Approaching 15 years since it opened in Kingston, White Horse Golf Club initially jumped through many hoops of ownership before Port Madison Enterprises took over in 2010 and created a new approach for the club, a move that potentially saved it from closing.
A few years after opening in 2007, the club was headed toward bankruptcy until American Marine Bank took it over. Then they went bankrupt, and Columbia State Bank took it over, and then the Seattle University Alumni Association before PME bought it. All of that happened within seven months, said Bruce Christy, course general manager and head golf professional.
“When the (Suquamish) Tribe bought it, they basically bought it out of bankruptcy,” he said. “They got a tremendous deal on it. They put a tremendous amount of money back into it too. Without them, I don’t know if the golf course would still be here.”
Prep and planning
Before White Horse opened, a golf course had been planned in the area for some 20 years. Christy said it took about five years to get it through the planning stages and then it went through the permitting stages. The initial owner was Bob Screen, a former marketing executive from Seattle, who bought the 450-acre property in the late ’80s.
At first, Screen was looking to buy only about 20 acres for his daughter’s horse, but the previous owner said it had to be all or nothing, Christy said. Screen ended up meeting with golf club designer Karsten Solheim, the founder of PING Golf, whose family ran a restaurant in Suquamish at the time. He also founded the Solheim Cup, the biennial golf tournament for pro women golfers between the U.S. and Europe. They both ended up touring the property and the idea was born for a golf course. “It was a pretty grandiose vision,” Christy added.
The next step was to hire an architect. Screen was ambitious about making it a premier venue and ended up meeting with Cynthia Dye McGarey, the niece of the legendary Pete Dye, who designed over 100 courses in the U.S. and abroad before his death in 2020.
White Horse, named after Screen’s daughter’s white horse, was Dye McGarey’s first course she ever designed in the U.S. After it opened, she went on to become the only woman to ever design a course solo to win one of Golf Digest’s best new golf courses in America award, which White Horse won in 2007.
“She was onsite for about 22 weeks, which for an architect is remarkable,” Christy said. “Most of them will come up, tour the site, put a plan in place, put some people in place, check on it a couple times and then pick up the paycheck at the end. She was so extremely dedicated to this facility. She wanted everything to be perfect.”
The amenities of the course initially looked much different than they do now. At the start, the club had a limited budget which allowed only for a double-wide trailer clubhouse, some golf carts and limited equipment for course maintenance. Since PME took over, the tribal government agency has invested in a new clubhouse and restaurant, new fleets of carts, improved and increased maintenance equipment, and the ability to host weddings.
“They’re very proud of it, and they want it to be an elite facility,” Christy said of PME.
Looking long term, Christy expects the facility to get busier because of the nearby Arborwood housing community, which is currently being worked on. The development is supposed to have about 500 homes, and some are supposed to be ready by spring, according to pulte.com. The new houses will add on to the hundreds of homes already in the White Horse housing community, likely increasing demand for the course and its services.
“As the facility gets busier and busier we’re going to have to look at a possible expansion of the restaurant or building a new maintenance facility,” Christy said. “If you have 3.5 people in every home now you got something bigger than Kingston. That’s going to be something we look forward to because it provides a tremendous amount of opportunity. We got some things in the planning but it’s 2-3 years down the road.”
Beast of a course
Known as one of the premier tests in the state due to its thick tree-lined fairways and often firm conditions, Christy said White Horse has gained a “great reputation.” Shortly after PME bought the course, local architect John Harbottle was brought in to make the course a little easier for the average golfer. The course was softened a bit and half of the bunkers were removed, along with some fairway contour work.
“It’s very challenging, very beautiful,” Christy said. “It’s the type of golf course you can play in the spring, summer, winter and fall. It’s the type of golf course people enjoy playing even if it kicks their rear-end a little bit. They like to come back two weeks later and have another crack at it. It’s one of the driest golf courses around in the Northwest.”
The course has hosted numerous events, including the LPGA Legends Tournament (won’t be held this year) and numerous Seahawk celebrity tournaments. White Horse also hosted the state Men’s Amateur Championship in 2010, which Christy said could happen again in the future.
Numerous actors and athletes have played White Horse to see what all the buzz is about, such as comic Chris Tucker, actor Chris Pratt, basketball star Zach Levine, and former Seahawk greats Jim Zorn, Steve Largent and Kenny Easley.
Lee Elder, who was the first African-American to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975 and has since passed away, also made regular stops at the course, Christy said. “He was at the golf course once or twice a week for a period of a year-and-a-half,” he said. “We got to get to know him; he’s a legend.”
Last fall, recent PGA Tour winner Cameron Davis played there and ended up shooting a course record 64, which included a bogey. Christy said Davis wants to come back and take another crack at it.
“It just shows you how good those guys are on the PGA Tour when he can come out to White Horse and shoot 64,” he said.