Sahalee Players Championship to be held early July

Craig Ronne
Craig Ronne of Klamath Falls, Ore. fired a 3-under 69 to take medalist honors in qualifying for this year's Sahalee Players Championship. The 18-year-old will be a freshman in the fall at the University of Oregon men's golf team.

For longtime members of venerable Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash., this week's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills might be a bit of deja vu. After all, they've seen PGA Tour notables including Dustin Johnson, Kyle Stanley, Kevin Chappell, Michael Putnam, Xander Schauffele and Adam Hadwin all tee it up at Sahalee, in one of amateur golf's toughest tests.

Some of the top amateurs in the world will again gather at the "high heavenly ground" for the 24th Sahalee Players Championship (SPC) July 2-4, 2018 for what will be one of the Seattle area's best opportunities to see top-level championship golf featuring the next generation of superstars.

"The Sahalee Players Championship represents our members' core set of values and beliefs: supporting championship golf," says tournament director Kevin White. "This is the closest thing we can do to executing on those core values."

Kyle Stanley
Kyle Stanley of Gig Harbor, Wash., won the 2006 Sahalee Players Championship in an epic playoff with future World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Stanley himself would go on to a successful career on the PGA Tour.

But it's not just for the players. White says it's a chance to expose the entire community to the championship-caliber golf he and his fellow members love so much.

"Most people don't get to see great golf played in person, or even understand what top-level tournament golf looks like," he said. "This is a way to experience it."

The SPC, which is administered in partnership with the Pacific Northwest Golf Association, has seen plenty of big names and dramatic moments since its inception in 1992. And General Manager Jim Pike, the former PGA head golf professional at the club, has seen them all during his illustrious 31-year career at Sahalee.

"Simply put, we want them to experience Sahalee and boost their careers," Pike says.

Among his standout memories is the unprecedented 2004 season that saw Tacoma-native Ryan Moore dominate amateur golf. Moore won the NCAA individual championship, the Western Amateur, the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Amateur. Along the way he found time to blow away the field at the Sahalee Players Championship, winning the tournament by five shots with a jaw-dropping 16-under-par 272 for the four rounds.

"We knew Ryan was one of the best after winning the NCAA. He just killed us. We thought we set up the course tough. It was a little soft with the rain, but he just murdered us," Pike laughs.

Another storied chapter in SPC lore is a now-legendary playoff for the 2006 title between local high school standout Kyle Stanley of Gig Harbor; University of Washington notable Derek Berg (now a PGA assistant pro at Sahalee); John McLean, the son of noted golf instructor Jim McLean; and a tall, gangly, long-hitting college kid from South Carolina named Dustin Johnson.

Berg admits he doesn't remember a whole lot about the now No. 1 player in the world's game. "I think we were together for about 15 minutes total," he laughs.

"I was definitely the least famous among the group. DJ and I were in the playoff for about 10 minutes as we made par on the first hole while they eagled," he recalls.

Stanley would go on to eagle the 18th hole and claim the title, setting the stage for what would become a highly successful collegiate and professional career, including his recent tie for first in the Memorial Tournament, where he lost to eventual winner Bryson DeChambeau in a playoff.

Pike is proud Stanley's experiences in multiple Sahalee Players Championships played a part in the young man's development into a top pro.

"Sahalee is here to support golf in general and we do this event to support amateur golf. Whatever small piece we can do to boost their careers, we get to help them get to the tour," he says.

For the players, the big allure is testing their games against the best. Berg, who has played in a number of top tournaments including the U.S. Amateur, says the SPC was always an important barometer that never failed to fire him up.

"You are playing against some of the best college players you know are going to turn into the best players in the world," he says. "That's why you get so excited. Any time you've got a chance to tee it up against those guys, that's special."

The biggest name in this year's field of standouts is 18-year-old high school sensation Cole Hammer. Hammer exploded onto the golf scene by qualifying for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, the third-youngest to do so. The University of Texas-bound bomber recently teamed with fellow high school notable Garrett Barber to dominate the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championship in Florida. But he'll face fierce competition from a number of other top amateurs, including rising Australian star and 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Min Woo Lee.

It's an exciting opportunity for Seattle-area golf lovers to see such incredible talent up close and personal over the course of several days.

"We want the community to come out and share this with us," White says. "Everyone is invited. There's no cost to spectators, no ropes. You can get up close and personal with the players on the range and talk to them if you want."

It's a very different experience from the major championships staged over the years at Sahalee, including the 1998 PGA Championship, 2002 NEC Invitational, 2010 U.S. Senior Open and the 2016 KPMG Women's PGA Championship. Spectators won't find big corporate tents, bleachers or big screens. Instead, they'll have a chance to experience Sahalee in all its splendor. There's plenty of parking, the snack shop will be open, and you can swing by the pro shop for some Sahalee memorabilia before spending the day taking in the "high heavenly ground."

The Sahalee Players Championship will be played July 2-4, 2018 at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. Volunteer scorers are needed to help with the tournament. Those interested can contact tournament director Kevin White at kevwhite@outlook.com.

The tournament schedule, biographies of each competitor as well as tee times and pairings will be available at www.sahaleeplayerschampionship.com . Once the competition begins, live scoring will be available at that site as well.