21200 NE Sahalee Country Club Drive,
Washington (WA) 98074,
- +1 (0) 425 868 8800
5 miles SE of Redmond on E edge of Lake Sammamish
Members and their guests only
Sahalee Country Club played host to the 1998 PGA Championship and the 2002 World Golf Championship so it goes without saying that Sahalee is championship calibre.
Sahalee is set on the Sammamish Plateau to the southeast of Redmond and is the result of a meeting of minds between members of Inglewood Country Club and Broadmoor Golf Club who decided Greater Seattle should have another championship course. Ted Robinson was the chosen architect and the championship-ready course was opened for play in the late 1960s. After much debate, the name Sahalee was chosen which means "High Heavenly Ground" in the tongue of the Chinook Indians.
Rees Jones remodeled the North and South loops in 1996 and these 18 holes are used when Sahalee is presented in its championship livery. The 17th hole is set amongst the trees and is surrounded by water. During the 1998 PGA event – the first major to be hosted in the Northwest since 1944 – Vijay Singh managed to rattle an 18 footer into the cup for a sandy par, which proved too much for playing partner Steve Stricker who could only manage a bogey. This gave Singh a two-shot cushion and was good enough to secure his first major title.
Sahalee was selected to host the 31st U.S. Senior Open in 2010 and Bernhard Langer's four round score of 272 (8 under par) was good enough to win the title by three shots from runner-up Fred Couples.
I have a bias towards links and links-like courses. I also prefer a course that offers views across the fairways to other holes. I had read the reviews of others on this site as well as on other publications regarding Sahalee. Therefore, I expected to walk away being slightly disappointed in a course that relatively recently hosted a men’s major, a women’s major and a men’s senior major.
After playing it I recall Gary Player’s famous line so as to not outwardly disparage a course when he would describe it as “the finest course of its kind.” Often that phrase was a disguise for its true intent – the course is not very good. Another phrase came to mind that is often negative which is “I am sure the members like it.”
I would agree with Mr. Player but this time I would take the words literally. I do think it is the finest course of its kind because there are not many courses like it in the world. Unlike the other reviewers, I very much liked the course despite my bias. While nearly every hole is heavily tree-lined with what appears to be an endless string of firs and cedar trees soaring high above the fairway, I did not find them to be suffocating or result in fairways having inadequate width. My member host, a four time club champion and a very good player, told me how the trees act as “pillow cushions” if you hit into them and generally a ball will drop right down. In our foursome, more often than not, balls going into the trees came back into the fairway. My member host also pointed out areas where trees had been too intrusive in the past and were removed. He also pointed out how the lower limbs are constantly trimmed or removed so as to not impede play or make the course overly punitive.
I was paired with a young member who could hit his tee shots well over 320 yards and shape the ball left or right even with that length. From our tees he more often hit hybrid or a 3/5 metal off the tee and could shape the ball even more if the hole required it. I think he missed one fairway. The other players were a mixture of a good 5 index who also hit the ball pretty far and a player closer to my ability.
I am uncertain whether it is the top course in the state. I do think it belongs in the top 200 golf courses in the USA because of its uniqueness, character, fairness, and quality of the holes that have sufficient variety due to the change in terrain, more pronounced on the North course. I also consider it to be a championship golf course, one that should host other important professional events. Yet it will never be a men’s major as there would have to be massive tree removal to accommodate the corporate suites to be built.
If I had one slight critique of the course it is that the greens are relatively simple with most of theme lacking the internal movement. I can see why Vijay Singh was a winner here as at the time he was both a long and straight driver, but an average putter. At Sahalee the difficulty is greeting to the green, but the challenge falls off from other top courses once on the green. This is not to imply that the greens are weak; I want to stress that they are weak only in comparison to the arrival. I would have liked to have seen more internal movement on the greens and more mounding off the greens to create more drama and balance against the tee shots. I perhaps would have liked to have seen more areas of short grass near several of the greens, but that is because I often use my putter from off the green as an option.
The bunkering is adequate although not consistently as deep as one will find on newer modern courses or some of the older classic courses. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the club. The fairways are generally flat and without character as the course’s character is defined by the trees.
There is a nice use of water here on five holes. I actually did not expect that.
I preferred the South slightly over the North simply because I thought it was more visually prettier. I think the North is the more difficult of the two nines as it has slightly sharper doglegs and more land movement. My member host plays them essentially to the same score. The course offers a good mixture of longer and shorter holes across each of the par’s. There are opportunities for birdies or “safer” pars but there are also holes where a bogey feels like a win.
The North/South combination plays to 7003 yards, par 72, rated 74.6/138. The Blue tees are 6754 yards rated 73.2/136. We played the white tees at 6321 yards rated 71.4/133 although on our day some of the whites were at the blues.
1. Par 4 – 401/397/374. This is one of the narrower fairways on the course playing downhill as a slight dogleg left. The approach shot to the green is intimidating due to the pond that begins about 15 yards before the front of the left side wrapping all around to a similar point on the right side. The green is angled to the left with a left middle bunker that can effectively become a front bunker if coming in from the left side. Another bunker is on the right middle but is a rear bunker if coming in from the left. The green has a fair amount of slope to it and is a little bit larger than expected for the length of the hole. I thought this hole had a lot of visual appeal for the approach shot.
2. Par 5 – 546/538/503. There is more width to this hole than it appears on this flat hole. This is the number one index on the North. The hole goes left slightly off the tee before straightening to the green. There are no fairway bunkers. There are two flanking bunkers at a large green that has a bit of a tier in it but overall should have more character and more interesting mounding. If the club wanted to increase the attractiveness of the hole they could add more mounding down the fairway to create more of a rolling hole, but as this is a course where there is a lot of play from genders of all ages, that is probably not what the membership would want.
3. Par 4 – 458/429/408. From the back tee this is a difficult hole as this is the tightest fairway on an almost straight hole on the course. From the white tee it is still tight but one can more easily spy where the fairway widens. There are flanking bunkers down the fairway. The green has a bunker on both front corners and is slightly raised with a nice higher back half.
4. Par 3 – 176/169/142. Likely the least visually appealing hole on the North, this hole plays essentially flat to a green that is well defended by a bunker on both fronts and a rear bunker. The green has a second tier to it but is straightforward. I thought this green should be raised more.
5. Par 4 – 477/380/354. This hole turns to the left with two bunkers on both sides of the turn. My host played near the trees on the left with his tee shot landing about 40 yards from the green as a very bold play. The green does have a tree that comes in from the right front that can be a nuisance. The green is angled to the left with opposing bunkers and does not have a lot of character, probably due to the presence of that fronting tree providing enough defense.
6. Par 4 – 417/396/375. This is another somewhat straight hole with trees pinching it a bit at the landing zone. Bigger hitters with confidence with go well beyond this to the wider part of the fairway. For the first time, a front central bunker is placed along with a bunker on the left. The green has sufficient subtle movement to it.
7. Par 4 – 377/372/349. The first dogleg right we played with an outer corner bunker at the turn. The green has two bunkers on the front corners that are deeper than the previous bunkers. There is also a slightly raised green here with fall-offs to either side. The green has a much higher back half. I liked this hole the most on the North.
8. Par 3 – 215/173/143. This hole has a pond that fronts the green before going off the right side. Two bunkers wrap around the back half of this flat green. From the elevated tee this is a lovely view across the pond. The green does lack sufficient movement but again I think the designer correctly balanced the difficulty of getting there with having a simpler green.
9. Par 5 – 535/533/514. I liked this par 5 the most of the two nines that we played. This hole bends left and goes uphill. Again, my member host challenged the hole and shaped his shot right to left finding the right side of the fairway as the fairway tilts to the right at his landing zone far ahead of me. The hole continues uphill to the green which is surrounded by three bunkers including an arc shaped one on the left. The green has a higher back half and is higher still on the back left. This is a fine par 5.
1. Par 4 – 406/397/374. This flat hole offers a fairway bunker on the left in play for average length players but easily carried by longer hitters. The green has bunkers on the front corners and is slightly raised with a fall-off at the rear. There is good internal movement in this green.
2. Par 5 – 509/501/478. Probably the easiest par 5 on the course as a slight dogleg left. The only complexity is the pond that fronts the right side of the green continuing down the right. The only bunker on the hole is on the left side. The green is flat so longer shots coming in stand a good chance of going off the back of the green.
3. Par 4 – 415/402/382. This dogleg right offers a narrower landing zone for shorter hitters. This is another flat hole where the longer hitters actually reach the wider part of the fairway and with no bunkers to consider they can blast away. The green has flanking bunkers but as the trees come in from both sides it is a narrower approach shot. I thought this hole had a lot of character to it although the green lacked character.
4. Par 4 – 386/382/357. This short hole is perhaps the tightest fairway on the South with an early bunker on the left. The green has three bunkers at the front but I thought the first one on the right should have been a central front bunker. The green is shaped with a narrower opening and wider backs creating some interesting back left and right pin positions. The green also has decent internal movement. This is perhaps the most fun hole of the eighteen.
5. Par 3 – 195/175/165. This hole has a pond on the right side and is also heavily bunkered with a central bunker, a long bunker on the left and two rear bunkers in the middle and right. The green has a slight rise to the back with a central spine. This is a fine par 3.
6. Par 5 – 512/510/482. Three fairway bunkers on the right and a single one on the left create a narrow opening unless one is a long hitter and simply ignores them. There is a single tree on the right placed relatively close to the fairway. This tree did not bother me given the length of the hole as a par 5. Trees also come fairly close to the fairway nearer the green on the left side. The green has a long bunker on the right, a bunker left and another rear bunker. The trees lining the fairway on this hole are not quite as thick as on some other holes.
7. Par 4 – 421/405/380. My understanding is that this hole had several trees that came into the fairway but most have been removed. My long hitting member I think had 45 yards after his tee shot on this straight hole. The three bunkers on the hole are at the green. The green has a defined second tier. This is a nice hole.
8. Par 4 – 444/424/395. Probably the hardest hole on the South as this is a sharp dogleg right with three bunkers on the left side of the turn. The fairway is narrow due to the thick trees from the turn all the way to the green. The green is elevated with fronting bunkers as well as another tree on the right coming into play. Par here is well-earned. Double bogey is often a result on this hole.
9. Par 3 – 213/181/146. This hole is fairly simple from the white tee but a brute from the Black tee as a pond is down the left side beginning about 30 yards before the green. The green is raised in the back with a defined swale in the middle creating a higher right side. There are flanking bunkers at the front of the green and a falloff behind it. This is probably the hardest green to putt on the South although my member host made a long putt for a two. This is a fine finishing hole to the South.
I liked Sahalee when I expected not to. I also believe it is a course that the more one plays it, the more they will appreciate it and be able to see more clearly how distinctive each hole actually is. However, if one takes the game too seriously and cannot hit enough drives to find the fairway, they will likely not enjoy it. While it does call for one to be an accurate player off the tee, there is enough width to the fairways. If forced to lay up, the greens are such that recovery is very possible. Other courses in the area have much higher visual appeal such as due to the visuals and surrounding beauty, but in terms of the course itself, there is much to admire about Sahalee. If they added more character to the greens and well as perhaps additional mounding on a few holes, I do think this could be the best course in the state. It is certainly the best of its kind.
Having read the previous reviews I must confess that I played Sahalee close to twenty years ago and thought it was a wonderful course, extremely tight. When I played it I was reminded of the old Sam Snead line “The fairways are so tight you have to walk single file.” What makes it appear even tighter is the height of the Douglas fir trees. Going over them is not an option, extremely intimidating. I felt the narrowness and the trees actually added to the experience. You had to be aware of your ball flight. While I know I am a hooker Sahaalee forced me to recognize how bad it is. It sounds like they have cleared out the trees and underbrush somewhat.
On this particular day I was playing with my brother in law, Skip. On the backside, North 7, our 16th hole I was surprisingly on in regulation with a ten foot birdie putt. The only problem was it was downhill. Skip had flown the green and was facing a tricky pitch shot and he asked me to mark my ball. I did. Skip then hit what we thought was a good shot, and just as it appeared to stop rolling it picked up speed and rolled off the front of the green. This certainly did not embolden me. I replaced my ball and in the middle of my practice putt my ball starts rolling. It gathered speed and sure enough, plop, right in the middle of the cup. As I had marked my ball I did not receive credit for an eagle. I retrieved my ball and replaced it again. At that point I had a problem. How soft can I possibly hit this putt? Skip found all of this very amusing. After witnessing what we had just seen, by definition, hitting it would be too hard. I finally threw caution to the wind and gave it a go. Very predictably, I missed and my ball rolled off the front of the green. This is a wonderful course and not only tight, but did I mention that the greens are fast?
Sahalee (East and South played, then walked North) - Winter 20/21
This was my first experience of Pacific North West golf. I had seen the tree lined courses of this area and wanted to play them for many years. I recalled Sahalee from the PGA championship of 1998 and particularly, the narrow corridors carved through the dense Fir and Cedar trees.
I had read more recent reviews of the course and noted the penal nature of the layout and density of the vegetation. The first point of note is that it is clear Sahalee have been working extremely hard with ‘freeing up’ the lower reaches of the forests, through limbing of the lower branches and removal of a number of trees. This work now means that light travels much more easily between the trees and allows for sight lines to other parts of the course. It also makes grass growth more uniform across the property which had been a problem in recent times.
There were also a number of trees that caused controversy in the various high profile competitions held here. On the North course, holes 2 and 3 both had large trees situated in the fairway obstructing sight lines from portions of the fairway to the green. As they had grown, they had become unmanageable as an obstruction and the decision was recently made to take them out, partially down to them beginning to limit pin selection on the greens. Although an emotive topic within the club, I believe this was a great decision.
Our round was to be played over the East and South loops. I would then walk the North nine at the completion of the round. My first observation standing on East 1 was the height of the trees. I have never played a golf course where the forest was so tall. It certainly is an intimidating yet breathtaking spectacle. I think this sheer height of the trees is a crucial element that gives rise to that claustrophobic feeling standing on many of the tee boxes, that I have heard mentioned in other reviews. In reality, I paced a number of the landing areas out and they are much wider than they first appear from the tee. Depth perception can be difficult and this adds to the illusion that some of the trees are in play when they are not.
The East loop is the oldest at Sahalee and its main notable feature is the small, highly undulating greens. The standout hole was the Par 3 4th, an attractive hole backed by beautiful bushes of flora and fauna that I am assured, look remarkable in spring and early summer.
The South loop is the front nine of the championship course and I instantly recognised the view down the first fairway. This nine is a great mix of opportunities and tough holes, the first being one of the toughest out there. Number 2 is a risk reward par 5 famous for being the sight of Fred Couples demise in the 2010 US Seniors Open. It is a strong nine holes of golf of which there are many highlights. The Par 3 5th, the drive at the attractive 6th and the famously tough hole 8 all deserve special mention.
On to the North course, the back nine of the championship layout. The first hole is, essentially a perfect hole in my opinion. A left sweeping downhill par 4 with the green surrounded on 3 sides by water. This nine appears to undulate a little more and that extra undulation contributes to a number of special holes. This is displayed especially in the last 4 holes which are, in my opinion, one of the most intriguing and attractive finishing stretches of holes I have played.
Rees Jones is reputed to have a ongoing master plan for the course that includes more tree removal and the movement of a number of tee boxes. My summary of the course in its current state; it is a fair test where the hazards are clear to see. This sort of golf that curtails the players freedom from the tee is a brand I haven’t seen too much of in the USA. I personally think it is spectacular but understand that it is not to everyone’s taste. Each to their own, but with the continued path of improvement and dedication from the staff and the committee, I think Sahalee will be picked to host another major soon enough and it’s a major I’d like to watch.
I have been at the property on a few occasion -- both playing and in attending big time events hosted there.
The golf suffers mightily because of the INVASION of trees. Comments were already made on this front so suffice to say it's exasperating. It means little in terms of what positions to play for when you know you face the monotony in being archer-straight with little deviation.
The range of clear golf choices in the Pacific Northwest has grown considerably since Sahalee entered the picture. I am a fan of that part of America because the top tier golf choices of recent vintage are clearly superior.
I would challenge anyone completing play to remember the details of the holes played. They blend into one another and the trees are simply straight jacketing to the point of absurdity. The turf quality is very good but I would not return with clubs in hand unless someone told me a major tree cutting effort was in motion. And I'd have to see the photos to prove it.
M. James Ward
Narrow, the only word to describe Sahalee. If your tee shots aren't on point you gonna make your round really cost effective from a cost per stroke basis. That aside the course is good but not great. Nice but not over the top. A good place to play golf, a little crowded for a private course but they have 27 holes to accommodate that. Would I play here again Yes. Would I travel from afar to play here? This ones tricky although not a single aspect really amazed me, collectively Sahalee scored well, So I would say Yes.
Had the chance to play Sahalee on Wednesday and I had high expectations which were met by an awesome experience. Over the years, I've read both positive and negative reviews about Sahalee and it seems there is no real consensus among PNW's as to if its a top 100 course and the best in the area or just vastly overrated due to its name.
To start, I will say that the grounds around the clubhouse were probably the best manicured I have ever seen. It was PERFECT. My brother and I played the North 9 first and teed off on one which is a fantastic start. Straight away par four that is narrow with a pond around the green to get your nerves going right from the start. Number 2 was also memorable, the big fir tree that sits towards the end of the fairway is a huge obstacle and honestly probably needs to go, but it does make you think about your second shot. The remainder of the north side blended great par 4's with challenging tee shots and a gorgeous par 3 at number 8 (downhill tee shot with water in play). The final hole (par 5) gives you a chance for a birdie with a drive in the fairway. After playing nine holes, I can say that the routing was fantastic and the condition was second to none.
The south course continued the great experience. Number 1 was a straight away par 4 which was a solid starting hole. You can hammer driver and have a very short approach, but the prudent play is to hit something shorter. The one thing I will say about the south course is that the holes did seem to blend together a bit and none of them really stuck out to me. None the less, I cannot reiterate enough the conditioning of the course was ridiculous. Green and lush, greens were perfect and pretty quick although the member I played with said they are even faster in the summer.
I can't honestly see many courses being better than Sahalee in the PNW. If there are, than they will get a 5 (eagle) from me as well.
I doubt seriously I will ever have the answer. It's a fun day of golf and the courses are really nice I just believe they could be so much better. We played 27 and while it was a great day, I wouldn't return to play again if my friend weren't a member.
I invited my friend Larry, who lives in Seattle, to play the South and North nines, which are the courses rated for the Top 100. As we crossed Lake Washington, we could see the home of Bill Gates being built on the shore. Massive is the word that comes to mind. It was a typical wet northwestern day, and even when it wasn’t sprinkling, the course was soaked and produced no roll. It was an uneventful day, except for the fact that Sahalee was my 50th course. Next course I’d be on the back 50. Larry Berle.