White Horse Gets The Home It Deserves

Fantastic new clubhouse completes three years of enhancements at one of Washington’s top tracks.
In the spring of 2010, shortly after the Suquamish Tribe rode in to save Kingston’s White Horse Golf Club, Mark Luthman of management group Touchstone Golf made a list of his top-three priorities for increasing play.
First, improve the course conditions. Two years of financial struggles had left course staff — including director of golf Bruce Christy, superintendent Erik Linsenmayer, two pro shop staff and just one additional maintenance worker — struggling just to keep the course open and in a playable condition. Forget aerating the greens — just keeping the grass mowed at times required borrowing equipment from friendly neighbors.
“We did anything and everything we could — beg, borrow and steal — to keep this place afloat,” Christy said at the time.
The Suquamish Tribe’s investment in White Horse finally allowed Linsenmayer to restore the course to a pristine condition — in fact turning it into perhaps Western Washington’s best wet-weather track. Check off item one on Luthman’s list.
Second, Luthman said, the course was simply too difficult. There were too many bunkers and hazards, greens were too hard, and  mid- and high-handicappers had practically no chance to make up for even a slight mis-hit. To that end, the late John Harbottle  (Gold Mountain-Olympic, Palouse Ridge) was brought in to soften up some of the course features. Sixty bunkers were removed (leaving a mere 90 behind), fairway and green contours were smoothed out, and selected trees were cut down to open up space around certain fairways and greens.
The resulting layout, completed last spring, has been unanimously praised. Rounds increased by over 5,000 in 2012 as compared to the previous year, even as they fell slightly nationwide. Particularly popular were the course’s new rates — a peak of $56, more than 25 percent lower than in 2007 — and players club packages.  Once too challenging for all but the best golfers, White Horse is now a fun and rewarding round for players of all abilities — still tough, for sure, with a slope of 126 from the whites and 132 from the blues, but fair. Good shots are rewarded, while bad shots often still leave golfers with a chance to make up for their mistakes. In last year’s Muckleshoot Casino Match Play Madness, our year-long bracket to crown the state’s best course, White Horse rode all the way to the Elite Eight, a testament to two years of hard work by Harbottle, Linsenmayer, and the tribe.
This spring, White Horse finally checked off the last item on Luthman’s list: a new clubhouse. Opened in March and officially unveiled to the media on Tuesday, the new clubhouse puts an emphatic exclamation point at the end of Tribe’s three-year renovation of White Horse. The 20,000-square foot building provides a “Wow” moment for any golfer who has visited the course before, when its operations were housed in two trailers adjacent to a gravel parking lot. Golfers now park in a fully paved lot dotted with colorful flowers, before stepping inside one of the nicest clubhouses Western Washington has to offer.
A 25-foot, slate fireplace greets golfers in the lobby, from which a player can go in three directions — right, towards the all-new pro shop stocked with the latest equipment and apparel; left, to a large banquet hall and meeting space which can accomodate up to 250 guests; or forward past leather couches and chairs to a window wall overlooking White Horse’s scenic 18th hole. On a nice day, players can even step out onto the deck and sit by the fire pit to observe golfers hitting their approaches to the well-protected, narrow 18th green, which sits just a few steps from the building. A putting green has also been built just off the back deck, tying together the clubhouse with the driving range and practice area next door.
A similar investment is also being made at the Suquamish’s nearby Clearwater Casino Resort, which will begin a four-year plan of its own later this year to add parking, restaurants, a hotel and conference space, and upgrades to the casino floor.
Just before the press conference, I asked Christy how different he feels now as compared to, say, a little over three years ago, when he and the dedication of his bare-bones staff were the only thing keeping White Horse afloat. He chuckled and looked to the sky, smiling to convey the clear sense of relief and excitement the Tribe’s investment and stewardship have given to him and his staff.
Nearly six years after White Horse originally opened, Christy finally has a clubhouse worthy of his course. That’s enough to make any golfer smile.

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