Highlands to remain a golf course under new ownership

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With Angus MacDuff looking on in the background, duffers take to the ninth green during the Tacoma Athletic Commission Celebrity Golf Classic. MacDuff used to be a 60-foot cedar tree that caused golfers nothing but headaches on the ninth tee box. Golf at Highlands appears to be saved now with the pending purchase by Tacoma Athletic Commission member Jack Connelly. Photo by Justin Gimse

Coming from a family that absolutely loves the game of golf, I was introduced to the magic of the game well before my 10th birthday. Like any sport, I had to learn to walk before I started running. Frankly, handing a little kid a golf club and having them just begin swinging away is a recipe for broken windows, lamps, furniture and even noses. Without the basics of the game, a kid isn’t going to have much fun on the golf course, and then it often leads to disenchantment and ultimately in quitting.

My Dad wasn’t going to let that happen to his young whippersnapper. Instead of introducing me to the big golf courses in the area, he knew there were a few spots that were better suited for teaching a kid the fundamentals of the game. While I never was able to shake the urge to swing too hard, even though I must have heard it from my Dad a thousand times, the small courses he started me out on not only prepared me for the big ones, but it also helped grow my love of the sport.

Growing up in Tacoma, there were three small courses to take a kid out to. There was the Williams Nine (or Executive Nine) at Meadow Park Golf Course, Golf Land over by the Tacoma landfill and the hidden gem up in the North End known then as Highland Hills Golf Course (now Highlands Golf Course).

I was heart broken when Golf Land was sold and turned into an Eagle Hardware (now Lowe’s). The short “pitch and putt” course was perfect for honing the short game and you could plow through nine holes easily in under an hour. It’s just a sweet memory now.

The Williams Nine is still out at Meadow Park, and it’s probably the sort of course that you bring a kid out to after he’s worked up his or her skills just a bit more. With room to really swing away, the Williams is the sort of course that has helped golfers learn to play within their own abilities and not get too crazy with their swing.

The original golf course at Highlands was built in 1931. That’s some serious Tacoma history right there. It was the site of my first-ever eagle (hole one), and the memories of golfing with my Dad, Uncle Palmer and Aunt Agnes are still fresh today. As a matter of fact, my Uncle Ray Gimse happens to be the “Hole in One King” at Highlands. You won’t believe how many hole in ones he’s had there, so I won’t even bother putting it out there. Let’s just say that when you live on the course, you tend to play quite a bit of golf.

It’s been 37 years since a group of 20 local investors came together to save Highlands from extinction. Now, after nearly four decades, the group of owners decided that it was time to put Highlands up for sale.

When I heard about this, it felt as though my blood was running cold. Say goodbye to another great golf course, and say hello to another few dozen homes where they’re not needed (or wanted).

It was announced that the group was searching for a buyer who intended to keep Highlands a functioning golf course. While this seemed to cool my jets a little, I still had a sinking feeling that it would be just too tasty of a property purchase for an investor not to ultimately turn it into another housing development.

On Monday, July 16, my fears were cast away. It was announced at the annual Tacoma Athletic Commission Celebrity Golf Classic that not only had a buyer been found, but he also just so happened to be a member of the Tacoma Athletic Commission.

Outgoing Tacoma Athletic Commission secretary, and former president, Doug McArthur couldn’t have been more pleased to announce local attorney Jack Connelly as the future owner of Highlands Golf Course. While the sale is pending with some final survey work to be completed, McArthur is satisfied that it will be just a matter of days before the whole transaction is finalized.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better new owner after 37 years of keeping the course operating for the thousands of Tacomans who are golfers,” said McArthur. “Particularly the seniors, women and children who have found our par three ‘track’ the perfect golf experience, with a hole in one opportunity on every hole. Jack Connelly will be an outstanding owner and he purchased it for one reason – to save it and maintain it as a golf course – rather than another housing development in our city. 

“He has been involved in our community as a TAC member, part of the ownership group of the Tacoma Rainiers and numerous other civic organizations. A graduate of Lakes High and Stanford, he was a championship swimmer at both, and he has been one of Washington’s most respected attorneys for the past 35-plus years.”

I may not pull the golf clubs out as often as I used to, but as a Tacoma duffer, I am relieved and thankful to see part of our local history saved. I’m fairly certain that legendary Pacific Lutheran football coach Frosty Westering would approve an “Attaway” for Connelly, the Tacoma Athletic Commission, as well as the group of owners who saved the course so long ago.

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