Taming The Stallion

Published on Thursday, May 10th, 2012 in News

John Harbottle’s recently completed redesign has made White Horse a fun ride for golfers of all skill levels.

By Brian Beaky


The 15th hole at White Horse. (Photo by Rob Perry / robperry.com)

White Horse Golf Club in Kingston hosted the media Monday for a grand “re-opening” event of sorts, unveiling its recently completed redesign at the hands of noted architect John Harbottle.

Harbottle — whose prior credits include Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course and Palouse Ridge (two of the top-eight seeds in our 2012 Muckleshoot Casino Match Play Madness bracket) — was tasked with “softening” White Horse’s highly contoured fairways and greens to make the course more enjoyable for the average golfer.

“For the first three years we were open, our course record was 71,” says general manager Bruce Christy, addressing White Horse’s reputation as one of the toughest courses in the state. “But the average golfer — the 15, 20 handicap, the guys that pay the bills — would play the course once and say, ‘That was a beautiful golf course, but it’s just too hard.’ And they wouldn’t come back.”

After purchasing the course in 2010, the Suquamish tribe — which owns the nearby Clearwater Casino Resort — retained the services of Harbottle to make White Horse more player-friendly, while still retaining the fundamental essence of Cynthia Dye McGarey’s original design.

Harbottle set to work in March of last year, bringing in over 400,000 square feet of sod from Moses Lake to to fill 63 of the course’s 138 bunkers — including a stunning 12, mostly pot bunkers, on the par-5 third hole alone.

In addition, Harbottle removed more than 200 trees, flattened the undulations in key landing areas on the fairways and eased approaches into the greens.

“On most holes, we removed the bunkers on one side of a fairway or green, so that the average player doesn’t have to go right down the middle every time,” Harbottle says.

Sixty-three bunkers — including this one just short of the par-3 sixth green — have been removed, increasing shotmaking options for average players while still retaining plenty of challenge for low handicappers. (Photo by Rob Perry / robperry.com)

Perhaps most significantly, Harbottle and superintendent Erik Linsenmeyer also set to work softening White Horse’s notoriously hard greens, which were so densely compacted that golfers could hear the “thud” of their balls landing on the green from up to 200 yards away, before watching them bounce off the back into deep rough.

After four consecutive seasons of punching and sanding, however, and vigilant maintenance at Linsenmeyer’s direction, the greens are now much more receptive to approach shots. As Christy says with a chuckle, “We actually sell ball markers in the pro shop now.”

While the course is certainly more fun for the average golfer (as this writer can personally attest, having thoroughly enjoyed hitting 18 fewer shots than I did when I played the same course in 2010, prior to the redesign), it’s 70.8 rating and 132 slope from the blue tees are nothing to sneeze at, while its remaining 75 bunkers are still nearly double the total at several Puget Sound courses.

With White Horse’s new look comes a new website, clearwatercasino.com/golf, and plans for a new clubhouse to open in 2013. Rates start as low as $35 on weekdays (even less at twilight times), and memberships are available starting at under $100 a month.

“If an article came out tomorrow that said we were, say, the 40th most difficult course in the state, I think we’d be doing a little dance,” Christy says. “We don’t want to be known for being a tough course. We want players to enjoy the golf course and enjoy their round, because that’s going to make them want to come back.”


One Response to “Taming The Stallion”

  1. Dave Christie Says:

    Great to hear this news! I played White Horse 3 or 4 times back in the initial couple of years after it opened, and it could be a very frustrating round of golf. I’m a 10 HC who plays 50-75 rounds per year and lost count of the number of times I was punished for a good shot on this course. Bringing Harbottle in to ‘soften’ it up is a great idea. I will now give it another try. Thanks to the Suquamish tribe for purchasing this course and recognizing it’s shortcomings at the same time. I’m sure the cash register had a lot to do with it too. It’s a full and costly day for many of us to get over there and back, the experience needs to be yes, challenging, but also rewarding.

    We value ‘tough’ courses in the NW, but they must play fair, and WH did not in the past. Greenskeepers everywhere can also do some little things that make a big difference for the average golfer as well. For example, in the summers when the greens are hard, keep the rough around them lower, when they’re holding, let your rye grow then if you must. If you have 60 + bunkers on your course, work them or fill them in! Yes, even when it’s raining! If you can’t keep them maintained in the winter, make them G-U-R! There is nothing worse than leaving a course where you scored 5-10 strokes over your HC even when you’re hitting the ball well.

    In the rush to get big name national architects, sometimes NW golf developers get more (less) than they bargain for. Remember, even TPC Sawgrass was moderately ‘softened’ up this year and you don’t have to look very hard to see or hear frustration from the pros who play it every year. I hope the original WH remains a good example of this ‘over-designing’ and here’s to its future success! Can’t wait to give it another go. I challenge other golf courses to take a look around and see what you can do to improve your layout that may not even cost a lot of money.

    Disclaimer: No relation to Bruce Christy mentioned above, tho I’m sure he’s a good guy! His quotes are right on!

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