by Frederica Merrell
Bassetti Architects is designing a new golf clubhouse in historic Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill. The project is funded through City bonds. In a meeting on December 15 to discuss the plans, participants were left wondering: who is Bassetti designing the new golf facilities for?
Local golfers are unhappy that the first hole on the short-nine course will be eliminated to build a parking lot. Golfers also don’t like the loss of the historic putting greens to a replacement that is only 60% of the size. There will be no more men’s and women’s locker rooms at this historic municipal facility. Instead, the operator, Premier Golf, will get a big banquet room that they can rent out. Exactly how the new facility will be run and who will get to access to spectacular views from the driving range, second floor balcony, banquet room, and new restaurant will all be left up to the private contractor to decide in the future.
The current clubhouse was built by the WPA in 1936. The golf community in Southeast Seattle calls Jefferson its home course and they are proud of the history of its diverse membership and activities, including teaching youth how to golf. The building, landscaping, and putting greens all reflect the Olmsted design and are a strong reminder of the history of the place. Recently reconstructed, Jefferson Park itself features Olmsted style curved pathways and many other nods to its history.
The new clubhouse design boasts green engineering (if they can afford to build it), 50 driving range stalls, better lighting, and a new restaurant. It also features boxy modern design, and strong angular walkways, reminiscent of a suburban office park. The overall impact of the two-story facility is very much out of character with the historic setting and important functional features are lost. Attendants of the meeting voiced these concerns. They were less impressed with trendy green features (rain gardens, passive HVAC, potential solar power generation and water collection systems) and more concerned about preserving functional pieces, like the historic putting greens, pedestrian paths, trees, and the nine-hole golf course.
It seems clear that the project is not being designed for the local golf community at Jefferson but for the private operator who hopes to bring in more money from people with deeper pockets than the south end neighbors. Putting greens don’t generate revenue for the operator and the nine-hole probably doesn’t contribute either. This explains the lack of emphasis on the historically important putting greens and nine-hole where kids and amateurs alike learn to use a club and the elders can gather, sit on the bench, and place side bets on the action. There is too much parking lot in the design, which makes one think perhaps the private vendor anticipates a revenue source there in the future.
This design needs to be less about Premier Golf and Parks Department fanciful dreams of generating greater revenues by glitzing up municipal golf courses on the surface. It needs to be more about the Jefferson Park golf community, the history of the facility, integration with the surrounding park, maintaining functionality, and issues of longevity (including decrepit maintenance facilities visible inside the new park and completely unaddressed in this very expensive project).
There are many potential benefits of improving the Jefferson golf course facilities but this design is not endearing. Bassetti will not be producing an acclaimed facility if they recommend spending money on gimmicks like expensive solar collectors over building better putting greens. They won’t be applauded for removing locker rooms and replacing them with private banquet facilities, nor for bringing in tourists and failing to keep the local golfers on the home course.
Frederica Merrell was the North Beacon Hill neighborhood planning co-chair from 1998-2000, and is the co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill, featured in the sidebar of this very blog.