A Bold New Vision for Seattle’s Golf Future

The final paragraph of the Lund/Scanlan/Cocker Fennessy report makes this assertion: “The City’s municipal courses are an historic legacy that require on-going investment to preserve and maintain them for the next 100 years. The City needs to align its policy priorities to balance the objectives of public access, outdoor recreational opportunities, racial equity and social justice, environmental and habitat protection, open space, and financial management.”

There follow 35 “Recommendations,” of which the first reads: “Commit to golf as a recreational program offered by the City on par with other recreational offerings.”

We don’t know whether “on par” was an intentional pun or not, but we were heartened by the report appearing to give golf its blessing — and, we have a possibly audacious suggestion for how the City could significantly enhance its commitment to the sport. This idea will likely shock some, who will laugh it off before even giving it a second thought. But, hear us out. It’s not without precedent and could, we believe, become a huge earner for the City.

That is — what if we built a golf course at Discovery Park?

A nine-hole course existed at Fort Lawton in the 1940s, and in 1974, a group of local golfers calling itself the West Point Golf Alliance made a serious attempt to put an 18-hole golf course on 120 acres of the southern end of Discovery Park. That effort made it all the way to the City ballot, before voters decided open park space was too important, and the golf course would be too expensive.

But, as the chart on page 43 illustrates, Seattle currently has fewer golf courses per capita than nearly every other major city in the Western United States. What if you were to take just 125-150 of Discovery Park’s 534 acres and build a world-class, accessible-to-all golf course capable of hosting big-time tournaments and turning a healthy profit? What if the PGA or LPGA Tour were to visit Discovery Park every year, or the Presidents Cup, U.S. Open or even Ryder Cup were to come to town?

What Torrey Pines is to San Diego, what Harding Park is to San Francisco — indeed, what Chambers Bay is to Tacoma and University Place — Discovery Park could be to Seattle.

“It’s a big idea, a really strong idea,” says Nick Schaan, a partner in David McLay Kidd’s firm DMK Golf Design, who has recently been remodeling Sand Point Country Club. Schaan has spent a lot of time in that part of town these last few months and has walked the park on several occasions.

“Every time I go, I think about what an amazing course you could build there,” he says. “The views across the Sound are obviously amazing, and it’s just a few miles from downtown. Plus, there’s some good soil and sand down by the South Beach Trail.”

Let’s be clear, Cascade Golfer does not wish to turn all open park space into golf holes. We recognize how vital it is to a healthy, functioning, civilized city to have accessible, no-cost places where people can walk dogs, fly a kite, recreate and spend quiet time. In this scenario, the entire acreage of the park would remain public — we propose, simply, that roughly one-fourth of that space would also include world-class golf holes, which four-balls would each pay $75-$200 to play (with lower city-, county- and state-resident rates). Non-golfers would still have access to those acres, too, via walking trails that would wind through the course, just as they do at Chambers Bay and the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in the far north of the park would be unaffected. Modern turf designed to be disease- and traffic-tolerant would reduce maintenance requirements and water consumption, aligning the course with the City’s environmental objectives. Ultimately, Discovery Park could be a cultural resource, environmental habitat and public recreation facility all in one — while, potentially, adding significant revenues to the City coffers.

We can save exact figures for another time, but even a rudimentary cost analysis suggests a golf course makes a lot of sense. Sensibly-maintained, lay-of-the-land courses like those en vogue these days cost a good deal less to build and maintain than courses where considerable earth-moving was necessary. Sand Hills in Nebraska, Bandon Dunes in Oregon, and Streamsong Black in Florida are three of the best golf courses built in the last 30 years, yet none of them cost more than $3 million to construct. There’s no doubt an experienced architect like Tom Doak, Bill Coore, Gil Hanse, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., or Kidd and Schaan themselves could build a wonderful course at Discovery Park quite inexpensively.

The city already owns the land, so there’s no cost there — a conservative all-in estimate to build, then, including a modest clubhouse and pro shop, would be $10-$12 million, which the City could pay off in a few years.

Something similar happened not too far from Seattle just a few years ago, of course. The land at Chambers Bay in University Place, 45 miles south of Discovery Park, was itself a controversial project that required all the political skill, power, and ingenuity that then-Pierce County Executive, John Ladenburg, could muster. Ladenburg thinks Discovery Park is a fantastic site for a golf course, and is convinced something very special could be built there.

“Chambers Bay held the U.S. Open eight years after opening, and brought $134 million to the area. And, it’s a wonderful community facility as well as a golf course, with play areas and walking trails,” he says. “It’s highly unlikely Seattle would ever go for it — it’s not really the sort of place where this sort of thing happens. But, imagine what it could be.”

There will certainly be plenty who immediately dismiss this notion. But, the more you think about it, the more appealing the idea becomes. Andy Staples, a highly-respected, Scottsdale-based course architect, has made a name for himself in recent years building what he calls “Community Links.” He lists these facility’s characteristics:

• Expand facility benefits to increase use by non-golfers.
• Maximize the efficient use of water, energy and fuel.
• Emphasize new-golfer development programs for the community’s youth, which instill values of healthy living, sportsmanship, integrity and patience (i.e., First Tee).
• Explore possible alternate revenue streams besides greens fees and golf-related activities.

“The key is to program the entire story around an asset for the whole community,” Staples says. “If they do, there is a very real opportunity not only to create multiple revenue streams, but also have a significant impact on the community’s kids, families, seniors and women. Plus, they could change how non-golfers perceive the game.”

A world-class course and major championship venue that’s popular with golfers from around the world … as well as a community asset that benefits Magnolia, Ballard, Fremont and other nearby suburbs.

Now, that’s a game-changer.

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