Changing course? New West Seattle Golf Course driving-range plan

(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.

19 Replies to "Changing course? New West Seattle Golf Course driving-range plan"

  • WestSide45 September 15, 2010 (9:45 pm)

    I nearly gagged when I saw the proposed action to ruin the ninth hole. What the course does not need is another short par four which would cause a bottleneck at the newly proposed ninth tee (where there is no decent (and safe) waiting area).

    The possibility of flip-flopping the nines was presented. This would cause (IMHO) an undesirable wait at the new 2nd tee, a par three.

    The change to the course slope was not addressed (it affects player handicaps).

    If I feel the need to play a par 70 course I’ll go to Jefferson.

    Overall an ill-conceived plan which needs to be scrapped. If nothing better can be presented we can do without a range.

    • WSB September 15, 2010 (9:50 pm)

      FYI I did finally get a full copy of the graphic once the post-meeting conversation finally ended a short time ago, and will be uploading and adding it to the story soon.

  • Bill September 15, 2010 (9:52 pm)

    It sounds like the City has chosen the wrong design team. I am curious to know what they said in their proposal -i.e. how to address site conditions, lighting, nets, etc… I bet they even said the words “under budget”. A (more) local team probably has more experience in a site which is can be considered a challenge but typical soils, drainage, etc…

    Leave the course alone!!! This proposal not only will delay construction (for course improvements) but will also have done sort of interim/temporary course that we will be forced to deal with and most likely pay higher green fees.

    Seriously, is their a golf course architct on this team? I don’t think he would design Hole #1 to be the hardest hole on the course (lengthwise).

  • WSB September 15, 2010 (10:18 pm)

    Todd Schroeder, whom I quoted extensively, is a very experienced golf-course architect, according to his bio – here’s the city-listed bios of everyone on the team – I am still going back and adding links to the story and will make sure this is available inline too.
    As for budget, the project team said this version could be done for “close to” budget – hinting that it would be somewhat over – but more realistic than the original slope-carving, wall-requiring proposal.

  • Bill September 15, 2010 (10:43 pm)

    Thanks for the info! My budget comment was directed towards the original location and that it is possible that the design team stated in their proposal that they could develop a design based on the budget. My feeling is that there was a lot of fluff (proposal/interview) about how they would handle the original location. I also recall Parks telling the design teams that there would be no alternative sites and that artificial turf would be used.

    The problem of the “First Class” driving range is that money is being spent to build a architectural structure. A driving range is just an open field, most courses don’t even have covered ranges.

    Interbay was built on a brownfield and by far a more challenging site to mitigate.

  • bub September 16, 2010 (10:23 am)

    I play the course multiple times a week. I would rather not have a range than change the course as described. Ask any loyal member and I bet you find the same sentiments. The non-golfers with money making these decisions is a joke. Get a panel of regular course members together and do it right or not at all. Use the money for more useful things than wrecking my favorite course.

  • Carson September 16, 2010 (10:57 am)

    I agree Bub. The course could use a few more yards, not less. Have they even bothered to see if they can make an unhill, iron only range? They have a small one at Sand Point, maybe 150 yards, big uphill, with nets and it works with the limited use it gets. Not sure if the intent here is an add on, help you get warmed up before you play idea or a separate year round money maker.

  • Dave September 16, 2010 (11:36 am)

    I think ditching the range is a good option at this point, Jefferson Park is close enough for me and is rarely completely full. Another local range would hurt their business I would think. I think a great idea (not sure how to monetize it though) would be to have a nice big chipping/sand practice area, which is something no local range/course has.

  • bub September 16, 2010 (1:07 pm)

    Right on Carson. I looked at the new layout and reducing 2 par 5’s (#1 and #9) to par 4’s and making a par 70 course would deter me from playing at West Seattle. Less than 6000 yards from Blue tees! No way! I like Dave’s idea of a nice big chipping/sand practice area instead of a range. Or, reduce the proposed range smaller/narrower to 25 stalls and possibly not 2 levels — cut costs other ways than cutting into the layout of the best Seattle City course. Ideas abound! Chime in everyone!

  • Al September 16, 2010 (6:10 pm)

    Todd Schroder did a great job of trying to cut the cost and redesign the golf course to relocate
    the driving range. Certainly this was not in the mind of any of the golfers until this meeting. This is a wonderful course and I believe the parks dept. and the architect need to go back to
    the drawing board and come up with a concept that saves this wonderful and well designed course. It is not realistic to expect to shorten the course.

  • Herman September 16, 2010 (10:34 pm)

    Ditch it, the Jefferson range is close and works fine.

  • Near Alki September 16, 2010 (11:50 pm)

    I got it! Lets tee up on one of the old Huiling sites and drive golf balls into the Whole Foods pit till it’s filled up.

  • Eddy September 17, 2010 (6:34 am)

    NO range that messes with the JEWEL of a golf course PLEASE!!!!!!!

  • Ed September 17, 2010 (11:28 am)

    The Lynnwood golf course has a very small driving range with nets hanging from the top to keep balls in the range. It allows you to practice every club in your bag and get a good warm-up before heading out on the course. It fits into a very small footprint.

  • Seattledodger September 25, 2010 (3:59 pm)

    After looking at the team that came up with the insane idea of ripping up the course, I think this is all about money.

    They want to ‘monitize’ the course and increase revenue to the city, and they think a driving range will do it.

    It’s hard to express the contempt I feel right now. And the sad thing is that they’ll probably get away with it . . .

  • Carl Le Boa September 26, 2010 (10:47 am)

    Please! please! please! Find a more feasible,practical, logical, way of improving west Seattle’s practice facility with out, I repeat without! An expensive driving range or rerouteing the existing holes! I love West Seattle historic beautiful course the way it is!!

  • Randall September 26, 2010 (11:18 am)

    Don’t do it. A big part of the allure of West Seattle golf course is the par 5, #9. A good score on the front nine flows into the challenging yet “scorable” back nine. Plus coming off of #8, we look forward to an already risk reward par 5. Changing #9 into a par 4 will affect the look and rythm of the front 9. Do not change #9!

  • Grant Lingg September 26, 2010 (5:29 pm)

    Please do not alter the course merely to accomodate a new range. We’ve lived without a range for years and while it would be nice to have, it simply isn’t worth destroying a beautiful and historic course.

  • Chris September 28, 2010 (10:54 am)

    Do not rip up the old lady! We don’t need 80 stalls. Don’t over do it, just keep it simple please!

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