The top LPGA Tour’s 100 players are here, but they are not the only stars. The course is the co-star, its celebrity status well-established with rave reviews after hosting the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2002 World Golf Classic NEC Invitational and the 2010 U.S. Senior Open.
SAMMAMISH — Sahalee translates to “high heavenly ground” in the language of the Chinook, and this tract of land atop the Sammamish Plateau fits that billing with its amazing array of colors — the rhododendrons that reach 30 feet, the grand, old red cedars and Douglas firs, and the brilliant blue of the ponds.
Sahalee Country Club is a beautiful place, indeed. But put a golf club in your hand here, and things quickly can turn ugly.
Those grand, old trees line the narrow fairways, ready to bat wayward shots any which direction, and the beautiful ponds become final resting places for so many golf balls. It can be a beautiful, confounding place for golfers, and the course is back in the national spotlight this week as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship begins Thursday morning.
KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Where: Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish.
Purse: $3.5 million (second-highest on LPGA Tour).
Defending champion: Inbee Park.
Parking: Free public parking is at Marymoor Park in Redmond, with a free shuttle to the course.
Tickets: Single-day adult tickets are $10 for practice rounds, $20 for the first two rounds and $25 for the final two rounds. Tickets for the week are $75. Juniors 17 and under are free with a paid adult. Tickets can be purchased on site or at kpmgwomenspgachampionship.com.
The top 100 players on this year’s LPGA Tour money list are here, but they are not the only stars. The course is the co-star, its celebrity status well established with rave reviews after hosting the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2002 World Golf Classic NEC Invitational and the 2010 U.S. Senior Open.
Now the best women finally get their turn, and they love it. Kind of.
“First impression was, ‘Wow, it’s a beautiful place,’ ” said Lydia Ko, the world’s top-ranked player. “Obviously, the course is going to be really tough and tight with some pretty tall trees out there. But we’ve all been saying, ‘Hey, at least the ball fits in there.’ ”
Ariya Jutanugarn, winner of her past three LPGA events, did not seem quite as certain about fitting shots through the trees.
“The golf course is so hard for me,” she said. “I played yesterday, and I feel like the course is too narrow.”
But Jutanugarn, who said she will not use a driver all week in an attempt to avoid the trees, was also quick to point out how great the course was. That’s Sahalee. When you golf here, it’s often a love-hate relationship.
Despite the difficulty, it’s possible to score well. In 1998, Vijay Singh won the PGA Championship with a 9-under 271; in 2002, Craig Parry won at 16-under 268. In the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, Bernhard Langer won at 8-under 272, three shots ahead of Seattle native Fred Couples.
Singh was one of the longer hitters on the PGA Tour. Parry was 121st in driving distance in 2002, and Langer was somewhere in the middle. That’s the beauty of Sahalee. It seems to favor neither the long nor the short hitter. Every part of a player’s game is tested.
“You’ve got to work it both ways off the tee,” said Gerina Piller, ranked No. 16 in the world. “And very demanding second shots. It’s just all around going to really challenge your golf game, putting, chipping — there’s not an easy hole out there.”
Piller, who had the winning putt in the United States’ Solheim Cup win last year, said Sahalee would be a great venue for that competition, and Sahalee has expressed some interest in hosting the 2021 event.
“This course is great,” she said. “It’s absolutely stunning. It’s beautiful. It’s in great shape. It’s a phenomenal test of golf. And it would be pretty awesome if we could get one here.”
Lexi Thompson, at age 21 the top-ranked American player in the world at No. 3, was asked how Sahalee stacks up against other courses on the LPGA Tour.
“Being here at Sahalee, I would rate this definitely at the top,” she said Wednesday. “This is one of the best golf courses that I’ve seen for a major championship, and it’s an honor to be here. … It’s going to be tough. And I think that’s what we all want.”
Said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan: “There’s a love affair going on with the golf course, that’s for sure.”
Of course, that was during practice rounds. Nothing can end a love affair like making the scores count.
Let’s play golf.