Archive for the ‘West Seattle’ Category

Today I joined my buddy Peter Fessler for a late morning 18 at West Seattle.

It was a round unlike any I’ve had before.

For starters I holed out from the fairway.  9 iron from 130 yards on the second hole.  Only the second time I’ve ever holed out from the fairway and the first time in like four years.

I was -2 through two.

I was -2 through two after dunking my 9-iron approach.

Thereafter I hit it all over God’s creation but scored like a Tour pro.  In fact I was -3 standing on the eighth tee, the first time in my life I’ve ever reached that mark.  Reason: putting.  I made EVERYTHING.  Through 10 holes I took ELEVEN putts.

Most Tour pros don’t do that.

Sadly, it all went downhill after the eleventh hole.  I missed a ten-foot birdie putt there — my first miss all day — and then whacked one into the hazard on No. 12.

Golf on 12

After going out in 35 I came home in 42 for a 77 from the blue tees on a saturated course — not bad, but certainly not what might have been.


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I just finished reading Tom Doak’s “Anatomy of a Golf Course.” Polished it off in two days. And while I was decidedly underwhelmed by the book — read like a textbook with virtually no personal anecdotes — it did succeed in getting me to think of ways I’d improve my home course, West Seattle Golf Course, in my alternative life as a golf course architect.

Tom Doak's disappointing book on golf course architecture ...

I approach the task on the premise that a well-designed golf course should be challenging to golfers of all skill levels, which West Seattle is decidedly not for good players. Granted, I’m a 4.6 handicap and I still usually shoot in the high seventies, but that’s because I have a stonemason’s touch around the greens and make about fifty percent of my three footers. If I had even a modicum of short game I’d always be around par — tee to green, they don’t come much easier than the course I grew up on.

got my wheels spinning on tweaks I'd make to the course I grew up on.

Much of that, of course, is the result of the size of the property. It just isn’t very big and, as such, it can only be made so long. Nevertheless, it still could be a bit more challenging and demand a little more precision from its players. In order, here’s what I’d do:

1. Back up the tee on 11. This is about as easy as it gets because the tee box is basically already there — it’s just rarely if ever used. A hole so severely downhill oughta be 180 yards minimum, even from the white tees. Cost: Low.

2. Get rid of the left bunker on 17.
I have played West Seattle probably 100 times since they added a few bunkers to the course and I’ve never seen a single human being in the left bunker on 17. I cannot fathom what they were thinking there, but it’s a waste and just screams of a bunker for bunker’s sake. Cost: Low.

3. Rebuild and re-elevate the No. 7 green. No. 7 is a very short par 4 that defenders say was designed to be driveable. I’ve heard it’s been done but I’ve never seen it, nor have I come close myself, and I’m a reasonably long hitter. Truth is it can’t be done except in the driest of conditions, and that’s basically six weeks out of the year. The sad truth is that it’s basically a driving range drive and a wedge to a massive and very flat green — about as boring as holes get. (The green is so large that you’d think it should be receiving three irons rather than sand wedges. I’d rebuild the green, maybe push it over to the left some, elevate it, and shrink it by about fifty percent. At least then there’d be some precision required on one of the hole’s shots. The downside of this is that by shrinking the green you concentrate the foot traffic, which will increase the likelihood that the green will be in poor shape. But it would be no smaller than No. 2’s green and, truth be told, the overly large green is usually in pretty poor shape, anyway. Cost: high.

4. Give No. 2 some teeth. The second hole is a way too short par 4 where anything but a dead right tee shot is an easy par. I’d make a little tougher. First, I’d eliminate the current tee box and replace it with one 20-30 yards back and slightly to the right. There’s room there, and, if you wanted to hit driver to shorten your approach shot, it would force a left to right drive with a hazard on the right — tough stuff. Next, I’d add a large bunker about 240-70 yards off the tee. The guy who wanted to hit driver would then have very little room to bail out left. Guys who didn’t want to mess with the bunker or want to hit a hard cut drive would then have to lay up, the result being an approach shot of 160-70 yards or so with a hazard on the right. Good, tough stuff. Cost: medium.

5. Give No. 5 some teeth. No. 5 is almost as easy as No. 2. I’d back the tee up as far as humanly possible and add a large fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway to catch any pulled drives, sort of like they did on No. 12 (pictured above) a few years back. Right now the room over there is ample and a hooked drive requires nothing more than a hooded short iron recovery shot to recover. Make a guy hit his approach from sand with a mid- to long iron and the hole gets considerably tougher.

6. Deep bunker at front and left of 6. At 180 yards from the blue and 215 from the blacks, No. 6 has sufficient length. And with that length and a hazard to the right, there is no shortage of misses to the left of the green. Why not toughen that area? I’d shave about 25% of the green off on the left in favor of a fairly large and deep bunker that would start in the front of the green and wrap around on the left side. Any misses left would then be in the bunker, where players would hit second shots knowing that any skulls would end up long and possibly in the hazard — read: big numbers. The important part is to make the bunker deep rather than just a flat space with sand, as with so many of the other bunkers on the course. Cost: medium.

7. Add fairway bunkers to No. 9. No. 9 is long enough when played from the back tees. The problem with the hole, like so many others on WSGC, is that it requires so little precision. Any drive but a massive hook is fine, any second shot is generally fine unless you’re in the grove of trees about 100-20 yards from the green. I’d add a large fairway bunker on the right side to catch any pushed drives: given the OB left, pushes aren’t uncommon. I’d add a second fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway to catch lay up shots that stray too far left. That would make the second shot somewhat difficult — miss it right and you’re in the grove of trees, from where hitting the green is a chore even from 100 yards. Miss it left and your approach shot comes from a bunker — never easy. Cost: medium.

8. Make 12 a very long par 4. When I first started playing at WSGC in the early 1980’s, No. 12 was a 424-yard par 5. Off a mat. The tee was directly in front of the creek. It has since been moved back some eighty yards, which makes it an okay but very reachable par 5. I’d put a tee where the old mat used to be, so a 425-yard or so par 4. This would be controversial, no doubt. First, it would make the nines 37-34 — not ideal. Second, a very long but not long enough drive might finish with a severe downhill lie. Shorter drives would be flat but 200 yards or so, longer drives would roll on the way to the flat of the gully, where most third shots are played from today. If the powers that be decided that too many shots were stopping in that very downhill area, this idea would have to be abandoned. Cost: low.

9. Add fairway bunker to right side of 15. Like so many other holes, No. 15 is pretty much a grip it and rip it and, so long as you don’t pull it, it’s an easy short iron approach, even from the rough. I’d add a large catch-all bunker on the right side of the fairway to catch any drives left out there by guys afraid of the left-side trees. A 140-yard approach from sand is a lot tougher than an approach from the light rough, especially with winter rules. Cost: low.

10. Cut trees down on No. 18’s lower tee to make grass-growing a viable proposition. No. 18 is a very weak finishing hole from the upper tees. Driver wedge and, unless you hit it at a 45-degree right angle off the tee, it’s about as easy as a finishing hole gets. There’s not a lot to do about it — the real estate just isn’t there to make a very long or challenging finishing hole. One good idea would be to make the lower tee the default one — it at least requires a memorable and somewhat challenging tee shot. Problem is that the trees down there virtually block out the sun, making grass growing quite a challenge. Remove those trees and you have yourself a much better tee.

The great part of all this is that the city has — or, at least, had — funds available to improve West Seattle Golf. Until recently it was considering adding a driving range to the course that would have cost a few mill. (More.) My ideas could be accomplished for a fraction of that. And with these tweaks the city would be justified in raising the green fees some 10-15 percent — not ideal for most guys, but that’s really no more than about $5/round.

While I wait, I’ll look for more architecture books.

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Well, not really. But it looks like someone robbed his closet and dumped it in our pro shop:

Puma has quite a presence in WSGC's pro shop.

The very-new-school Puma is suddenly the “it” brand at the very-old-school municipal golf course. And with Kikkor’s streetwear golf shoes making up a fair share of our shoe inventory, it looks like our pros are officially directing the pro shop in a decidedly youngish direction.

That’s great. But I don’t see the Puma stuff selling.

No doubt Puma has scored big time with the addition of Rickie Fowler. A brand that was nothing in the golf world eighteen months ago is now a big player — largely, if not exclusively, because of Mr. Fowler. And earlier this year, I rated Puma number four in my less-than-scientific list of top ten golf apparel brands, largely on the strength of their cutting edge innovation. But a big marketing presence does not necessarily translate into big sales, especially in the wrong market. I just don’t see a lot of the decidedly beer-and-potato-chips guys who frequent West Seattle’s pro shop dropping $75 plus tax on a crazy-colored shirt. I don’t see them dropping anything to buy any of the Puma monoline hats hanging on the walls. Indeed, other than Mr. Fowler, I don’t think I’ve seen a real human being wear one of those monolines. (Their Castro is another matter. 1I2)

I asked one of the WSGC employees if he’s be buying any of the RickieWear anytime soon. “Too old,” he said.

I feel the same way. And I’m only 41.

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Just hours after officially closing the book on my dream of building an American icon called Betcha.com, another of my dreams — winning the 2010 West Seattle Captains Cup — came to a crashing end. ’10 money list winner Doug Schroth beat me 4&3 to advance to the finals of the sixty-four man, single elimination event.

I was basically toast from the get go. Turned out my handicap went down from 5.8 to 4.4 in one cycle, meaning that instead of getting a stroke I had to give one. That I could not do: Doug was even through 12, could have been two or three under, and was never in serious trouble. I, by contrast, was awful. My driving was okay, but my iron play was atrocious. I hit not a single approach shot within thirty feet of the pin so I spent the entire day lagging forty and fifty footers. I made one thirty footer for birdie on eight — the only hole I won all day. This, after not trailing for a single hole in any of my first four matches. When Doug finally opened the door for me with bogeys on 13, 14 and 15, I responded with two balls in the street for a pickup on 13; a skulled 9 iron and missed four footer for bogey on 14; and a missed five footer to lose the match on 15, my fourth short miss in the last six holes. Ended up with an 84 — at least five strokes worse than any round I’ve had since Greenspan.

T4 out of 64. Not bad, but not a W, either.

Postscript: That 4.4 index means I dropped my handicap this season from a high of 7.5 in early August to 4.4 now, a forty-four percent drop. That’s something to be proud of. The 3.9 barrier goal, however, remains on my bucket list.

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It’s no secret – I’m no fan of government. As a general rule, government actors work in their self interest, not the people’s. Government officials are no more here to “serve the people” than the prison guards are there to serve the prisoners. Government officials act to protect government first and foremost — even if it means trampling on the rule of law, as the Washington State Supreme Court’s justices did in their jaw-dropping Betcha.com decision.

But every so often the government does work. The City of Seattle’s handling of the proposed new driving range at West Seattle Golf Course is a good example. I’ve been playing WSGC for a long time – before I could drive my grandma used to drop me there; she picked me up when I called her from something called a pay phone. I remember when WSGC used to have a driving range, and as a current member of WSGC’s fine men’s club and the owner of an apartment complex adjacent to the eighteenth hole, I have a vested interest in how the project turns out.

The initial idea of putting a range back where the old one was proved a no go. So did a Plan B which, as I understand it, would have put the range on the eighteenth hole, directly in front of my apartment building (read: a very bad idea). Last week, the Parks Department Powers That Be presented a Plan C at a public meeting at the WSGC clubhouse. I was in attendance. Course architect Todd Schoeder’s plan called for changing the current eighth and ninth holes into a massive par 5 and medium-length par 3 respectively, with the range going where much of nine used to be. The idea met with mixed reviews from the meeting’s attendees. Not a bad idea, but not a good one, either: it would leave golfers with a two-hundred-plus-yard uphill walk from the eighth green to the ninth tee and the ninth hole would be isolated from the rest of the golf course, a routing no no if ever there was one.

The City of Seattle's plan to drop a driving range in to West Seattle Golf Course seems to be a good example of government working with, not against, the public.

The reason I’m banging the keyboard on all this is what happened next. I e-mailed Garrett Farrell, the Parks Department official in charge of the project, to voice my concerns about Plan C and to suggest solutions that would remedy the problems. Basically my idea was to turn the par 3 ninth into an uphill par 4 with a blind uphill tee shot a la the eighth at Pebble Beach. This would not only eliminate the death march between eight and nine, it would create a monster par four on a course desperately in need of difficult holes. To a large extent my e-mail was cathartic – it made me feel better to know I’d said everything I had to say. To my great surprise, Mr. Farrell actually responded – and not with a form letter. No, the Parks Department official wrote back with a full six paragraphs — six — and referenced several of the points I’d made in my e-mail. This government official actually read and thought about what I had to say. That’s a heck of a lot more than I can say about the “justices” on the Washington State Supreme Court.

The process is by no means perfect. At the aforementioned public meeting, for example, about ten times more words were spoken about “the process” than was necessary. This member of the audience was more concerned about results than process. And truth be told, we still don’t have a final plan for putting a driving range on the property without fundamentally messing up one of the best municipal golf courses around. But if what I’m seeing and reading so far is any indication, I’m confident we’ll get there. No stone is being left unturned, and it’s clear that the government team is listening to what the public has to say. Wisdom of Crowds, indeed.

Government working with the people and for the people. Now isn’t that refreshing.

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Last year, after spending the better part of the afternoon standing in line for food at a gathering of Seattle’s finest roach coaches, I opined that that was a pretty lousy way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

I found something even lousier.

West Seattle Golf Club’s Devil’s Nas-Saw. In the pouring rain.

The event held great promise. The powers that be trick the course out to make it about as difficult as humanly possible. Today that meant: a 7,900 yard course; a “course rating” of 86 plus (not sure who rated it); tee boxes tucked as far back as possible — in some cases, on fairways two holes away; regular forced carries of 220 yards plus — to blind landing areas; pins placements no more than ten feet from the edge of every green (and, in one case, actually off the green); and an extra hole whose “green” (actually a mud pit) was surrounded by a makeshift eight-foot high fence with 2-3 inches between pickets.

The 2010 Blair Pitch Project.

Weird, wild and wacky stuff.

Had the weather been decent, this would have been just a very difficult round of golf. But it was not decent — it was awful. It never got higher than sixty degrees and it rained the whole time. Not drizzled — rained. The course was as muddy and saturated as I’ve ever seen it — a complete sludgefest.

An unknown player teeing off to No. 3 -- from the middle of the twelfth fairway.

I ended up shooting 102 for the 19-hole event (96 net), 99 for the regular 18 holes. Low gross was 86, low net 82. The round took exactly seven hours — and we waited not once for the group in front of us. I really didn’t think I played all that badly, but I made no birdies and two pars — not sure how that stood in my flight, but it couldn’t have been good. This from a guy who hasn’t posted anything higher than 79 since this year’s Greenspan Cup and is in the semifinals of West Seattle’s Captains Cup.

Happiness is being done. Oh, and that hat was green when I started.

Next year it’s back to the roach coaches unless God tells me well in advance that it won’t rain.

Either that or a movie …

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This morning I lamented in this space that I am not, nor will I ever be, Rickie Fowler.

The way I’m playing in the West Seattle Golf Course Captains Cup, suddenly I’m not so sure.

I'm in the final four.

Today I lost only one hole on my way to a 7&6 win. I was -1 to that point and didn’t make a bogey until the 14th hole — very Rickie-like. It was my fourth straight in the single elimination tournament: after winning my first match 1 up (shooting 76), I won the next two 8&6 (71) and 4&3 (79) before today’s win. I officially won flight B and am now in the semifinals.

Next up: Doug Schroth, a longtime club member who beat me in singles in the 2007 Greenspan Cup. I don’t like my chances. Then again, I didn’t like them this morning, either.

Stranger things have happened — like Rickie making four birdies in a row to halve his Ryder Cup match. Stay tuned.

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