The Sahalee Players Championship has drawn many of the top amateur golfers in the world for nearly three decades.
It still will, but in a completely different format.
Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish and the University of Washington men’s golf program announced Wednesday the creation of a new college tournament, the Sahalee Players Championship, that will first be played in September 2023.
“Any time there is a major championship golf course involved in the tournament, it instantly makes it extremely appealing,” said UW coach Alan Murray, who has received commitments from top programs in the country to play in the event in two years.
Sahalee has hosted the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2002 NEC World Golf Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open and the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. But the club has long been a supporter of amateurs as well, starting the Sahalee Players Championship in 1992.
Puyallup’s Ryan Moore, a four-time winner on the PGA tour, won the Sahalee Players Championship in 2004. Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, won in 2006, and former UW star Nick Taylor, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, won in 2009.
The club said the tournament will not be played this year or next to prepare for the new version in 2023, when some of the top amateurs in the world will undoubtedly be on hand. That’s because joining Washington in the 12-team field are some of college golf’s most storied programs, including Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Texas, Pepperdine, Stanford, USC, Illinois, Florida, Wake Forest and Duke (with another team to be announced later).
Kevin White has been the chairman of the Sahalee Players Championship since 2017. In recent years, he has found it more difficult to get the best players to come, in part because of competition from other amateur tournaments.
“It’s very clear that college golf has a lot of momentum, and the best players in the world are playing college golf,” White said. “So, I was thinking to myself, I wonder if we could turn this in to a college event and accomplish everything we need.”
Two days later, White got a call from Murray, who had an idea. The coach wanted to bring the top teams in the country for a tournament, which he said would be doable if the tournament were played at Sahalee.
“I said, ‘Alan, we have a mind meld,'” White said. “So that kicked everything off. … And here we are.”
Murray made the calls to college coaches, and it was an easy sell.
“It took about two seconds to say yes when we were offered the opportunity,” Oklahoma State golf coach Alan Bratton said in a news release. “We are excited to compete against an elite field at what I consider the premier course in the Pacific Northwest. The Sahalee Players Championship is an event everyone will want to have on their schedule.”
Matt Thurmond, who was UW’s head coach for 15 years before leaving for Arizona State in 2016, said he is looking forward to bringing the Sun Devils.
“Sahalee is a perfect place to host an elite college event,” he said in a release. “It’s a great test that showcases the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and their membership knows hosting big events. The Sun Devils are really excited to compete and see if we can find a few of those narrow fairways.”
UW to host Pac-12 championships in 2022
The Huskies were scheduled to play the 2020 Pac-12 Championships at the Seattle Golf Club, but that was canceled — along with the college golf season — last March because of the coronavirus.
UW is now set to host the event next year at Aldarra Golf Club. Murray said Seattle Golf Club was not available because of renovations.
The Huskies last hosted the Pac-12 championships in 2009 at the Seattle Golf Club and won by 18 strokes.
Local players excelling at Pepperdine
Joe Highsmith, who won the last Sahalee Players Championship in 2019, and former Bellarmine High School of Tacoma teammate RJ Manke are playing together at Pepperdine (Malibu, California), ranked No. 6 in the latest coaches poll.
Highsmith, a junior for the Waves, won the Washington State Amateur in 2017 and Manke, a senior at Pepperdine, won that event in 2018.
The two players have played in all six of Pepperdine’s matches this season, and each has three top-10 finishes. Manke has a 70.97 scoring average and Highsmith has an average 71.25.