Unless you’re really into golf course design and/or live on the West Coast, you probably never heard of John Harbottle III. But his untimely death on May 24 at age 53 left a gaping hole in the hearts of those who knew him.
I’m among them, and though I can’t claim to have known him well, he made a lasting impression in our few meetings. I interviewed John a couple of times, including once during a round on his home course, Tacoma Country and Golf Club (yes, you read that correctly). He was a consummate gentleman, gracious to a fault, and genuinely passionate about the game.
Harbottle came by his love of golf naturally. His mother, Pat Lesser Harbottle, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1955. His dad was medalist at the 1993 U.S. Senior Amateur. Trips to the great links of Ireland and Scotland stirred his desire to build his own courses (Royal County Down was a favorite), and a stint with Pete Dye’s firm gave him the working knowledge needed to pursue the craft.
Harbottle never earned the recognition of fellow Dye disciples like Tom Doak and Gil Hanse, but his courses were anything but second-rate. The best known is the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton, Wa., a two-time USGA championship host and America’s eighth-best municipal track per Golfweek. It’s absolutely fantastic.
He also designed Palouse Ridge in Pullman, home of the Washington State Cougars and Golfweek’s No. 4 collegiate course in the country; Idaho’s BanBury GC, another USGA host; and Stevinson Ranch outside Sacramento, one of the most popular courses in California (or anywhere, for that matter).
I played with John shortly after he’d lost the bid to build Chambers Bay, which went to Robert Trent Jones Jr. It had to sting terribly to lose a potentially career-making assignment in your own backyard – Chambers Bay was picked to host the 2015 U.S. Open just after opening – but he expressed no bitterness whatsoever. It wasn’t part of his makeup.
If you get a chance, honor John’s memory by playing one of his creations. And take the time to appreciate his passion.
Photos: Harbottle Design
Some of John’s Work:
Daniel Mitchell is a golf writer and Golf-Newz.com contributor who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.