Opinion: Golf course plans aim in wrong direction

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?

The 1936 golf course clubhouse building. Photo by Mark Holland.
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.

The Interbay golf course clubhouse, of similar size and scale to the planned new clubhouse at Jefferson Park. Photo by Mark Holland.

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.

Range Rover parked on pathway near the clubhouse. Parks plans to cut down three trees here and move the fence and pathway to install six parking spaces right where this SUV is parked. Photo by Mark Holland.

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.

7 thoughts on “Opinion: Golf course plans aim in wrong direction”

  1. Parks plans to turn most of the Beacon Avenue median into 6 hour parking as a part of this project. I asked why they weren’t doing a parking analysis to determine how to manage the various parking opportunities in the area of this new regional park. No answer. For sure, some spots should probably become 6 hour spaces to benefit the users of the 18-hole. But what else could be done to avoid building a parking lot on the nine-hole and tearing out mature trees along the pedestrian path? How should other users be served to best manage traffic flow in this large park?

    I walked the median and counted all the spaces from the south edge of the 9-hole to the community center. There are 112 spaces along the edge of the nine-hole. Another 60 along the edge of the driving range plus a drop-off zone in front of the clubhouse. There are another 30 spaces in the last section that ends in front of the community center, and another 20 or so near the tennis courts. Six-hour parking would be useful for the Samoan Cricket folks and the users of the 18-hole. If every spot is filled on the 18, there are 144 people out there. Presumably, at least a few of those pairs drive together (this should be encouraged!). So, maybe 100 of the 112 become 6-hour parking, and the other 12 become 2 or 3 hour parking for users of the driving range, nine-hole, putting green restaurant and clubhouse. In the next 60 spaces, make 40 six hour parking and the 20 3-hour parking for soccer, Samoan cricket and other users. Near the community center make the last 50 spaces a mix of 2 hour and 3 hour parking. Let the community center decide what to do with the spaces right in front (not SDOT controlled).

    At the new clubhouse site, eliminate the proposal to build 6 spaces on the Pro Parks funded pedestrian path (taking out half a dozen mature, healthy trees in the process). There should be no public parking along the east-west corridor, it just invites traffic into the park, and as we have seen, people park illegally in order to get 10 feet closer to the clubhouse. Put only service parking on the site. Keep park users on Beacon Avenue median, period. Parks needs to enforce parking rules too! For the largest event days, which are just a handful a year, Premier should direct overflow to the Mercer Middle School parking lot and use golf carts to shuttle people to the course.

    There is nothing “green” about a design that fails to properly analyze traffic, parking, and congestion, tears down mature trees to pave greenspace, and builds fancy solar collectors, raingardens, and water collection systems to wash golf balls. Bassetti needs to get serious and quite playing around with cutsey elements and the Parks Department should be managing this huge 50 million dollar contract better.


  2. This is an excellent piece and I wasn’t aware of the new building designs and design changes they had in mind for the park. Thank you for bringing this to light. Sign me up for the petition to turn this thing around!

  3. Thanks for all of this FM, I have not been able to attend the meetings and I’m glad to hear so many details. This sounds like classic green-washing of a project combined with non-community sensitive design aspects and a real bummer to read about. I was hoping for a lot better than this.

    I’m curious if there was any discussion about the percent for arts funding for this space? I only recently found out that the percent for art that should have been dedicated for the fire station expansion actually went to another fire station on Queen Anne Hill and I would be really bummed if our funding for this project went to some other area in the city as well.

    The small statue/fountain in front of the clubhouse is actually one of the first public artworks in the city of Seattle and I hope that it can be restored and/or well placed as part of this expansion.

  4. I wish they would make the VA build parking garages for their facility, and extend the divided boulevard up to Spokane street. The way it is now is tacky.

  5. I didn’t hear anything about the 1% percent for the arts funding. There was no time scheduled for open questions with everyone present. Also, I severely misquoted the price of the Jefferson project: it isn’t $50 mil it is $7.5 mil. Maybe the 50 is for all the citywide golf facilities (remodeling is scheduled for all the courses) and it is all funded by bonds. Anyway, other info stands. For interested persons I recommend sending comments to City Council and head of Parks. Comments sent to the project manager just get lost, though cc: the project manager too. Go to the Parks Department website under projects for more info. One person I spoke with said that VA is planning a big above ground parking garage. The other important place to send comments it to the Design Commission as that hearing is taking place soon, I believe January.

  6. As a suburbanite from Kirkland I find the current parking conditions appalling. I have been playing Jefferson off and on for years and have, until the last year or so, been able to find parking. Last week I tried to find parking in the designated areas and was forced to temp fate and park behind the club house. I could have been the SUV in the above photo. I seems the City has decided to use this parking situation as a new source for funds. All the cars along that fence got $47.00 tickets. My risk,my ticket. This whole situation began when The VA started their big expansion. I agree that they should be required to provide parking the same as any other major development.

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