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Sahalee
By Ed DeBell

In the tongue of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, the name Sahalee means “high heavenly ground.” It was in and around this “high heavenly ground” that the Sahalee Indians thrived prior to the advent of the white man. The men hunted and fished and the woman wove baskets and sewed mats of cedar bark. They believed they were descendents from mystical animals, and some of them still believe the spirits of these animals inhabit the land and can bring good luck or bad luck to persons who are upon it. If that legend applies to those who are playing golf upon that land, could those spirits dictate the outcome of a game of golf? I believe they could.

It has been over twenty years since architect Ted Robinson carved this majestic course out of the firs, cedars, and hemlocks which characterize this beautiful part of Washington. Situated just East of Seattle, the Sahalee Country Club is surrounded by picturesque mountains, abundant evergreens, and sparkling lakes which beckon the adventurous golfer to test his skills in this tranquil setting. The course has been referred to as truly representative of its particular region, a region whose natural endowments abound and which lend themselves gracefully to the creation of a challenging golfing environment.

Paul Runyan, who was the first professional at Sahalee, firmly believes that it is one of the twenty-five greatest courses in the world “....because it is both a very difficult, but at the same time, a very fair test. There’s not a bad hole, not a weak hole on the course. Some of these courses built nowadays have mounds and moguls in the landing area and bunkers so deep you can’t get in let alone out of ‘em. Sahalee has none of that. I think (the greens) have good shaping for the holes they represent. The course requires you to hit all types of shots and the greens accept the type of shot the hole requires you to play. Many so-called great courses don’t have that quality.”

Most golfers recall that Paul Runyan gained fame and notoriety when he defeated Sam Snead by a score of 8 and 7 in match play during the earlier P.G.A. Championship of 1938. Runyan has won the P.G.A. on more than one occasion, but his expertise around the greens during his match with Snead earned him the inglorious nickname of “Little Poison.”

Snead would consistently outdrive Runyan off the tee, but the shorter hitter had developed a short game which was almost flawless. He is famous not only for his skill getting out of sand traps, but also for his adroitness with the “flop shot” - a shot with which he lofted the ball with little or no spin and it dropped softly to the green with little or no roll. It has since become a regular part of every good golfer’s repertoire. In keeping with his emphasis on dexterity around the greens, Runyan believes that Sahalee has the best three par holes anywhere: ‘I do not know of any other course anywhere in the world that has four par threes better than those....at Sahalee. They are so difficult in that they demand a great shot, but they are fair in that if you hit that great shot, you’ll be rewarded.” And if you don’t hit that great shot, then Paul Runyan will show you how to get it up and down.

Sahalee has a unique location since it is part of a fifty year old forest of fir, cedar, and hemlock trees. Architect Ted Robinson left as many trees standing as he possibly could. Consequently, the fairways are narrow even by Northwest standards and they will provide a stern test for the professional participants. Sahalee head professional Jim Pike, who will host the P.G.A. Championship here from August 13 to August 16, has some interesting assessments of some holes.

Hole Number One: The first hole demands a very accurate drive, probably with a fairway wood or long iron. A short to middle iron will be required for a second shot into a firm green protected in the front by two bunkers; it is a par four off 406 yards.

Hole Number Four: This slight dogleg left par four shows Ted Robinson’s strategy of building the golf course. He cleared approximately twenty-five feet of fairway leaving trees in or near fairways for playability, difficulty, and penalty. This two tiered green surrounded by three sand traps and a grass bunker behind makes for a delicate second shot; it is a par four of 386 yards.

Hole Number Seven: Ted Robinson uses the trees to force the player into working the ball around the large firs. The green is surrounded by three bunkers and is undulating around the edges; it is a par four of 421 yards.

Hole Number Fourteen: A short, sharp, dogleg left will require a very accurate drive. A thick forest of trees guards the left side of the fairway. The green slopes upward from right to left; it is a par four of 374 yards.

Hole Number Seventeen: This hole has one of the most beautiful settings at Sahalee. An elevated tee looks down on a green with water in the front which wraps around the right side. The reflection of the trees upon the water provides additional beauty. The green rises slightly from front to back; it is a par four of 475 yards.

The course measures 6069 yards and plays to a par of 70, according to course superintendent Tom Wolf. Situated on 180 acres, the country club features one of the best 27 holes in America and is ranked in America’s 100 Greatest Courses by Golf Digest. The only changes to the course in preparation for the P.G.A. Championship have been a couple of new tees on twelve and on eighteen, a fact which aptly portrays the championship calibre of this majestic layout perched atop the legendary “high heavenly ground.”

The Sahalee Indians of the Pacific Northwest can indeed take pride in their contribution of such enchanting surroundings to the fascinating game of golf. I just hope that the spirits of their mythical ancestors - the animals - will be kindly disposed.

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