Visually, Washington State a Split Personality, Both Beautiful
For years, I’ve put up with “Now let’s see, where’s Washington State? – Is that Up around Utah somewhere?” “You folks drive cars yet?” “Y’all still wear coonskin caps?” and the like. It is among the most beautiful and misunderstood part of the North American continent, albeit different at every turn. If you flunked geography back in middle school, I can understand it, sort of. However, if you are a golfer, there’s no excuse.
Think back into your deepest golf memories, and see if you can summon the aesthetic times, not just the great shot you hit here and there, but the light, the shadings, the deep color that sends a nature painter crazy, and the smell of evergreens, basically the smell of Christmas for anyone who grew up around here. It’s difficult to find a photographer who can really show you the richness of Washington State, but once in a while you’ll get it. It’s more than color. It appears to have various flavors and offers olfactory and visual bliss. The more west you get, the more wet you get – no way to avoid it.
The best golfing examples of the western section, in a suburb of Seattle, is the Sahalee Golf Club. The visionary designed it in his mind in the 1960s, but it didn’t appear for years until the design of Ted Robinson. Suddenly, there it was, looking like an evergreen Augusta for the 1998 PGA Championship. Sahalee, located on the high-forested Sammamish Plateau, means “Heavenly High Ground.” And boy, did they get that right. On Justin Leonard’s first trip to Washington, he observed that “Everybody heard there were a lot of trees…I don’t think anybody imagined that many.” There is bad news and good news at Sahalee. The bad news is that the giant red cedars, Douglas fir and other evergreens stand shoulder to shoulder. Errant shot, and you’re going to talk with the trees. Even a photographer has trouble finding an open shot. The good news – It’s so dense you have a chance of bouncing out into the fairway. If not, hire a guide to help find your Titleist if you think it’s worth it. The fairways won’t help much. Colin Montgomerie suggested that from the aerial view, it appears that golfers must walk down the fairway in single file. That’s Sahalee, and that’s Washington State – tall, noble, green-blue.
However, the entire state doesn’t come out of the pages of Paul Bunyan. As you head over the Cascade Mountains, where ice-capped peaks are taller than the Rockies, the humidity drops a little. Suddenly, you’re in hybrid country, not exactly in eastern Washington State, but almost into the plains. Walk from one end of Wenatchee to the other near the Columbia River, and you’ll have those tremendous forests in your rearview mirror, and spectacular cliffs and water to the front. The course to put on your Washington State check list is the Wenatchee Golf and Country Club if you can swing an invitation. The air is drier, but the smell of the trees is still there, along with a whiff of the wheat country not too far away. The course has that same nostalgic type of lighting you saw on the farm when you were a kid. The trees are present, but have thinned out a little to act like a more civilized obstacle course for a golf ball. In between, you walk by vineyards and orchards hugging the river flowing from the Grand Coulee Dam up north. Like its neighbor, Yakima, Wenatchee is a major apple center.
For all the prestige of Sahalee, Wenatchee has also been the scene of USGA and PNGA events. If you intend to head farther east toward Spokane through mysterious communities such as Moses Lake and the Pothole Lakes in between, you will be in the desert soon. However, that’s the third face of Washington State, and those courses will have to wait for another time.
If you can ever take the time to walk through the best of this country, rightly known as the Evergreen State, don’t forget to breathe deep and use your photographer’s eye, not just the one for lining up putts. Life’s too short to neglect stopping to smell the rhododendrons.