Rural Course Comes Full Circle

By: Jeff Shelley

In January 2012 I wrote a journal entry bemoaning the loss of many "entry-level" courses, noting that the closure of these facilities was contributing to the downward spiral of the golf industry.

Between the time that article - "Another One Bites the Dust" - was written and now, dozens of other courses have shut their doors. These are not all mom-and-pop operations, but that's frequently the case as affordable places to play have gone by the wayside and been replaced, usually, by concrete parking lots and steel buildings.

One of the courses featured in that piece ( was Tall Chief, east of Seattle, a place I used to frequent in golf's heydays - the 1980s and early '90s.

It was also the course where my wife - along with many others I'm sure - was first introduced to golf. She became smitten with the game there thanks to the course's location on and overlooking the lush Snoqualmie River floodplain, mountain vistas and frequent visits by birds, deer and their fawns, and foxes and their pups.

Following its closure in 2011, Tall Chief - which began in 1964 with nine holes followed by nine more in the 1970s - has been in abeyance, with the property's new owner seeking King County permits to convert the now-fallow fairways into 18 high-end home sites and 40 acres of farmable land.

The county was not amenable to altering the valley's zoning to allow such a development, primarily because many of the Puget Sound region's once-fertile farming areas have been paved over for industries and housing.

In a unique arrangement, this slice of the Snoqualmie Valley will be preserved and 190-acre Tall Chief, once the site of the valley's first dairy farm, will return to its original use.

The county bought the course and, to offset the cost, will make the property rights available to the booming South Lake Union area near downtown Seattle. This mixed-use urban zone, now the home of, numerous biotech and other businesses, and tightly spaced condo towers, is known locally as "Allenville." Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, owns the company - Vulcan Inc. - that's developing many of the new buildings. It's also known as "Amazon City."

South Lake Union only had a limited number of property rights and, according to KING-TV reporter Gary Chittim, "eager builders would pay top dollar for them."

And that's just what happened with Tall Chief, which was spared by the county's concern about urban sprawl in the beautiful Snoqualmie Valley. "These farming areas are pretty limited, they're pretty precious and you don't want to see them whittled away," King County's chief executive Dow Constantine told Chittim.

On Tuesday, Constantine added, "We just reached an agreement that was approved by the City and County Councils to be able to bring the unused rights from some rural and agricultural properties into the South Lake Union neighborhood."

So, in a bit of bad news for local golfers, Tall Chief's future has been determined, its pastoral reincarnation tied to a big city on the other side of Lake Washington with millions of residents. It might not be the result we wanted, but at least the course will remain true to its agrarian roots.

Jeff Shelley is Cybergolf's editorial director.