Sahalee golf course opens in Sammamish on August 9, 1969.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 5/11/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9016
On August 9, 1969, the first 18 holes of the 27-hole Sahalee golf course opens. (The remaining nine holes will open in July 1970.)  The Sahalee Country Club is a member-owned private club located in the northeastern part of Sammamish (King County); a residential development with the same name surrounds the golf course. Sahalee's golf course has frequently been ranked by Golf Digest magazine as among the nation's top 100 courses in the country. Sahalee will host its first PGA championship in 1998, gaining further national recognition and acclaim in the process. This account, written by Sammamish Heritage Society historian Phil Dougherty, reprints Dougherty's articles, "Of Golf Clubs And Country Clubs" (Sammamish Review, January 21, 2009, pp. 16-17) and "Sammamish Goes Clubbing In The Summer Of Love" (Sammamish Review, January 28, 2009, pp. 10, 12) and is reprinted with the kind permission of the Sammamish Heritage Society. 

Beginnings  

The Sahalee story begins in December 1965. Members of the Inglewood Country Club in Kenmore were interested in buying the property, and thought they had a deal lined up with owner Jack Barron. But at the last second the deal fell through. This had happened before, at least once, maybe twice, but this time the members had had enough. A small group of men retired to the bar to drink and debate.  John (Jack) Wright hit upon a solution: “Let’s build our own golf course” (Sahalee Country Club, p. 6).

Wright was immediately joined by Harry Wilson, Maurice “Maury” Proctor, and Dixon Ervin. The men searched for property suitable for an 18-hole golf course in several locations in the Redmond area. They seriously considered at least three different sites, but all in the valleys below and north of the Sammamish plateau. In 1967 four other men -- at least one of them from the Broadmoor Golf Club in Seattle -- joined the group: Carl Jonson, Richard Strand, Gene Lynn, and Buck Biddle.  Biddle soon moved to Spokane, but not before suggesting that the golf course be expanded to 27 holes to accommodate any overflow among players, as well as to accommodate junior golfers and beginning golfers. Harold (Hal) Logan joined the group as Biddle’s replacement, and these eight men became known as the founders of Sahalee.

In the spring of 1967 the group went so far as to sign an earnest money receipt to buy property known as Holiday Lake northeast of Redmond, but the deal fell through. At Jonson’s urging, the group then began looking for higher ground, one with better drainage that would be less susceptible to flooding, and learned of property owned by Dr. Darrell Leavitt on the northern end of the Sammamish plateau. Leavitt’s property was 200 acres of second growth cedar; the only structure on it was an old cabin located next to where the 3 East green and 4 East tee are today (2009). The only way to get onto the property was to take an old logging road from the northern terminus of 228th Avenue NE, which in 1967 ended at Inglewood Hill Road. Leavitt agreed to sell the property for $400,000, which translated into $2,000 an acre, and the contract was signed in July 1967. The next month, the group purchased another 120 acres of adjacent land from Robert Evans.

The Sahalee Country Club

As it became apparent that a deal was going to be worked out to buy land for the project, the founders held a dinner meeting in June 1967 at the Swedish Club in Seattle to raise money for construction of the golf course and for the Sahalee real estate development that would adjoin the course. More than 50 people attended the dinner and were offered limited partnerships for $5,000, which entitled them to a $1,500 golf club membership and a fairway lot for $3,500. Within a few weeks about 100 limited partnerships had been sold, enabling the group to purchase the first 320 acres for the project later in the summer of 1967. The Chinook word Sahalee, meaning “high heavenly ground,” was chosen for the name of the new club, and the Sahalee Country Club was incorporated in September 1967.  

Golf architect Ted Robinson was hired to design the course. Robinson walked the property and told the group that it needed another 80 acres of land if it wanted a top-quality 27-hole golf course. Two 40-acre tracts were purchased early in 1968, bringing the total number of acres for the Sahalee project to 400. James “Jim” Porter, a registered professional engineer, was hired as project manager. Porter oversaw the entire construction project of the golf course, sometimes working 18 hour days; when he died in his early 40s in 1971, some members speculated that he worked himself to death and questioned whether the project would have been successfully completed without his Herculean efforts.    

Robinson also recommended that the club increase its membership to 500, which helped pay for the project’s completion. Memberships were sold as family memberships, meaning that dues for one member included playing privileges for a spouse and children under 18 years old. Membership requirements were fairly simple: Applicants had to pass a credit check, and they had to pass a “good guy standard,” meaning they had to have a serious passion for playing and talking golf.  And many of them did.  Husband and wives joined together, while other members who usually played together in foursomes at other clubs joined Sahalee in groups of four.  Membership increased quickly, passing 200 members in January 1968 and reaching the magic number 500 the day before the course opened in August 1969. Membership prices increased too as membership went up: The 500th membership sold for $4,500.

To The Nines  

Construction of the course began in November 1967, with a completion date set for the spring of 1969.  New members worked weekends and summer evenings clearing rocks from the developing fairways (eventually rock raking equipment was rented to speed up the process), and 2,700 trees were felled. The course was built in sets of nine holes, referred to by golfers simply as nines. Work on the east nine started first, followed by the south nine. Construction of the north nine started in July 1968.  To provide access to the golf course, 216th Avenue NE was extended to the north by about a quarter mile to today’s southern entrance to Sahalee. (Sahalee Way from 228th Avenue NE to Fall City Road would not be built until after the golf course was completed.)

A water supply for the golf course and residential development and a sewer system were needed.  Sahalee formed its own sewer district, but ran into problems when it tried to form its own water district, because Water District 82 (managed by Commissioner Oscar Freed from his home near Pine Lake) objected to the new development. As a result King County declined to permit the formation of Sahalee’s own water district, but Sahalee did an end run around the County and formed its own private water company, the Sahalee Water Company, to meet its needs.  The water company was later sold to the sewer district, which changed its name to the Northeast Sammamish Sewer and Water District (NESSWD); today the NESSWD provides water and sewer service to residents living in the northeastern part of Sammamish.   

In the autumn of 1968 Sahalee began looking for a golf professional, and contacted well-known Paul Runyan for his advice. Runyan had won the PGA Championship in both 1934 and 1938, and in the late 1960s was considered by many to be the top golf teaching pro on the West Coast. Members at Sahalee would have been pleased just with his recommendations for a good golf pro; imagine their delight when he wrote back with a list that also included his name.  Runyan became Sahalee’s first golf pro, serving from 1969 to 1972. 

Fore!

Construction delays pushed the final completion of the golf course back from its scheduled opening in the spring of 1969, but by August the first 18 holes (the east and south nines) were ready for play. Opening day was Saturday, August 9, 1969. 

The first foursome off the first tee included Carl Jonson and Paul Runyan; after completing his round of nine holes, Runyan stayed at 9 South tee and played in with each foursome as they finished.  But the clubhouse was not yet finished -- in fact, its construction had only begun in June. Thus opening day refreshments were served from a tent by members’ wives, while a trailer served as the club’s pro shop. (Another trailer initially served as the club’s office.) The clubhouse opened in January 1970 (it was torn down in 2001 and replaced with a larger version), and the final nine holes of the golf course -- the north nine -- opened in July 1970.

Playing Golf

Sahalee’s first years had the misfortune to coincide with the Boeing Bust of the early 1970s. A number of club members sold their memberships, and others simply weren’t buying them.  Membership prices soon dropped below the original $1,500 that had been set in the club’s earliest days in 1967, and most of the residential development properties were eventually sold to the Swanson-Dean company of Issaquah. But after a few years the economy recovered and Sahalee’s fortunes improved, and it was on its way to becoming a nationally renowned golf course.

Sahalee has frequently been ranked by Golf Digest as among the nation’s top 100 golf courses in the country. After years of effort, Sahalee hosted its first PGA Championship (on the north and south nines) in 1998, and in 2002 hosted the NEC World Golf Championship.  In the summer of 2010, Sahalee is slated to host the U.S. Golf Association Senior Open.

Sources: Sahalee Country Club: The First 20 Years  (Sammamish: Sahalee Country Club, 1990), 1-29;  Dan Raley, “Sahalee In Full Bloom,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 14, 1998; Ellis Conklin, “A Boast, A Challenge, and Sahalee Golf Club Was Born,” Ibid., August 3, 1998; Ellis Conklin, “New Era Dawns On Sahalee’s Old Guard, PGA Championship Puts Changes In Focus,” Ibid., August 4, 1998 (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/);  “Sahalee Club History,” Sahalee website accessed December 13, 2008 (http://www.sahalee.com/). 

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