West Seattle Golf Course driving range: Nine stories of net?

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

A team of Seattle Parks managers and design consultants made it clear last night: They’re just beginning to dig into the details of one potential layout for the West Seattle Golf Course‘s future $3.4 million driving range.

Here’s what else they made clear: Whether you’re a golfer, a neighbor, or an occasional visitor to the vicinity, they want to hear from you about what they’re looking at – right now, and down the line as the design proceeds.

The 50-stall driving range has to go somewhere between the golf course’s 9th hole and 35th SW. The very-tentatively-sketched-out location (photo above shows roughed-out art displayed at the meeting) would require a whole lot of earth-moving and tree-removal – and would dramatically change the experience at West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park immediately west of the driving range (see the “dash” type marker on the left side of the drawing): What’s now a greenery-framed view to downtown would wind up on the other side of the net setup meant to keep golf balls from flying onto 35th – a net that would rise 50 to 90 feet above the street level at the viewpoint site.

Leading the team is Parks’ Garrett Farrell, who’s managed other high-profile West Seattle projects in the past two years, including the Southwest Pool renovations (WSB coverage here) and the newly completed Hiawatha Playfield renovations. He’s also in charge of upcoming work at Lincoln Park’s outdoor Colman Pool. (In the photo at right, that’s Farrell in the background, with Robert Thorpe in the foreground, from the design-consulting firm, RW Thorpe and Associates.)

The stakes are high here, not just for West Seattle Golf Course users, but for the entire golf program citywide (whose director Paul Wilkinson also was among the team staffing last night’s meeting) – the West Seattle driving range is the first major project to be built under the city’s Golf Master Plan. Thorpe said it could also be a model for “the next two or three” such projects.

And what makes a golf project like this different from other multimillion-dollar Parks projects is the fact that it’s meant to create an income-producing facility. In fact, as noted later in the meeting, if the driving range is successful enough, it could bring in enough income for a new clubhouse to be built – something that didn’t make the cut on the list of projects that went into the Golf Master Plan.

Less time was spent last night discussing specifics of how the driving range would operate – 50 stalls on two levels, 25 per level, each 10 feet wide, “similar to Interbay” – than discussing the challenges of the site. Farrell explained that they’d drilled test holes they’ve been monitoring for months to find out more about the water situation, for example, realizing there may well be natural springs and aqueducts – since the site has had wetland characteristics in the past. The project may wind up with artificial turf for a majority of its greenery, he said, which would provide yet another challenge for naturally wet soil.

Landscape architect Todd Schroeder listed other pros and cons of the site. On the pro side, this siting doesn’t affect the existing golf course. On the con side, the terrain of the site would require a “significant amount of grading,” cutting into the hillside between 35th (and Rotary Viewpoint Park) and the golf course. Tree removal, too – if you look at the site now (and the sketch above) there are more than a few trees both east of 35th and on the east side of the proposed site that would have to be removed, with the area to be replanted. The type of vegetation that has flourished there, it was suggested, is another hint at the underground water situation. And to shore up the hillside after grading may require everything from special walls to “nail-pinning” and French drains, among the possibilities that were mentioned.

The site’s characteristics also would result in a narrower-than-many driving range – about 260 feet wide, when many, according to Schroeder, are at least 400 feet wide; however, the expected length – 300 yards – exceeds many other facilities. “We have a budget,” he said, “and we have to deliver a Class A driving range within that budget.” ($2.5 million of the project’s funding – which is bond money – goes to construction, according to Farrell, with the other $900,000 going toward other costs, including design.)

Then, there’s the matter of that net. To keep most golf balls from flying over the net, it needs to be 120 feet high, said Schroeder. Considering that it’s currently 30 feet from Rotary Viewpoint Park down to the potential driving-range site below, that means a net rising up to 90 feet – equivalent to a nine-story building – over the park. If excavation was possible, to lower the driving range beneath the hillside, that could bring the height down – but that all depends on the geotechnical issues that the team mentioned again and again (especially underground water). The consultants think the facility will need nets on all sides. (They also believe the facility will incorporate tee boxes and a putting green.)

Aside from the height, they’re not sure how else Rotary Viewpoint Park might be affected – where a net pole will be placed, how much distance there will be between the poles – that all has yet to be worked out. And they know the driving range also will affect golf-course-adjacent Camp Long, particularly some of the trails at its northernmost end, where you currently can hike so far down that golfers are within shouting distance. They’re hoping light pollution won’t be a problem, aiming to use “downcast lighting” to address that.

Yet another challenge: Parking. The current plan calls for no new parking. One meeting attendee was handing out flyers proposing that the facility be built with underground parking, not just for the driving range, but also to create a park-and-ride for local transit users – that didn’t come up for open discussion, however, though Thorpe indicated parking is a topic that’s on the table as the design and location are refined.

Again, stressed Farrell, everything is up for discussion at this point: “We’re taking a long look at the site, because once we need to bite into it, we need to chew on it” – so they are reviewing all possible configurations/locations in that space between the 9th hole and 35th SW, and might very well come to the next public meeting with “another alternative.”

Suggested one attendee from the audience at that point: “Any driving range in West Seattle right now would be better than none.”

That segued into Q/A. Asked what would be different from the Interbay driving range, city golf director Wilkinson mentioned that for one, regulation golf balls would be used here, instead of the “limited-flight” type used there, but other details are yet to come.

Golfer and nearby resident Sharonn Meeks expressed concern about the proposed site’s effects – the nets and poles – on Rotary Viewpoint Park and its just-restored-and-returned totem pole, and about the potential parking crunch. She also called the team’s attention to another feature that’s in the Golf Master Plan, a perimeter trail, which is not scheduled for construction for several years. And she pointed out that her neighborhood – where she leads the Fairmount Community Association, though she stressed she was not attending or speaking in that official capacity – “will have some further questions … we’d like to have some more visuals and a little more knowledge about the water situation.” She also asked about operating hours; those too are yet to be determined, she was told, but 10 pm most of the time as a closing time, maybe 11 pm in the summer, was suggested. And she recalled earlier discussions in which the driving range was not proposed as close to 35th as it is now (a graphic from spring 2009 is in this WSB story).

“As a design team, we have all the same concerns,” Schroeder assured her. Meeks reiterated that, as a golfer, she is “very much in favor of this driving range,” but just voicing concerns to be sure it will turn out to be “a sustainable facility.”

Thorpe added a hope that it might also turn out to enhance the West Seattle Golf Course’s status as a training ground for young golfers who go on to play in college (etc.), even golfers who come here from outside the peninsula: “There’s an opportunity here if we seize it and do it right and within budget.” Wilkinson at that point explained that R.W. Thorpe was chosen from among 13 applicants for the project.

After Farrell pointed out they had a traffic expert on hand too, a question arose about the possibility of a stoplight at the golf-course entrance. Reply: That could be proposed, but the need for it won’t be clear until further into the process, when designers will have an idea of how much use the driving range might generate. There might be other options, such as a lane that could hold a six-car queue.

TIMELINE: The driving range is supposed to be in operation by spring of 2012. In the shorter run – another public meeting is expected next month – probably the second or third Wednesday in September, Thorpe projected – and the public is also welcome to attend Seattle Design Commission meetings downtown where the project will be reviewed (those dates aren’t set yet, but we’ll announce them here when they are).

MORE INFO/HOW TO COMMENT: The project’s official Parks Department webpage is here, and that has info on who to contact with comments. Farrell promised to get meeting notes up “within a week and a half,” and to add the project graphics as they are vetted. And again, you can read the city’s Golf Master Plan by going here.

30 Replies to "West Seattle Golf Course driving range: Nine stories of net?"

  • blander August 5, 2010 (12:20 pm)

    I’m sure I’m in the majority when I say that I’d rather preserve that view than have a driving range in WS (I would appreciate having a driving range close by, incidentally).

    • WSB August 5, 2010 (12:22 pm)

      Again, the team stresses that this is the first cut – but also stressed that they want to hear from people directly. While comments here are often read by folks at the city/county/etc. departments involved in the stories, nothing beats your DIRECT comment to them, so everyone who can take a minute to e-mail (see link toward end of story) with their thoughts – good, bad, alternative, whatever – I am certain it will be appreciated – TR

  • Carson August 5, 2010 (12:36 pm)

    View? We have lots of views, what we don’t have is a driving range! I vote driving range, twice even.

  • OP August 5, 2010 (12:41 pm)

    Just from my purely observational POV, and as someone with ZERO knowledge in engineer, but as someone who has played WSGC a lot in winter, 3/4s of the 9th hole can be very, very wet, particularly on the left side of the hole and up the hill toward 35th. I imagine there’s a watertable under there somewhere that’s causing that because runoff alone can’t be the issue.

    Honestly, I don’t see the need for a 300-yd. range. A 275-yard range would suffice if the back portion of the fence were built high enough, then even the longest hitters (unless Bubba Watson comes for a visit) would have a hard time poking them over. I’m also not in favor of a 3rd putting green; WSCG already has 2 green, so a 3rd isn’t necessary. Those two measures would save some money.(Just because you have X amount of dollars doesn’t mean you have to spend it all!)

    While I lean toward a Yea on the range, Jefferson does have a range that’s an easy drive away should WSCG not be built.

    The “park”, while nice, is little used, IMHO.

    In the end, though, I hope it gets built.

  • Carson August 5, 2010 (12:52 pm)

    OP, its not all about just banging balls, ie the range at Jefferson, its about warming up before you play so the range at Jefferson does nothing to help that. As for the length, they can also use flight-limiting balls as most ranges now use, including interbay.

  • tigerwoodssucks August 5, 2010 (12:52 pm)

    There used to be a mini driving range there before I think. Yes… they better plan to really control water run off going down 35th during the winter months.

  • Delridge Denizen August 5, 2010 (12:56 pm)

    Seems like they could leave the park alone and add a Driving Lane to one of the re-channelization projects.

  • Sunflower August 5, 2010 (2:11 pm)

    We have two outstanding viewpoints that are always in use, Hamilton and Admiral, not to mention the entire stretch of Alki beach. I often drive by the Rotary Park and I’ve never seen anyone there. I can’t imagine stopping a useful and profitable project to preserve a view that no one ever uses.

  • ceilidh August 5, 2010 (3:33 pm)

    These driving ranges are hideous! I think they should be against code. One of these went up just over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge a few years ago with bright lights that made driving along 16 just plain dangerous. There never seemed to be any activity at the range either when I used to drive that highway. I’m not a golfer..really just don’t get the sport at all. I understand the need for warming up and practicing your swing. Aren’t there computer simulators you can use for this now which would eliminate the need for these ranges? The entrance to West Seattle is unattractive enough at present. I don’t know if this net will be visible from the bridge. If so, shame on the people adding to the problem! And I hope anyone who has a view impacted by this thing is considering all their options.

  • Good Sergeant August 5, 2010 (3:36 pm)

    Great project and one that will bring revenue to West Seattle and support the sport. I like that I won’t have to cross the bridge to go to the driving range. I love being in West Seattle and try to support the local commerce.

  • Jay August 5, 2010 (3:44 pm)

    Keep the view!

  • al August 5, 2010 (3:50 pm)

    So after all the emotion and outrage that was expressed about the totem pole we’re going to reinstall it and then drop an ugly backdrop behind it? That seems insane…

    And in response to Sunflower, I have used that park at least twice a week for the last 10 years and enjoy the view every time.

  • Al August 5, 2010 (4:07 pm)

    Hey, my taxes are being used to support a sport/activity I don’t participate in? Why should these golfers get special treatment and facilities that I won’t use? Do they have to have a license to play golf? Sure, they pay for all their equipment and a fee to whack the ball around but does that really cover the full cost of the facilities? Am I subsidising something for some slacker to golf?*
    * Tongue firmly in cheek.

  • blander August 5, 2010 (4:14 pm)

    Well, I guess I was a bit premature in assigning my opinion majority status…

    I would love to have a driving range but imagining a 9 story net blocking (obscuring, I guess) the view of Seattle as I’m driving down 35th is a bit depressing. It’s not like I sit at the park and contemplate my life whilst I stare at the space needle, but driving ranges are ugly.

  • Carson August 5, 2010 (5:21 pm)

    Right on Al! I say the same about the swimming pools and tennis courts I never use!

  • Denny August 5, 2010 (6:45 pm)

    How does this fit with the Parks & Rec Viewpoint management plan? They are the same agency, but sometimes it feels that different parts don’t talk to each other. Wonder if the netting has to be 90′ the full depth of the range…

  • David Edwards August 5, 2010 (8:00 pm)

    Suggestion: A one way road going South from the entrance to the totem pole East of 35th Ave would allow south bound traffic to depart using the present traffic signal eliminating a dangerous situation.

  • miws August 5, 2010 (8:40 pm)

    David, are you serious? Essentially removing Rotary Viewpoint for a road?



  • jd August 6, 2010 (12:09 am)

    Having worked for parks as a contractor for many years, they are an organization that does not talk within themselves and there is intense fueding within the system that ends up wasting a lot of money and resources. As a forest steward in west Seattle and having walked that area, I can guess there will be serious complications in building on that site. It would be best left as a wetland. Golf is a good example of ecopathy: destroying ones environment and the web of life out of ignorant self-interested economy.


  • Michael August 6, 2010 (12:16 am)

    You all DO know that there IS a driving range close by already? It takes about 10 minutes to get to the Jefferson Park range. It isn’t on the next block, but it isn’t exactly far away, either.
    It’s even easy to see from West Seattle – just look for the 9-storey nets.
    Seriously, this is the very definition of a luxury item. Things you know: it will be surrounded by a humongous net and parking for 100% of customers will be necessary (golfers don’t take transit). If you can deal with that, go for it.

  • Herman August 6, 2010 (12:35 am)

    Why on earth would anyone want to look at giant, industrial netting (think: Interbay and Jackson Park) rather than the vista of the Cascades?

    Terrible idea. Scrap it.

    And I golf!

  • Bob Loblaw August 6, 2010 (8:16 am)

    was very excited about this until i saw/read about the view issue. now i’m conflicted. that’s a big impact with those nets. grrrr.

    Anybody who has seen me play knows that a 50-yard range would be just fine with me. :-)

  • Carson August 6, 2010 (8:47 am)

    Lots of great views (hundreds) but the golf course will always be second rate without a range. Maybe they can use white nets to make them less visible. They will also be nothing like Jefferson, which site on the tip-top of the hill, this range will actually be lower then 35th.

  • JD August 6, 2010 (9:32 am)

    All for this. Will be one of the first people to hit a bucket of balls since it’s within walking distance for me. Why drive to a driving range when I can walk?

  • OP August 6, 2010 (11:33 am)

    OP, its not all about just banging balls, ie the range at Jefferson, its about warming up before you play so the range at Jefferson does nothing to help that.

    Yes, trust me, I’m aware of that. I’m not warmed up until #4, usually—but especially if I haven’t had a chance to stretch.

    They will also be nothing like Jefferson, which site on the tip-top of the hill, this range will actually be lower then 35th.

    I’m thinking this, too.

    I’ll ask this of all: When’s the last time you actually visited the totem pole or park? (I bet I hear crickets and tumbleweeds on this one….)

  • David Chew August 8, 2010 (4:25 pm)

    Many years ago there was a driving range on the same plot of land. I’m not sure why its use was discontinued..perhaps it co-insided with the establishment of the viewpoint. I’m a golfer and would like to see a warm-up area, but I also understand the objections of folks who think it will detract from the viewpoint due to the high fencing (although I don’t believe the viewpoint is used very often). I think the range could be scaled back…you don’t need something that can handle 300 yard drives; 99.9% of the golfers who play WS could never hit their ball that far. My opinion is that a maximum distance of 250 yards(perhaps 265) would be plenty long enough. Shortening the distance might result in a lower fence requirement. An alternative is to use restricted flight golf balls. Most golfers would use the range to warm up and work on their swing and ball contact prior to play. This doesn’t require seeing how far they can hit the ball as much as having an area where they can take a full swing at it.

  • farron August 9, 2010 (2:32 am)

    Build it already!!

  • Hardy August 9, 2010 (6:50 pm)

    We need a driving range at W Seattle, drive on!

    More cowbell too!

  • Alkifan August 11, 2010 (9:45 pm)

    This will make West Seattle Golf Course a complete course. Working in West Seattle, I would be able to hit a bucket of balls at lunch!!

    A range will allow WSGC to offer private & group lessons AND it gives golfers a place to warm up which should drive more revenue to West Seattle Golf Course.

    The only downside is that I won’t have any more excuses for hitting far right off the 1st tee box onto the middle of the 9th fairway.

  • elevated concern August 12, 2010 (9:27 am)

    The downside will be the 90 foot tall poles parallel to 35th essentially as the sidewalk for 300 feet. The current plan is to remove ALL of the trees on the west side of the driving range and install the netting on three sides. The protected view of downtown from Rotary Park, the neighborhood and for those driving on 35th will be completely obscurred. Yes, I prefer to have a driving range available when I play but not at the expense of the “Gateway” plan that is trying to get underway. This is a dramatic change from the original discussions that led up to the Master Golf Course Plan for improvement. One driving range cannot sustain and pay for a $30 million dollar bond. Back to the drawing board Parks.

Sorry, comment time is over.