Planet Golf — 24 July 2012 by Jim Street
Private clubs deal with tough times

SAMMAMISH, Wa. – The cost of joining a private golf club has plummeted during the five-year-old recession, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the courses has diminished.

That’s reflected in this Wall Street Journal story that details the hard times in Palm Desert, one of America’s favorite retirement and tourist centers.

At a recent gathering for members of the Northwest Media Golf Association at the Members Club at Aldarra, located about 20 miles east of Seattle, Bill Tindall, the Director of Golf, said the recession has had an impact on all country clubs, but quality remains par for the course.

“The message here is that we’re in great shape,” Tindall said. “We are doing really well. We’ve added 23 members this year (to 370) and continue to upgrade the club.”

The club can max out membership at 450.

Tindall has spent virtually his entire life around golf. He grew up as the son of a club pro in Seattle, won the Seattle Amateur at age 14 in 1958 and the U.S. Junior Amateur in 1960.

A 1961 graduate of Seattle’s Ingraham High School, Tindall played on a conference-championship golf team at the University of Washington, where he later coached, was the longtime head professional at Broadmoor Golf Club and was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Hall of Fame in 2000.

Bill Tindall, the Director of Golf at The Members Club at Aldarra

Tindall was at the Tom Fazio-designed Aldarra when it opened 11 years ago , moved to Tumble Creek at Suncadia in the Cascade Mountains as director of golf, and returned to Aldarra several years ago. His winters are spent in the Palm Desert area, an area that he knows first hand when it comes to courses, as the Wall Street Journal story outlined.

Unlike other private golf clubs, there are no ‘family’ memberships at The Members Club at Aldarra. Only individual memberships are sold, meaning that a couple that wants to become members must purchase their own membership. Tindall said the current membership includes about a dozen women.

“This is a perfect ‘equal rights’ course,” Tindall said. ” The lady members can play at any time with any member. That makes (Aldarra) very unique.”

Tindall added that the women members are “very active” and three of them participated in the most recent club championship.

The Members Club at Aldarra was established by former members of Sahalee, a private eastside course that has hosted several national tournaments, including the PGA Championship.

Course superintendent Paul Colleran, the first paid employee, recalled that the first members “wanted a course with access. Sahalee is a very busy golf course and host a lot of great tournaments. But they would get a Friday afternoon off and want to play golf. Too many times they could not get on the golf course because of an event going on.”

The original, and unoccupied, Boeing farm home is only house on the course

The solution: Build your own course, and they did.

“They actually looked at three or four sites,” Colleran said. “They wanted something that was real natural and didn’t have houses. They ended up with piece of property and purchased it from the Boeings.”

The land intially was going to become a golf course with luxury homes, but because of all the environtmental aspects, it was in the “talking” stage for more than 15 years.

Arnold Palmer had done the original course design for the Boeing family, but the initial members of the club selected Fazio to design it — minus the houses. It remains as the only course in Washington designed by Fazio.

Other interesting aspects of the facility:

* The course is “non-equity,” which means new members aren’t owners. The initiation fee, which was $75,000 when the course opened, is less than $10,000, and annual dues are $8,750 plus $35 a month for capital improvements. It is the only “non-equity” club in the area.

* A University of Washington supporter has made arrangements so that two coaches and each member of the Husky men’s golf team have a membership at the course while he is on the team. The membership expires when the player graduates or leaves the team.

* The club has a “national membership” provision that enables out-of-state golfers to pay a one-time fee then get use of the course when they visit the Seattle area, 18 times a year.

* Membership is by invitation only.

* The only house on the course in the Bill Boeing mansion, built in 1942, in the back of the eighth green. The house remains unoccupied but when economic conditions improve the course hopes to restore it and use it for members to invite out-of-town guests to stay in it.

* Three bears and several bobcats live on the property. Salmon spawn in the course’s two creeks.

* Aldarra started with one set of tees but now has four.

* The course was heavily “sand-capped” when it was built so it would stay dry in the winter and the greens are bent grass. Colleran said one advantage of bent is that it doesn’t require as many pesticides as poa, adding that the course has 90 acres of maintained turf, much fewer than most courses.

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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