West Seattle GC

6,322 yards, 126 slope from the Blues

Course:  West Seattle is a municipal course in, you guessed it, West Seattle.  Seattle has 4 municipal courses all managed by the same company, which I believe is Premier Golf Centers, LLC.  The course was designed by H. Chandler Egan, who was a notable architect along the West Coast, among his designs is Eugene Country Club.  He also worked with Alistair MacKenzie on Sharp Park and Green Hills CC.

The course focuses on swales, elevation changes, shaved fringes, tree lined fairways and dog legs to make for an interesting round.  There are views of downtown from many of the holes, providing some nice city line scenery.  I don’t think Seattle has to deal the brutal summer heat that dries out the grass, so course conditions were great, especially for a municipal course that sees millions of rounds per year.  And the green fees are a steal, so you’re getting an interesting lay out with great conditions for a song.  In essence, that’s municipal golf at its best.  Westside’s web site touts itself as one of the best munis in the country and although I feel every muni with a web site says the same thing, I don’t have much reason to doubt it.  I mean, if I could swap this place for any of Philly’s munis (except Cobbs), I would do it in a heartbeat.

Of course, this muni is not immune from the prevalent problem with most munis around the country that provide great golf at a value: crowds.  Indeed, the demand for affordable golf on a respectable course is unrelenting, which is a good thing for the game, and just like Five Ponds, Pennsauken or Rock Manor, this place was very popular.

How a course handles the steady onslaught of golfers really separates the men from the boys.  And understandably, these courses are going to get flack any way they handle it.  They’ll be labeled as too soft on slow play, allowing too many tee times too close together, or too fascist on the players to speed up, inevitably detracting from the enjoyment of the round.  In Southern California, the munis now send out five somes in an attempt to get as many people out as possible and understandably, the demand has outgrown supply and you’re looking at a slow round.  Back in Philly, it really varies from course to course, ranging from no enforcement whatsoever to having groups either wave others ahead or rearranging at the turn.  Generally though, slow play is either inevitable or works itself out.  I try to avoid courses when I know it’s going to be crowded to maximize my time out there golfing instead of waiting.  If I ever see a group waiting behind me for whatever reason, I’ll speed up if there’s room ahead of me or waive them through if it’s obvious they’re real players scaring the course record.

At any rate, I bring this up because this issue arose while playing at West.  It was rather confusing, yet marred what was shoring up to be a great round.  On the back 9, we encountered a ranger who was, to say the least, aggressive, abrasive and intimidating.  We had stopped in at the clubhouse at the turn for some food and then started the 10th hole when we were informed quite rudely by this ranger that we would have to skip a hole if we didn’t catch up to the group in front of us.  We apologized and explained we were only behind because we got something to eat, but the ranger responded we weren’t entitled to eat.  Odd response, but we sped up and caught up to the group in front of us.  Regardless, this ranger was relentless.  He would speed up out of no where, then stop as we were addressing our ball a few feet behind us, then would speed off again once we hit.  No one knew what he was doing, especially since we were right up on the group ahead of us.  Let me emphasize that at no time after the 10th hole, was the group behind us (a two some) waiting for us before they hit.  Inexplicably, the ranger informed us on the 16th hole we had to pick up and go to the 17th tee.  Again, the two some was not even behind us and once we followed the ranger’s instructions and went to the 17th tee, we had to wait while the group in front of us was hitting their second shots!  We finished our round accordingly.  The whole situation was weird because if we were slowing anyone up, I would have surely waived them through.  But they were no where to be found.  I don’t know what the ranger was thinking.  It was so perplexing that I contacted the course manager about it.  

Like I said, these courses deal with crowds, slow play and complaints on a daily basis.  I get all that and this ranger has to take the the brunt of it.  That translates into stressful situations and on occasion, maybe there’s some misplaced aggression.  Even with all of that, dickhead rangers are a huge red flag.  Make no mistake that we are paying a good sum of money to enjoy ourselves out there.  If someone out there is slowing up the course and taking away the enjoyment of everyone else, then the rangers should figure out a diplomatic way to handle the situation.  That’s the way I’ve seen it done every where else at least.  Even Downingtown.  The game loses thousands of players a year.  Some of them have to be fed of going to a course, not hitting the ball well, then getting yelled at by a ranger and everyone else for a few hours about how they’re killing everyone.  Conversely, some of them leave because they’re fed up going to a course, then wasting 6 hours while the schmuck ahead of him takes 8 strokes to get to the green, then stands over his putts for a couple minutes.  

There seem to be a few ways to limit slow play by laying out some guidelines at the beginning of the round, instead of telling everyone to simply keep up with the group ahead of you.  Once you reach double par strokes on a hole, you should pick up and move on.  Hit the reset button, forget about that hole, and start new on the next.  Look for a lost ball up to a minute.  If you can’t find it by then, it’s probably gone or some where you don’t want to hit from anyways.  On the greens, pick up after 3 putts.  

BUT, I LOVE my real proposal.  I only wish it would happen some day.  Let me lay this out properly. Off one soap box and on to the other.  One of the reasons golf may be waning in popularity, at least in the U.S., is the obsession with stroke play.  You go out, hit your ball a bunch of times, then add up your score.  Most of the time for most of us, that score is not as good as we wanted or expected.  So we go to the range, take a lesson, etc., go back out, and measure ourselves with that score again and again. Yet golf has so much more to offer.  There are so many different scoring and playing formats that are more fun if you’re out there, and allow a lot more enjoyment.  Some of these formats let you enjoy yourself because you’re focusing on shots and individual holes, not an end score.  

SO, my suggestion is that during peak times when a course faces the biggest crowds, insist on Foursomes as the playing format.  Foursomes is a format where four golfers play with two balls only, alternate shot.  First of all, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, at Muirfield (ranked 9th on Golf Magazine’s best courses in the world, was as high as 3rd at one point) ONLY uses this format.  They do so because it’s efficient, but also because of tradition.  You can actually get through a round of 18 in under 3 hours.  There are a number of other reasons why this is a good idea.  You compete against the other two some and obviously there are handicap allowances to even the playing field.  So you have the entire group engaging each other, creating a healthy sense of competition and turning the round into more than each golfer worried about his final score than each shot and each hole.  Would you have a better time if that shot you stuck from 160 out won your team that hole, or the match, instead of being indifferent to that shot because that snowman you got on the 3rd hole already ruined your score for the round?  Match play also gets you thinking a lot more about the course, how to manage it and how to get the ball where you want, as opposed to your swing mechanics.  And you’ll become a better player, hitting shots from places you otherwise wouldn’t encounter.  And who cares if you’re out there as a single?  You meet some new people, spend a couple hours with them and have a blast.  It’s the same thing as going to the local basketball court for a pick up game.  I’m telling you, this would work.  Players having more fun and speeding up play, all by looking to how it’s done in old Scotland.  If it’s good enough for them, then you bet it’s good enough for us.  And if you’re hell bent on getting that stroke round in, show up when the course is open and you can focus on your score instead of the crowds.  

How could this not catch on?  You’re telling me some where like Five Ponds wouldn’t see an INCREASE in play and a DECREASE in time per round if they did this during the weekends?  Let’s see some course shake things up and try this.  As the number of courses has been dwindling for years and the Tiger boom is receding, isn’t it about time some of these courses did something different to tackle the slow play thing other than marching out ill tempered rangers?  OR if a foursome is slowing up play, give them a warning and if still nothing, MAKE them go to foursome.  You’d never get so many slow players thanking the course for making them change things up.    

Anyways, back to Earth.   I wouldn’t discourage anyone from playing this course just because of my experience.  In fact, I would probably go back.  It reminded me of Deerfield, if anything.  Every hole is tree lined, many elevated greens and dog legs.  In fact, it was pretty similar, although I give Deerfield a ton more accolades because the design is more interesting, challenging and diverse.  But the greens here were fast and local knowledge helped, as there were ways to use the contours and swales around the greens and on the tee shots.  

The First hole is a par 5, a little over 500 yards.  It turns slightly and you’re going gradually downhill, with trees along the right.  It’s a nice starting hole, nothing too tough to take on starting out.  The Second is a short par 4 that dog legs right down hill to the green.  Fade it off the tee if you can, as the trees prevent you from cutting the dog leg.  Or take less off the tee from a decent approach shot.  The Third is a nice par 3, about 120 yards.  You must carry a ravine to an elevated green that slopes from left to right.  So long as you have your distance right, you should be fine, as there’s room left and right.

The Third

The Fourth is another par 5, some what shorter than the first that goes up hill.  The fairway is on the narrow side lined with trees, but the green is pretty accessible.  In fact, the greens on all the holes were pretty much accessible with not too much protecting the front.  There are bunkers along the sides to collect errant shots though.  The Fifth turns you around to where you were going on the Fourth and is a 400 yard par 4.  The hole dog legs to the left slightly downhill to a green with bunkers left and right.  The Sixth is a 160 yard par 3.  Trees confine your tee shot and there is a pretty big bunker on the left front, but the green is rather large.  The Seventh gives you a forced carry tee shot over a creek to a shortish par 4 a little over 300 yards.  A good tee shot to a wider fairway gives you a short approach shot to a very accessible green.  A good scoring hole.  

The Eighth is another shortish par 4 that goes uphill.  The green is elevated and anything right is pretty much done.  There is room on the left, but not much.  

The green at the Eighth

The Ninth is a great hole.  It’s yet another par 5 about 500 yards, making 3 on the front 9 that double dog legs right then left while going downhill, then downhill some more before coming back up to the green.  The tee shot is somewhat blind and the fairway slopes severely from left to right.  The green is also average sized at best.  

Ranking the front 9, I’d go 9, 8, 3, 2, 6, 7, 4, 1, 5.

The back 9 starts out with a 350 yard par 4.  The green dives down hill for your second shot and is blind.  There’s actually a big pole so you know where to aim.  Obviously, local knowledge helps out here, as we all guessed when we hit out second shots.  The Eleventh is a little over 150 yards and a par 3 that goes downhill.  There’s not much room left or right, so just go straight and err on short rather than long.  The Twelfth is a 490 yard par 5 that goes downhill, then you have a steep uphill to the green.  It’s straight, so not that bad, club up on the approach.  The Thirteenth is another par 3, this one about 180 yards, yet downhill again.  The tee shot is pretty wide open as well.  

The Fourteenth through Eighteenth are basically switchbacks up and down the hill the course is set upon.  The uphill holes have plateau greens while the downhill holes have great views of the city and elevated tee shots.  The Fourteenth is about a 370 yard par 4.  The green is completely shaved on the front and slopes severely from back to front, so it was totally conceivable that your ball would roll off the green downhill away from the hole at least 20 yards if you either shorted your approach or missed your putt.  This was diabolical, especially with the front pin placement, but I was intrigued.  The Fifteenth goes back down the hill and is a 360 yard par 4.  Trees separate these holes, so stay straight and account for the swales and ripples that continue on the fairways.  The Sixteenth is a 350 yard par 4 that is pretty similar to the Fourteenth, although the green is much easier to deal with.  The Seventeenth, you guessed it, is almost identical to the Fifteenth, although it’s about 20 yards shorter.  

Tee shot at the Seventeenth

Closer look at the great view on the Seventeenth tee box

The Eighteenth is a short 350 yard par 4.  You only go a little uphill, as the fairway seems to continue on a ridge up to the green.  There’s a steep drop off on the left and trees on the right along the fairway, but the green is rather large and surrounded by trees, so again, just err on the short side and you’ll be fine.  

I’d rank the back 9 12, 10, 14, 16, 17, 18, 13, 15, 11.  The switchback holes were pretty repetitive and there wasn’t much to the par 3’s.  Overall, the par 5’s were pretty good here while some of the par 4’s were interesting.  The par 3’s were straightforward, but didn’t really see all that much to them except for the Third.  Regardless, as far as munis go, this was a good play.  Also, the cart girl came around a lot, at least on the front 9.

If I lived here, I’d play at this course a couple times a season during off days.  If you can hit it straight, you can score.  

Gripes:  I’ve already yammered on long enough about the prick ranger.  There are are no hole markers, so it was some times tough finding the next tee, especially the Twelfth.  The bathroom in the clubhouse was scary.  No range, just a net.  

Clubhouse:  They have stuff and some sales of lower tier equipment.  Not bad for a muni.

Bar/grill:  The inside isn’t worth hanging around, but they have a patio that I’d hang out in after the round.  Food is basically edible at best.

Nearby:  You’re about 10 minutes away from downtown.  Also, Seattle has these fast food places called Taco Time.  I highly recommend going there.  Great food.