From coal mines to golf

February 6, 2015

By Rich Crispo

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File Scaffolding and landscaping equipment sit in front of the clubhouse March 1999 as opening day approaches for The Golf Club at Newcastle.

File
Scaffolding and landscaping equipment sit in front of the clubhouse March 1999 as opening day approaches for The Golf Club at Newcastle.

As you line up your approach shot to the par-3 fourth hole on Coal Creek, did you ever wonder how The Golf Club at Newcastle came into being?

One hundred and fifty years ago, the first chunks of coal were being extracted from the original mine 50 feet below where you are standing. The first of more than 10 million tons of coal removed over a 100-year period.

The journey that took this area from the wild environs with cougars, bears and 10-foot-wide trees to the best venue on the Eastside is an interesting but not always pretty story.

Coal was found in Coal Creek in 1853 and tunnel mining began in 1863. The largest operator, Pacific Coast Coal Co., produced large quantities of coal, mostly exported, until 1927. Economic conditions and the completion of the trans-continental railroad caused them to cease operations and remove the buildings and railroad tracks.

In 1932, gypo mine companies, better known as contract-basis mining operators, began leasing specific mine seams from the Pacific Coast Coal Co. for small operations to support coal needs in the King County area.

One of these was the Strain Coal Co. Strain is important to our story because it was the first, and only, to use strip-mining techniques on the Newcastle mines. It began on the southeast portion of the field under what is now the China Creek Golf Course. It started in 1933, and by 1947 had dug up 80 to 90 acres, leaving large open pits.

In 1963, Pacific Coast Coal Co. sold all the property to Evan and Jack Morris, of Palmer Coke and Coal. All coal mining had ceased by then and they decided to develop the property for housing starting with 200 acres under what is now the Coal Creek Golf Course.

A request for a permit from King County was rejected due to concerns over safety and the potential for mine shaft collapses. A request to create a landfill for construction debris, however, was approved.

In 1970, operation as a permitted landfill began. Unfortunately, items other than those authorized found their way onto the site.

The late Milt Swanson, a longtime resident of the area, witnessed two semi trucks dumping 50-gallon drums into the site that were quickly covered over with dirt. He believed they contained paint thinner and sludge.

Another current resident stated that he had deposited items other than construction debris at the site. When King County learned of the abuse, they revoked the permit and closed the site. A short time later, Rabanco, promising compliance, convinced King County to reopen the site and took over operations. The landfill grew to the north and west and eventually covered the area of the golf course. The company ran the site until it closed in 1992.

Scott Oki purchased the property in 1994 and the Coal Creek Course opened in 1999 followed by China Creek in 2001. Today, the best venue on the Eastside for meetings, celebrations and golf lies above the source of the first commodity exported from Seattle.

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