(Click to see tonight’s new rendering in full: Top is west; the lighter area in the upper right is the previously suggested driving-range area; the area with dots around it is the newly proposed area)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The design team for the West Seattle Golf Course‘s future driving range unveiled a proposal at tonight’s second public meeting that differs dramatically from what was roughed out for the first meeting – with architect Todd Schroeder calling it “a driving range that fits in the area where we can actually build it.”
That refers to what the team (bios here) explained were daunting challenges to the originally proposed site (see upper right of top rendering), close to the slope that runs down alongside West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park and parallels 35th SW. Among those challenges: It would have required a $1 million retaining wall (taken out of the $2.5 million construction budget for the $3.4 million project), as well as blocking the park view with tall netting, and other cons (such as removing trees, and hauling away more than 3,000 loads of soil during an excavation process). Those challenges led the team, overseen by the Parks Department‘s Garrett Farrell, to focus on a different section of the golf course site – one not requiring “digging into a nasty, gooey hillside,” as Farrell put it. (With the possibility, consultant Bob Thorpe said, of maybe even “blowing out” 35th SW.)
The area that’s now under consideration for the driving range is further east, not level but not on the slope, and would have driving-range users facing south-southeast into the golf course site from a starting point close to the existing clubhouse and parking lot. (See the full rendering here.)
But the newly proposed design drew sharp criticism from golfers (who, along with site neighbors, were present in much bigger numbers than the first meeting) – because it would mean big changes for the existing first and ninth holes on the golf course (the previous driving-range proposal would not have affected the course itself at all). One declared it a “no-go”; another vowed “revolt” if the course changes went through.
“It has constraints and negatives, but also has a lot of positives,” Schroeder said. One of those could be an expanded park area in the north end of a flat section of what was being originally considered for the driving-range site; part of that potential site is already cleared, he said, but there are wetland issues too.
The ninth hole would be completely redesigned, as a par-4 instead of a par-5. “Is it as good a golf hole?” asked Schroeder, insisting, “Absolutely.”
They haven’t figured out how to get people from the new 9th hole to the 10th tee. One possibility would shorten #1 – which also then would become a 464-yard par-4 (compared to the current par-5), “a very challenging opening hole,” Schroeder says.
Once the Q/A period began, one attendee expressed outright anger at the concept, though, saying that reducing the course’s par would bring “a revolt” from course users. Farrell, in turn, noted that the city’s Golf Master Plan is driving this process. And he repeatedly noted that the team was working with less-than-desirable options and constraints with which he had presented them.
Before we get to more of that criticism:
Some of the first questions had to do with how much money the driving range would generate; the project team said that the Golf Master Plan projects a driving range would net about $400,000 each year, and counts on revenue that this would be generated by this facility starting in spring 2012.. One attendee was skeptical about the likelihood of the driving range generating that much money, since this range would face south-southeast. Another attendee called the projection “impressive” but wondered about how the city planned to maximize revenue through other sources – charging for parking, special events, membership fees. The question was directed to city golf director Paul Wilkinson, who invited questions via e-mail.
But one major component of the new proposal drew some concern:
“You’re messing with the golf course, and I didn’t think you guys were going to mess with the golf course,” one man said.
“Neither did we,” Schroeder acknowledged.
Farrell, however, noted that historically the concept of a driving range in the vicinity of the ninth hole was not a new one.
Bob Chamberlain, president of the men’s club at West Seattle Golf Course, took the microphone to try to calm things a bit – though his sentiment was the same. “This changes the course in ways that we never anticipated, and perhaps there are other solutions,” he said, before handing the mike to Bob Kleckner, who said club leaders got a preview of the new plan before tonight’s public meeting. “From a golfer’s perspective,” Kleckner said, “my perspective is, have you lost your mind? This golf course is a jewel. It’s been here for 60-plus years. It’s designed by one of the 10 best architects that have ever designed a golf course. It’s nationally recognized as one of the best municipal courses in the country. … The 1st and 9th golf holes are fabulous golf holes,” adding to the course’s “historical value,” he said. He said the 9th hole redesign looks OK, but the 1st does not make sense “convert(ed) to a long par 4 … (which would be) unquestionably a bad move for the golf course.”
Changing the 1st and 9th holes, he suggested, might lead West Seattle golfers to say they would rather not have a driving range – Jefferson, for example, isn’t that far away, he noted. As for the range design itself, he said it looks like he would “be hitting into a tunnel.”
Farrell stressed, again, “I’ve been given a task to marshal your public dollars forward … I don’t expect you to like (the latest proposal).”
But then, there were constructive suggestions – perhaps angle it in a direction where it would not affect the existing course so much? What about creating a virtual driving range – which Farrell joked dryly had come up “ten times” during the meeting – that would allow golfers to practice without a facility requiring so much space? “That’s an option we can definitely put on the table,” he said, as it was added to a long list of questions/concerns from attendees, all being noted on an easel-borne pad at the front of the room. Applause resulted when it was suggested that a “tech center” could be combined with a place to practice short shots – somehow not affecting the existing course.
Meantime, one nearby resident lauded the team for addressing some of the neighborhood concerns that arose after the 1st meeting, saying that while golfers are now threatening “revolt” if this plan goes through, the previous plan, which would have required a notable amount of tree removal, would have “had old ladies chaining themselves to trees.”
Fairmount resident Nancy Driver said she was glad to see the new design – others from her neighborhood had expressed concerns about view impacts from the first plan – but wondered what this new plan will look like from 35th SW. Schroeder’s reply: Since this site is so much further below the roadway, the proposed 90-foot net would “almost be invisible” – maybe only 10 feet higher than the Rotary Viewpoint Park vantage point – though again, he said they’re looking at possibly making it higher. Overall, he reiterated that the “view impact (would likely be) very small,” saying a study will be done.
The discussion quickly veered back, though, to skepticism about whether this is meant to serve any purpose but filling city coffers – Farrell acknowledged the citywide Golf Master Plan could not be carried out without it. One man declared flatly, “I wouldn’t want that driving range, and I wouldn’t want it unless I was desperate for one.”
“Look,” another attendee said, emotionally, more than an hour and a half into the meeting, “this thing is NOT WORKING. … You guys need to go back to the drawing board. … I would rather (the driving range) not happen, leave my golf course alone … Don’t destroy this golf course over revenues. … Golf brings a million dollars to the city every year. We pay for everything. We are the best tenants a park could ever have. … For me, this thing is a no-go.”
Farrell had said at the meeting’s start that he wanted attendees’ “unvarnished” comments – and that clearly is what he got.
WHAT’S NEXT: Farrell stressed repeatedly that those concerned about the concept of a driving range overall should review the Golf Master Plan – this is the first major project that would be built as part of it, and not a standalone project given the other priorities and projections of the plan. But specifically to the point of this project: More meetings ahead – with the next one likely happening in about a month. You can follow the process on this Parks Department web page.