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.
Date: January 21, 2021