10 For 10

Published on Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 in Features

The 10 biggest stories in the Northwest golf scene from Cascade Golfer’s first 10 years.

by Brian Beaky

For even more on the last 10 years in golf, including your favorite covers and features, and a look ahead to what the next 10 years might bring, see the full version of this feature in the June 2017 issue of Cascade Golfer.

I’ll be honest — when our company, Varsity Communications, launched Cascade Golfer 10 years ago this month, we weren’t thinking a decade into the future.

A Seattle-area publishing and events company known mostly for youth soccer publications and food-and-wine expos, we just thought it would be fun to channel our love for golf into a publication that we’d enjoy reading — one written not for the country-club set or the aspiring Tour pro, but for the 14-handicapper and his or her buddies, who go out on weekends and take the occasional golf vacation in the summer. In other words, golfers like us.

We were just happy to get that first issue out the door, and hoped that someone out there would read it. And if they didn’t? Oh, well, at least we’d enjoy it.

Today, Cascade Golfer is the foundation that supports much of what we do as company, from the magazine itself — mailed out to nearly 400,000 Puget Sound readers each year — to the Cascade Golfer Cup and Match Play tournaments, CascadeGolfer.com, the Cascade Golfer Players Card, the Northwest Golfers Playbook and our thriving social media community. Even most of our family vacations are booked around magazine-related golf trips of one type or another, to places we have or are planning to cover. What was little more than a fun idea 10 years ago, has quite literally become our entire lifestyle.

While we can certainly take this occasion to point to many stories, features or issues with pride — and over the next several pages we will — what’s been most fulfilling over this past decade are the connections we’ve made with our readers. One of my favorite things, when paired with golfers I’ve just met at a local course, is to find out what they think about Cascade Golfer, before telling them what I do for a living (indeed, many times, I never confess). It’s incredibly rewarding to hear golfers say how much they enjoy the magazine, and how they’ve used it to plan trips or try new courses that they may not otherwise have tried. And if I’m being honest, as editor of the last 38 of our 40 issues (tip of the cap to founding editor Charles Beene, who pulled this train out of the station), it’s been personally rewarding, too. We put a lot of ourselves into every issue, and to have readers say that resonates or inspires them means a lot.

Over the next 10 pages, we look back at some of the biggest stories in the local golf scene over the past 10 years, along with some of our favorite features and CG issues, and some of yours, too. We also look ahead to the next 10 years, and imagine what we might be celebrating in our 20th anniversary issue, assuming you all decide you want to keep us around that long.

Our stated goal from the beginning has been to give our readers the “news and views you can use” — putting local interest first, and considering the value of your golf dollar first and foremost in everything we do. I know I speak for everyone when I say that being a part of the Cascade Golfer community along with each and every one of you has been a true privilege.

Jordan Spieth is presented the trophy by Tom O’Toole Jr., USGA President following the final round of the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. on Sunday, June 21, 2015. (Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons)

1. The 2015 U.S. Open

I mean … duh. In our very first issue, in June 2007, we were given a sneak peak at Chambers Bay before its official opening later that month. From the announcement a year later that it would host the Open, through the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the tournament itself, we covered every story there was to cover. In a way, it’s always sort of felt like Chambers Bay was our “home” course — not only did we both make our debuts in June 2007, but it’s the kickoff venue for the Cascade Golfer Cup each year, and its municipal nature speaks to what we’re all about at Cascade Golfer, with our focus on daily-fee golfers. Plus, between agronomic issues, the new driving range, ongoing discussions about clubhouses and hotels (which should be coming soon!), and of course, the endless stream of news stories provided by the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open themselves, we’ve written something about Chambers Bay in practically every issue of Cascade Golfer.

The four days we spent covering the tournament on-site — Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging to our website, CascadeGolfer.com — and sharing that experience with over 40,000 people who engaged with us online, was incredible. We can’t wait to do it again — and we’re certain we’ll have the chance.

Gamble Sands, Brewster

2. The Opening of Gamble Sands

I’ll never forget being at a meeting of golf writers in 2013 and hearing CG contributor Tony Dear casually mention that David McLay Kidd — the designer of Bandon Dunes and Tetherow, two of America’s top-100 public courses — was about to open a new golf course in Central Washington. Things like this don’t just happen. There’s a cycle to stories like this: architect signs on and draws up plans, funding is approved, construction begins, etc. The notion that a golf course could be built in our own backyard, in the middle of a recession, by such an acclaimed designer — and nobody would know about it until it was nearly finished — was absurd.

But, sensitive to the many pitfalls that stall a golf course project, that was Kidd and owner Cass Gebbers’s plan all along — don’t talk about what you’re going to do, talk about what you’ve done. The remote location in Brewster (just north of Chelan) helped, as did the media’s focus on Chambers Bay and the upcoming U.S. Open. In the three years since Kidd and Gebbers pulled back the curtain on Gamble Sands, it’s joined Kidd’s other Northwest designs on the “top-100” lists, and could very well become the first course to knock Chambers Bay out of the No. 1 slot when our bi-annual rankings of Washington’s top public courses come out this fall.

Salish Cliffs is just one of many courses built or refurbished by Northwest tribes over the last decade.

3. Native American Investment

One of my favorite stories we ever wrote was Tony Dear’s article in the April 2011 issue on the increasing role that Native American tribes were having in the local golf scene. For the previous few years, the golf media had been filled with mostly gloom and doom — the recession was eating up revenues, young players weren’t picking up the clubs at the same rate that old golfers were laying them down, and courses nationwide were being forced to close their doors forever. We certainly weren’t immune — Sumner Meadows, Tall Chief, Tyee Golf Course, Tanwax Greens, Wellington Hills, Ballinger Lake and others all folded up shop during the recession. But, while much of the nation was seeing nothing but cuts, our region was offsetting those cuts with growth and investment, both in new courses and remodeling of existing ones, thanks almost entirely to our local Native American tribes.

White Horse nearly went under in 2009, when general manager Bruce Christy had to “beg, borrow and steal” enough maintenance equipment and fertilizer to keep the course in playing shape, even selectively choosing which holes to mow on which days. That’s when the Suquamish Tribe stepped in with millions of dollars to save the course, oversee a redesign of several of its holes, construct a new clubhouse and throw the full marketing power of the Clearwater Casino Resort behind it. Now, White Horse is thriving again — as are Cedars at Dungeness, Circling Raven, Salish Cliffs, Wildhorse, Kalispel (formerly Spokane) Golf & Country Club and Swinomish (formerly Similk) Golf Links, all built or bought by Northwest tribes over the last decade. It’s scary to think where we might be without these investments; thankfully, our tribes aren’t going anywhere soon.

4. Fred Couples Comes Home

Look, we’re not saying that the 2015 U.S. Open wasn’t a big deal. But other than Tiger Woods, we’re not sure we saw galleries as big — or as loud — for any golfer at Chambers Bay as those that followed Fred Couples at the 2010 U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee. Playing in a competitive event on home soil for just the second time since his junior golf days at Jefferson Park, Couples put on a show, crushing impossible drives, nailing long putts and seemingly feeding off of the crowd’s energy at every turn. After Couples fired the low round of the day on Saturday (65) to move into a tie for first with Bernhard Langer, the region was ready to explode on Sunday to celebrate the dream homecoming for its favorite son. Langer compared the crowds to those at Ryder Cups — loud and overtly partisan — and those that follow the biggest names in golf history.

“They were definitely against me and for Freddy,” he said. “When you play in the same group with Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, certainly the Ryder Cups … you get a lot more of this,” Langer said. “I knew what was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”

Langer handled it well, though, firing a final-round 67 to best Couples’ 70 — the latter including a chunked shot into the water on the second hole of the day. Less than a month later, Couples returned for his first-ever Boeing Classic — only to have Langer spoil the party again. Regardless, though, the summer of Freddy’s return was the most excited we’ve ever seen Northwest golf fans outside of the U.S. Open, and his ongoing presence in the years since has kept the Boeing Classic among the Champions Tour’s most celebrated and well-attended events.

Palouse Ridge Golf Club

5. The Transition to Minimalist Design

As Tony Dear wrote in his June 2010 article, “Brown Is The New Green,” most new courses in the 1980s and 1990s were built as the centerpiece of high-end real-estate development; to attract buyers, the course needed not only to be of good quality, but also to “pop.” (This feature also included one of my favorite photos we’ve ever run in the magazine; this seems like a great excuse to use it again.)

Around the early part of this century, however, golf course architects began to realize that brown could be … beautiful. Call it the “Bandon Dunes Effect.” David McLay Kidd’s links-style course — firm and fast, using fescue grasses and the natural shape of the land — was a massive hit with U.S. golfers, shooting to No. 1 on many “best public” course lists and proving a theory that golf course designers and superintendents had been sharing for years, one that owners and developers just couldn’t believe: Americans can handle, and enjoy, a British Isles-style golf course. Most of the major openings of the last decade have followed suit — Palouse Ridge, Wine Valley, Gamble Sands, Tetherow and, of course, Chambers Bay at the local level; Whistling Straits, Erin Hills and others on the national scene.

Cheaper to build, cheaper to maintain and friendlier to the environment, minimalist courses have been the story of the last decade (or two) in golf course construction. And they’re a heck of a lot of fun, too.

6. Ryan Moore (and some teammates, sure, whatever) Wins The Ryder Cup

Earlier, we wrote how it feels like we’ve grown up alongside Chambers Bay. We feel the same way about Ryan Moore. The Puyallup native carried our very first cover (at right), and we’ve charted every milestone of his career — his first PGA TOUR win; his early struggles with injuries, equipment and confidence (“Scratching the Surface” Apr. ‘10); the creation of TRUE Links footwear in 2010 and RMG Golf in 2012; his father’s influence (“Home Grown,” June ‘13); and, finally, his rise into the upper echelon of American pro golfers, starting with his second win in 2012, and continuing through his selection to the Ryder Cup team in 2016.

When the U.S. needed a putt to clinch its second Ryder Cup victory of this century, the man they turned to was a kid who grew up playing at The Classic in Spanaway, where his dad still works the counter. And, of course, he nailed it.

We were among the first media outlets to talk to Ryan in-depth after the Ryder Cup, and the changes in his voice compared to earlier interviews — the confidence and pure happiness — were palpable. It’s been incredibly cool to cover Ryan’s first decade in professional golf, and we wish him and his family the best of luck in the next 10 years to come.


7. New Ways To Play

With the overall number of golfers on a steady decline for the past 20 years, the golf industry has had to get creative to figure out new ways to bring people out to the course — or to simply get them to pick up a club. Frisbee golf has become more popular, while Footgolf’s popularity has soared — Meadow Park was the first course in Washington to offer Footgolf (where “golfers” kick soccer balls towards oversized cups in the ground) in May of 2014; today, more than 20 courses do so, including Suncadia Resort, Gold Mountain, Semiahmoo Resort, Jefferson Park and many others.

Likewise, Topgolf has drawn in an uncountable number of golfers who may never have picked up a club in the first place. While we don’t yet have a Topgolf in Washington — though we’re doubtful that will be the case for very long — the company has 40 locations across the United States and four more overseas, combining a cool bar setting, great food and comfortable lounges with a functional driving range. Players hit GPS-embedded balls to colorful targets on the range that light up when you hit them, and earn each player points to compete against their friends. We recently visited a Topgolf in Dallas with two golfers and two non-golfers — all four had a fantastic time; as, seemingly, did the thousands of other Topgolfers whacking away into the night. What mini-golf was for families and friends in the 1970s, Topgolf will be to the 2020s.

The USGA’s recent focus on Pace of Play — the Play It Forward initiative, and proposed rule changes for 2018 — plus courses creating three-hole and six-hole routes, or allowing golfers to spread 18 holes over multiple days, are also important, necessary changes to grow the game. Over the last decade, the focus has been on making golf faster, easier and more accessible for golfers of all ages and abilities — and if we’re going to still be writing stories like this in 100 years’ time, that’s the direction the game has to go.

Mount Si is one of just a handful of family-owned tracks remaining in the Seattle area.

8. The Corporatization of Golf

Bob Sherwin did a terrific story on this topic in our April 2017 issue. Where mom-and-pop golf courses owned by a local family who worked the pro shop, made your sandwiches and cut the grass were once the backbone of the golf industry, the game is slowly but surely turning over to corporate hands in downtown office towers — or, other countries entirely.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen local courses like Redmond Ridge, Harbour Pointe, Washington National and Trophy Lake become part of the Oki Golf conglomerate (the latter two in 2005), before being sold once again to a Chinese holdings group in 2016. Family-owned tracks like The Classic, McCormick Woods and Oakbrook Golf Club merged business operations under the RMG Golf banner, before handing over management responsibilities to Columbia Hospitality in 2015, which then also added North Shore to its roster last year. Cedarcrest and Crossroads teamed up with Premier Golf, while others just disappeared entirely, lost in the economic shuffle.

Today, five groups — HNA Holdings, Premier, Access Golf, RMG and the various Northwest tribes — account for more than 40 Western Washington public courses. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing for golfers — having corporate money behind a course generally (though not always) means more investment and greater resources — it’s definitely left some of our local favorites out in the cold, struggling to compete with their deep-pocketed neighbors.

Old MacDonald (photo by Wood Sabold)

9. The Oregon Coast Explosion

No, you didn’t miss some dramatic news event. We’re talking about the fact that the Oregon coast — that place where you probably went as a kid to run down the sand dunes, eat salt-water taffy, visit the sea lion caves, or try to find One-Eyed Willy’s treasure — has become a magnet for golfers worldwide.

Ten years ago, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes were well-established as golf Meccas, and Bandon Trails had just come onto the map. In the decade since, the Trails course has become a top-20 track in its own right, while Old MacDonald and Bandon Preserve have turned the Bandon Dunes Resort into an 85-hole ocean golf brain freeze that every golfer in the world must experience before they die.

It’s also drawn attention to the region’s other great tracks — Dan Hixson’s Bandon Crossings just down the road (same designer as Wine Valley), Ocean Dunes and Sandpines in nearby Florence, and others. And in a decade’s time, we could be writing about how the long-rumored Pacific Gales — slated to begin construction later this fall 30 minutes south of Bandon, in Port Orford, Ore. — put them all to shame. In 2007, it was reasonable to think that the Oregon golf renaissance had already happened — instead, it’s only gaining steam.

Chambers Bay and a slew of new courses over the last 10 years have changed the face of Northwest golf.

10. Hello and Welcome

In 2006, the top-five courses in Golfweek’s rankings of Washington’s best public tracks were Gold Mountain (Olympic), Trophy Lake, Semiahmoo, Port Ludlow and Desert Canyon. In 2016, when Golf.com published the most recent rankings, not a single one of those courses made the list, replaced by newcomers Chambers Bay, Gamble Sands, Wine Valley, Salish Cliffs and Palouse Ridge.

Our bi-annual rankings will come out in August, and I suspect they’ll look much the same. We may not be building courses at the same clip that we were in the mid-to-late 1990s, but the ones we’re building are spectacular — in addition to those listed above, the last decade has also seen the opening of White Horse, The Home Course and Rope Rider at Suncadia, each of whom joined the five aforementioned tracks in our 2015 top-10. Of courses built before 2007, only No. 4 Gold Mountain (Olympic) and No. 10 Bear Mountain Ranch cracked the list — and BMR is a relative newbie as well, having opened in 2005.

While much of the country is talking about golf’s contraction, we’re watching the game grow right before our eyes. It’s just one more reason why there’s no better place to live.

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