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Published in The Seattle Times online on Sept. 14, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Sept. 17, 2023
Where to find ‘golf utopia’ in 1931? No lie: at Mount Rainier!
By Clay Eals
It was outlandish 92 years ago. It’s outlandish today. But out on the land immediately south of Mount Rainier, there once arose, in golfing vernacular, an alluring ace.
For two Depression-era months in the summer and fall of 1931 at aptly named Paradise, the gem was a nine-hole golf course.
Don’t believe it? Photos, news stories, a logbook and even a blueprint prove that Paradise Golf Course was no high lie.
On opening day, Aug. 8, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called it “golf utopia,” and not just for the up-close views of the 14,411-foot peak. Paul Sceva, then Rainier National Park manager, claimed that every drive had 30 yards more carry than on any other course in America. The reason? The 5,000-foot altitude sliced air resistance to a minimum.
“There is no question about it,” said its architect, Roy Herbert Dobell, of Aberdeen. “The ball travels 25% farther up here in the skies. I’ve proved it many times.”
The course also provided “a most interesting feature to the tired business man,” the P-I reported. “Every fairway is downhill.” A car regularly waited at hole No. 9 to carry golfers back to the first tee, which teetered over a bluff, a breathtaking 300 feet above hole No. 1’s fairway.
The Northwest Hickory Players, a 10-year-old, no-dues club of 125 golfers who play with vintage clubs and duds, recently drove to Paradise to revel in the place of their period predecessors. The club’s Martin Pool, of Kenmore, labels the setting a “spectacular novelty.”
By the 1920s, golf’s national popularity had soared. Pool’s research indicates that the park’s concessionaire proposed the course to boost sagging business at the mountain’s lodge, especially overnight stays.
“Golf is a country game, not a city one,” responded Horace Albright, then National Park Service director. “It can be justified in parks easier than tennis. Anyway, I want to try out the thing, and as the Rainier Company needs revenue more than any other company, I am disposed to let them try the experiment.”
Some 200 men and women, mostly from Puget Sound but also from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, St. Louis, Niagara Falls and Tokyo, Japan, gave the course a try. Fees at the time were $1.50 for 9-hole play and $3 for all day.
Of course, the remote locale invited unique challenges, including a pair of bears who ambled the greens at dusk, snapping off bamboo flag sticks and pulling out cups. Then there was the weather. When snow blanketed the area in early October, the course closed, never to reopen.
Today, it’s one of history’s sweet spots.
Thanks to Martin Pool, Gary Smyres, John Quickstad, Rob Ahlschwede of the Northwest Hickory Players, along with Ben Nechanicky and Mount Rainier National Park curator Brooke Childrey for their invaluable help with this installment!
To see Clay Eals‘ 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are 2 documents , an additional video, an additional photo, a 6-page log book and blueprint and, in chronological order, 4 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.