Gold Mountain’s 18th hole ready for the spotlight

Scott Alexander has always liked the finishing hole on the Olympic Golf Course.

In fact, of the 36 holes Alexander manages at the Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Olympic’s No. 18 is one of favorites.

“It’s such a great hole, there are so many ways to play it,” Alexander, the club’s general manager said.

And what’s not to like about it? The short, drivable par four makes for a classic finishing hole, since scores on it can range from birdie to double bogey.

But the more he played it, the more he started thinking about possible improvements to the 305-yard hole.

With a grove of trees to the right side already dying and Gold Mountain being about a year away from hosting the 81st United States Golf Association’s Amateur Public Links event, Alexander decided last summer a change was in order.

With the green so close, many players were going for it with little or no consequence if they missed.

There were the group of bunkers guarding the front and anything left would leave a difficult pitch coming back to a sloping green. But balls that landed short and right were playable and often seemed the best way to go.

“The very defense of that hole is, if you drive it left, you’re going to have problems,” Alexander said. “But if you left it to the right of the green, that was pretty easy chipping back up slope and to the hole.

“And that made it too easy for a finishing hole,” Alexander said. “I love the hole otherwise. I think the bunkering series is really well placed.”

But one day when course architect John Harbottle was on the grounds, Alexander pitched the idea of reshaping the hole to protect the right side. Harbottle liked what he heard.

“That’s one of the great things about Harbottle. Alexander said. “Some architects, if you give them an idea and it’s not their own, they almost immediately dismiss it. He’s always embraced anything we’ve said. Sometimes he says he doesn’t like and tells us why, but others times he embraces them.”

Harbottle oversaw the construction of a pond down the right side of the green, moved the tee box back about 20 yards and replanted trees between the 17th and 18th fairways. The project was completed last summer, spurred on by the coming Public Links tournament July 10-15.

“Any time you can really improve a hole on already a good golf course, it’s great. We’re excited about it,” Alexander said. “It adds a ton more doubt as you hit that drive.”

Which was the purpose of the redesign. Now, there is no bailout area and players tempted to go for the green will bring bogey or double bogey into play.

“So for the player now who will attempt to reach the green in one, the water is going to be a lot more in play for them,” Harbottle said. “And then for the guy who laid up, the pitch shot back over to the green will be a little more precarious.”

Harbottle points out, though, it’s a tough decision either way.

“It might be less enticing to try to drive the green because the risk is going to be greater, but now there’s going to be a distinct advantage to driving it and reaching the green because the pitch shot from the layup area will be more difficult,” Harbottle said. “There won’t be as large of margin of error on the second shot or for the guy trying to drive the green.”

With the majority of matches in the APL being match play, the 18th will now make for a very interesting closing hole. The risk-reward factor with a match or the national championship on line will really make players think.

“I think the fear factor as you pull out the driver is going to be three times as much,” Alexander said. “It makes them think about whether they can go for it. And not because they can’t reach it, but just because you can make bogey. And you really take bogey out of play if you lay up. You just have more scores in play this way.”

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