Women’s Championship at Sahalee

Jewel of a Course at Sammammish

The LPGA Tour takes us back to the Pacific Northwest this week for one of the big deals of the tournament year – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The region of Washington State, where one finds the extraordinary Sahalee Golf Club, bears the footprint of literally hundreds of native tribes from years gone by., many from the larger network of Salish tribes that go up the Oregon and Washington coast and into lower British Columbia.

sahaleeSahalee is the result of two regional clubs that got together on a special real estate search, and they found what they were looking for, without a doubt. The community of Sammammish, home of Sahalee, knew what it was talking about describing their home ground, so the course was aptly named with the Native American phrase that means “High Heavenly Ground, ” just east of Redmond, Washington, off east a little from Seattle. They didn’t do too badly with the design either, bringing in the noted Ted Robinson for the creative and logistical conception, beginning in 1966.

The Olympic Mountains lie to the west, Redmond itself within lower mountains of the Cascades, and Mount Rainier imposingly to the southwest. Such a topography means more than beautiful scenery, and a true course manager will have to know that. Water is plentiful on the course, so beautiful that a golfer might be tempted to stop and fish until the previous party leaves the green.The undulations of the course in general reflect the surrounding terrain.

Big boomers who rip off the club head of the driver and stride to the tee box with dreams of distance glory need to check their egos at the door. Sahalee does not, as any of the golfing locals will tell you, favor such a mindset. Sammammish is Washington Husky territory. The university team plays there, on a site that would be utterly luxurious for just about any program. One of the graduates will appear as a pro on her stomping grounds this week, and emphasizes the need to “work the ball” rather than blast it. Of particular importance for Sahalee is the ability to hit a reliable draw, sometimes from under the trees, and sometimes over them – as she puts it, “a low worm-burner or high draw.”

Ariya Jutanugarn will be back for the KPMG Championship, and seems to understand the trickiness of it all, vowing to keep use of her driver either subtle or altogether non-existent. What a year it would be if she were to win yet another one – three consecutive victories in three weeks, a quick breather, and a major to cap it off. In her pre-tournament press interview, she talked about quite a different time where addressing the ball at all made her queasy. None of us are quite sure what switch got flipped, but there hasn’t been much of such anxiety lately.

When I looked at Gerina Piller’s Pre-Tournament Press Interview, I thought for a moment that it read “Pre-Tournament Stress Interview.” Gerina is in a precarious place. After climbing into the top 15, she’s got to play well in order to stay there to preserve an Olympic spot, an event which is itself in a precarious place for several reasons. It appears as though it will go ahead, though, and Gerina wants to be there. A rather quiet Lydia Ko of late will also appear, with no intention whatsoever of being quiet. Ko’s competitive urge was made for courses such as this, and if “working the ball” is the requirement, she might be the best woman for the job.

There’s nothing weird about the course at Sahalee. No super-quirky landmarks, or silly miniature golf-like trick shots required. It’s just extra-gorgeous. Green has never looked so good. It is looking for a high IQ player, and it will be fun to see who gives it what it wants this week.

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