At an overflowing church in Tacoma, Wash. on Saturday, June 2, the region’s golf community gathered to mourn the too-early passing of John Harbottle III.
A Northwest-native and president of Tacoma-based John Harbottle Design who designed some of the country’s best-known golf courses, John died suddenly of a heart attack on May 24 while working in California. He was 53.
“The Pacific Northwest has truly lost a legend in the golf industry,” said PNGA executive director Troy Andrew. “He was a gentleman with high integrity, devotion, and an ambassador for the game of golf. The Harbottle family has a long standing history with the PNGA and this leaves us all heartbroken as we send our thoughts and prayers to the entire Harbottle family.”
The eldest of five children of PNGA Hall of Famers Dr. John Harbottle, Jr. and Patricia (Lesser) Harbottle, John grew up surrounded by the best attributes that the golf world can offer – talented and principled parents, the etiquette that the game instills in young people, and a growing appreciation of the work that goes into creating a beautiful golf course.
He played on the men’s golf team at Seattle University (as did both his parents), and while traveling to tournaments he would sketch on a sheet of paper some of the holes the team had just played. Because he had a real sense of where his interest was, he transferred to the University of Washington to finish his degree in landscape architecture.
Harbottle began his career with legendary course designer Pete Dye, with whom he collaborated on projects throughout the world. Extensive travel to Scotland allowed Harbottle to study golf’s traditions and form the basis for many of his own designs.
Harbottle designed more than 20 courses, including the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain (Bremerton, Wash.), BanBury Golf Course and Ridgecrest GC in Idaho, and Palouse Ridge in Pullman, and also was highly regarded for his renovation work of existing courses. Harbottle was nationally recognized for his commitment to environmentally-sensitive design, and was a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. The 15th hole at Palouse Ridge has now been dedicated to Harbottle. “John said it could be his favorite short par-4 in all of golf,” said Palouse Ridge general manager Tyler Jones. “We’re forever grateful to have had John create our golf course.”
Scott Alexander, director of golf at Gold Mountain GC in Bremerton, Wash. gave the eulogy at the service. Scott and John were teammates at Seattle University, and worked closely together while John was designing and creating the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain in the mid-1990s. “I was so proud to have him as a friend,” he said. “He was truly a good man, and had all the attributes of being one of the finest people you would ever meet. We were just young kids (on the golf team), and after a round of golf we’d all pile into the van to take off and John would say, ‘Before we take off, let’s go thank the head pro for letting us play.’ He was such a good guy.”
Alexander continued, “His enthusiasm for his work and his respect for everyone involved was really infectious. I remember, during the process of building the Olympic Course, one of the last steps before laying seed on the fairways is to pick all the rocks out of the dirt – everyone walking down the fairway in a line. Well, we brought in a bunch of prisoners from the nearby women’s prison to do this work, and the morning they showed up, John arrived and immediately came up to greet the women, ‘How are you, ladies? So glad you could come out and help us today.’ These were women who hadn’t been acknowledged by anyone for years, and they were just wide-eyed by John’s behavior toward them. By the end of the day, they were all waving to John every time he passed by on a golf cart inspecting the progress.”
John is survived by his wife, Teresa, and children Johnny and Chelsea.