harbinger of what I would face all day. From the white tees, it’s a 375 yard par four with a narrow fairway lined with trees that also overhang portions of the fairway. I let this get into my head very early. I considered teeing off on the first hole with my three hybrid to increase the chance of hit the fairway, but chose not to do so since I would then need to hit a long iron or another hybrid to the green. I made my swing with my eyes on the fairway rather than the ball. I topped the ball and sent a low shot into the trees on the left. I chipped back to the right side of the fairway, but was still 240 yards from the middle of the green. I laid up to 70 yards, hit my fourth shot to just off the green on the right, chipped on and then two putted for a rounding opening triple bogey. I had done well in avoiding triple bogeys through my first nineteen rounds. That string ended under the blue skies of Washington.
I didn’t fair any better on the 480 yard par 5 second hole. Starting a round of golf with a triple bogey just takes the air out of your sails. I had played well and scored well on the last two courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. I was looking forward to doing the same on Sahalee despite the narrowness of the fairways. On the second hole, I missed the fairway to the right on my drive by a mere 3 yards. I still had tree trouble due to overhanging branches. I laid up to the middle of the fairway about 120 yards from the flag.
The green on the second hole has a bunker on the left front and water along the right side. My balls found both on my next two shots. My approach shot missed the green to the right and landed in the water. I took a drop and put my fifth shot into the bunker. I hit out of the bunker and almost rolled back into the pond, but the ball stopped just short in the fringe between the pond and the green. I chipped on and two putted for a second triple bogey. Two holes into my round I was already six strokes over par and on the second hole I couldn’t even blame the trees.
I managed to put a ball in the fairway with my drive on the third hole and I barely missed the fairway on the fourth hole. I bogeyed both holes.
The fifth hole is a par three with a well guarded green. There is small pond to the right, bunkers on the front left and right and a bunker at the back of the green. The hole is ranked as the easiest hole on the South Nine. I hit my tee shot into the water to the right of the green, took a drop, flubbed my first chip, then chipped on and one putted for a double bogey.
I hit a good drive to the middle of the fairway on the par 5 sixth hole but still made a triple bogey after my approach shot to the green hit a tree and kicked across the green and into the trees on the opposite side. It just got more fun from there, taking 5 more stokes to get ball into the cup. Only one of those additional five strokes was a putt!
Believe it or not, I kept my composure and started to play much better after my third triple bogey. When you are 13 strokes over par after six holes, the pressure to score well magically evaporates. Standing there in the trees of Sahalee Narrows, I thought of the poem, Trees, by Joyce Kilmer. With all due respect to Joyce Kilmer, let me put it this way:
I think that I shall never see
an object as deadly to my golf game as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is gripped,
around my throat preventing my ball from being ripped;
A tree that looks at me all day,
And says “make a par, NO Way!
A tree that in the Summer in Seattle,
Caused me to stand and say ok, let’s do battle.
Golf is played by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Well it’s on now! I bogeyed the seventh and eight holes and then parred the short par 3 ninth hole. The seventh and eight holes are long par fours with the perfunctory trees lining the fairways. I hit the fairways on both holes and then put my approach shots on both into the right green side bunkers. I hit out of the bunkers on both and then two putted for bogeys.
The par three ninth hole is a very beautiful hole. Trees line the tee boxes and give way to water on the left and more trees on the right past the tee boxes toward the green. The green has a bunker and water on the left and a bunker on the front right.
I hit my tee shot to just left of the flag. I barely missed my birdie putt and made a short come back putt for my very first par on the Sahalee South Nine. I ended up with a 51 for the first nine, but almost half of those strokes came on just three holes where I made triple bogeys.
I faced the North Nine at Sahalee with a renewed sense of confidence. On the first hole, I missed the fairway on my drive with my ball landing by a tree just off the left side of the fairway. I recovered and made a bogey on the hole.
My only worse than bogey score on the North nine came on the par five second hole. I hit my drive to the right side of the fairway but still had trouble with a tree that overhung the fairway on the right. I cut my shot around that tree to the fairway only to find a tree in the middle of the fairway blocking the green. My third shot hit that tree. My fourth shot missed the green. I chipped on and two putted for a double bogey.
The 3rd hole on the North was one of my best of the day. It is the longest of the par fours on either the South or North nines. The holes has a 30 yard wide fairway and measures 410 yards from the white tees. As with all the holes at Sahalee Narrows, the fairway is lined with trees that encroach it as it ripples along its edge. There are fairway bunkers on the left and right sides in the landing zone.
I hit my drive to 180 yards out. My approach shot landed on the green just below the pin and to the left. I again missed one of the few birdies putts I had on the day and tapped in for a par.
I bogeyed the next fours holes barely missing pars on each. I three putted after hitting my approach shot on the green on the fourth hole. I missed very short par putts on the fifth and sixth holes and made a long bogey saving putt on the seventh hole.
And then came the par 3 eight hole! This hole is the most scenic on the North nine. It has trees to the left of the tee boxes that line the hole past and around the back of the green. On the right side of the hole there are trees that line the tee boxes and then give way to a pond that must be carried to reach the green. The hole measures 143 yards but was playing downhill to a front pin position at only 120 yards.
I hit one of the purest shots I’d hit all day. Jason, Bart and I watched as the ball flew straight toward the hole. It landed on the green below the hole and rolled toward the left side of the cup. We all said that it was going to go in. The ball must have brushed the right left side of the pin because it continued to roll past the hole. It stopped five feet directly behind the hole. It was as close as I had come so far to a hole-in-one during my quest.
Bart hit his ball to pin high but 12 feet to the right of the flag. Jason hit his tee shot to the trees short of the green and to the left. As we walked to the green the odds on who was most likely to make a birdie favored me.
The odds would have gotten it wrong. Jason hit first and pitched the ball onto the green. It rolled into the cup for a birdie. Bart then sank his 12-footer for a birdie. I then pushed my five foot putt to the right and tapped in for a par. Go figure! That’s why they make you putt ‘em!
It had been a long afternoon as we walked to the final tee box of the day. The 9th hole on the North nine is the longest of the par fives. I put my final drive of the day in the middle of the fairway. On the South nine I had hit only three fairways, on the North nine I had missed only two. If I had hit my drive to the middle of the fairway on every hole, it wouldn’t have mattered how much room there is to the left or the right of the middle. It took me a few holes to figure that out. I hit seven of the last 10 fairways and barely missed the other three.
I hit my second shot to just off the fairway on the right, but it was enough for an overhaning tree off hte right side of the fairway to block my approach. I hit a nice fade around the branches, but landed short of the green. I chipped on and missed an 8 foot putt for par to end my round with a bogey and a 44 on the North nine for a total score of 95. This course requires a much greater level of accuracy than I possess. My advise on this course would be to focus on accuracy rather than distance. This course challenges all your golf skills. You need to know where to hit the ball and have the ability to consistently hit it there.
It had been an exhausting three days. I flew over 3000 miles, drove 13 hours and played five new courses. It was time for a break, before moving on to the next set of courses in my one year quest to play the top 100 courses in America.
I’d like to thank Will at Cherokee for arranging my play at Sahalee and the staff at Sahalee for accommodating me on their course. It is a beautiful course that fits in well within its environment.