Lake Padden Golf Course—a Bellingham City Park—is undeniably one of the best public courses in Whatcom County. When I first moved to Bellingham to attend WWSC in 1968, the only downtown course was being deconstructed on Lakeway Drive to make room for I-5. It occupied much of the land that is now home to the Fred Meyer and the mobile home park across the street down to the old Samish Drive-In theatre.
Then, in late ’69 or early ’70, construction began on a new course near Lake Padden out on Samish Way. It was being sculpted out of a thick forest of cedar and Doug fir at the southeast end of the lake. In fact, a buddy and I first used the course for an entirely different purpose. When they cleared way for the downhill hole that parallels Samish Way (#8) we snuck onto the grounds to try our hand at flying a homemade hang glider. I dislocated a shoulder, which greatly dampened our dreams of cornering the aluminum tubing market, but that’s a story for another day.
When the golf course first opened in 1971 they gave us broke college kids the chance to play unlimited golf for something like $10/month. It was almost never busy so I found myself running out there between classes to play three or four holes then heading back up the hill.
That’s how and when I first discovered and developed my passion for this most irritating of all games; and why to this day, I love tree-lined courses over their links counterparts in general, and Lake Padden in specific. I can still imagine the 20-year old me walking down these same fairways and past these same ponds. Who would have thought that playing the course in preparation for this article would stir up so many ancient memories? Moving along.
The well-maintained and well-managed 6,153-yard course (from the whites where I play) is in excellent shape. The greens are large and undulating; hitting to a wrong spot can easily result in a dreaded 3-putt… unfortunately, I know this from experience. A guy in the twosome I got paired with actually suffered a 4-putt, but I think he was just trying to make me feel better. HINT: Lake Padden is one of the few courses in the county that actually has noticeably different speeds depending on which direction you’re putting. If you’re putting toward the lake (west into the setting sun), it is way, way quicker. Take note and save a stroke or two.
Ponds with swaying cattails and plentiful water foul dot many of the fairways. Deer and bunnies often come poking out of the surrounding forest to take a peek at passers by. Deep bunkers protect most of the greens but the sand is nice and fluffy so they do not create an unreasonable hazard. Playing here on a weekday afternoon, temperature in the low 70s with a couple of great guys made it almost seem like I was playing hooky, just like my old college days. Oh, wait…. I WAS playing hooky, but luckily my reader is a buddy and won’t tell my boss (aka: wife).
Go. Play. Golf.