Word comes today of the death of John Harbottle III, one of golf’s most-honored course designers. He was 53, in the prime of his life and career.
His latest project, not fully complete but done enough to let the golf world in to enjoy it, was the reworking and “softening” of White Horse Golf Club in Kingston, Wash. He met the press a couple weeks ago at White Horse and talked about the work to make the course more accommodating to average players while treading lightly on the original design.
People who know his work from the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton, Wash., or Palouse Ridge at Washington State University, have long recognized Harbottle for his attention to natural detail and the contours of the land.
In a phone interview a couple days before the gathering in Kingston, Harbottle talked about the work of the original White Horse designer, Cynthia Dye McGarey.
“It’s a great golf course. She did a brilliant job of fitting the holes on a pretty steep site.”
That day at White Horse, he acknowledged, “It hurts when someone does work on your course.”
Harbottle leaves unfinished a remodeling job at Kelowna (British Columbia) Country Club. He was also beginning a refurbishing at Tacoma Country Club, his home course.
He was the picture of health and fitness as he spoke to the media at White Horse — lean and animated, clearly in his element. Like most members of his profession, he didn’t mind talking about himself or
his work. But he didn’t talk down to his audience. He enjoyed it when people enjoyed his golf courses.
Tom Cade, communications director for the Pacific Northwest Golf Association, said Harbottle died of a heart attack at a California airport. He leaves behind a wife, Teresa, and two children, Johnny and Chelsea.
Below is a story (never posted) about White Horse. Here is an earlier post about Palouse Ridge.
KINGSTON, Wash. – They didn’t build White Horse Golf Club for the average golfer, though, of course, the pro shop would take your green fee and send you on out … and good luck.
Without it, armed only with the average skills of the average golfer on an average day, its 18 undulating and outrageously well-bunkered holes could emphatically drive home the message of just how bad a player you really are. Take-your-sticks-and-skulk-home bad … give-up-the-game bad.
They didn’t mean it personally. In fact, the White Horse management didn’t much like the idea of middling players saying, “Screw it, I don’t need to get beat up out here,” and taking their golf cash elsewhere.
Two years ago, I wrote, in another venue: “… White Horse, opened in 2007, … establish(ed) itself as a seriously scenic golf course of championship caliber … and hard. Really hard.
“In fact, it’s too hard, and the new owners know it.”
Course designer Cynthia Dye McGarey (a member of the esteemed Dye golf design family) was not commissioned to craft an easy course. She built a steeply challenging course, hewn from the rugged topography of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. For every good player who loved White Horse for the challenge, other good players, and just about all the rest of us, preferred to find our fun elsewhere.
When the course was purchased in 2010 by the Suquamish Tribe, the tribe had a different notion for White Horse than the high-end country club course McGarey was hired to design.
The tribe hired John Harbottle III, designer of Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course (Bremerton, Wash.) and The Golf Club at Genoa Lakes (South Lake Tahoe, Nev.), to head the “softening.”
The Harbottle team removed trees to widen some landing areas, defined and broadened green approaches with the average player in mind, and removed roughly half of the 137 bunkers on the course.
The search for a flat lie at White Horse goes on.
I like the challenge of putting a good square swing on a ball when it’s below your feet or your front foot is on higher ground than your back.
I appreciate hitting a solid recovery shot, say from a fairway bunker (they didn’t get ‘em all), and being rewarded by landing near the green, and not (as often) seeing the ball hard-kick into another bunker or slither out of sight down a slope.
But still …
As for the “average” golfers among a group of media members invited to play the course recently — and mind you, “average” dignifies my game some – the course is still, in a word, challenging.
“Challenging,” in turn, dignifies the depth of difficulty for a hack like me. Let’s say it out loud, right here, right now: It’s a bitch. Still a bitch.
I might not hurry back to White Horse, but I can see the value in playing it again, hitting it where I shouldn’t so I can eventually learn to hit it where I should.
If I lived in the area, and was looking for a course to call home, well, geez, I don’t know. It’s awful pretty. On the other hand …