Northwest Golf at its Best

by Crai Bower | Photo © Tourism Whistler

DIGITAL EXCLUSIVES by Crai Bower

Northwest golf is an acquired taste that, like oysters, hoppy IPAs or smoked salmon, proves impossible to relinquish once the palate adjusts. Nature dictates the game here. Cedars and Douglas firs loom just off the fairway, frequent elevation changes challenge club selection, and bears, elk and coyotes are known to compose the deep woods gallery. I’ve golfed from Hawaii to Maine, Florida to Minnesota, but I’m happiest when playing one of our home courses in the Pacific Northwest.

Whistler, British Columbia

Whistler’s reputation as North America’s premier four-season destination is well served by its collection of four championship courses.

Interestingly, one of Whistler’s best courses isn’t found in Whistler at all, but in Pemberton, 20 minutes to the north. The course, Big Sky Golf & Country Club, combines a very fair test of your game with one of the region’s most stunning backdrops. Robert Cupp’s design lies below a broad granite rock face and under the shadow of Mt. Currie. The course wends its way around six lakes, as well as a stream that shows up several times throughout the round. The 7,001-yard layout is as fair a match as you’ll find in the valley.

Whistler Golf Club, Arnold Palmer’s first Canadian design, ranks as one of Canada’s top golf courses, and for good reason. On the course, the wild beauty of the Whistler region surrounds you: snow-capped peaks in every direction, old-growth cedars and firs, pristine streams and nine lakes make up the landscape. And the course itself never fails to exceed expectations. At the 18th hole, Palmer’s Gallery Bar & Grill is a welcome sight.

A course designed with the utmost sensitivity to the natural habitat, Nicklaus North is tucked between Green Lake and the River of Golden Dreams. Of all the courses Jack Nicklaus has designed worldwide, this is one of the few that bears his name. Stunning mountain views and five sets of tees make this course a favorite for every level of golfer.

Distraction is the rule in Whistler, with fantastic food and nightlife to enrich a golfer’s getaway. Like the golf, the dining diversity is as broad as in most North American cities. Don’t miss Barefoot Bistro, often mentioned among the best resort restaurants in the world. Village Sushi is also a favorite haunt. Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Mallard Lounge and Terrace provides the perfect ambiance for settling the score.

Best to leave all distraction behind when you tee off at Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Chateau Course, considered the “must play” layout by most first time visitors. Be warned: a high handicapper may spend more time in the woods looking for his golf ball than admiring the breathtaking scenery. This is definitely a cart course, with dramatic elevation changes and a hundred yards between certain holes. You and your foursome will feel you’re playing alone in the woods, a treat usually reserved for the local bears. whistler.com, golfwhistler.com

Sun Peaks, British Columbia

Graham Cooke’s design is really a tale of two nines, one tucked against a mountainside, and one carved out of a mountain. Leave your driver in the bag for the first half, a series of short carries with encroaching arboreal trouble on both sides. The back nine looks like a golf course first, mountains second. There is still alpine fun to be had, however.

Like its golf course, the new municipality of Sun Peaks grows in stature every year. Voyageur Bistro represents a new generation of nuanced cuisine, the menu filled with tributes to Western Canada’s trapper roots. The village stroll remains quiet, not a bad way to go after the challenging round of golf and perhaps some rigorous cross country mountain biking. Settle up at Bottom’s, a traditional Canadian pub. sunpeaksresort.com/summer/golf

Salish Cliffs, Shelton, Washington

Salish Cliffs presents a classic Pacific Northwest layout, a track that meanders through the woods without distraction. Ranked the sixth best course in Washington by Golf Digest, Salish Cliffs feels as much like a wilderness hike as a challenging golf game. This 7,269-yard, par 72 is laced with one corset-thin par 4 after another, favoring straight shooters. Though just a 7-iron from Puget Sound, water comes into play only on the 9th and signature 18th holes.

Little Creek Casino Resort offers plenty of entertainment plus an active gaming environment to fill in the non-golf spaces during a weekend getaway. The Salish Cliffs Grille provides an excellent 19th hole before proceeding to the Squaxin Island Seafood Bar later in the evening for a more formal dining experience. salish-cliffs.com, squaxinislandtourism.com

Prospector Golf Course, Suncadia, Washington

Head Golf Pro, Brady Hatfield, and his crew maintain Prospector like its exclusive brethren, Tumble Creek—impressive, considering 20,000 players tee off here each season. The 7,100-yard Arnold Palmer design offers a few dazzling holes, like 10th, an elevated tee that invites your drive to light like a mountain bluebird toward the alpine peaks. No duffer will come away disappointed from what Hatfield calls, “a very fair, alpine resort golf course.”

The 254-suite Suncadia Lodge yawns above the Cle Elum River with the grand presence of America’s great national park structures. (The 18-room Inn offers visitors a more intimate experience.) Make a weekend of it and bike the 20-miles of trails and swim in the indoor/outdoor pool, where two large tubes snake downward from a 30-foot tower. Suncadia provides as perfect an active resort experience as you’ll find within 100 miles of Seattle. suncadiaresort.com/golf, kittitascountychamber.com

Avalon Golf Links, Burlington, Washington

Playing Avalon always feels like a discovery, 27 holes located in the Cascade foothills on the fringe of the Skagit Valley. Unlike most triplets, the North, South and West nines here play as equals, each a test of accuracy if not length. Disciplined players bag their drivers and work on placement to avoid the broadleaf trees that crowd most of the fairways.

You won’t need your sand wedge often, either; it’s the shape of the courses that make Avalon testy enough to be selected several times for PGA and US Open qualifiers. Rare is the hole here that runs straight; most bend this way and that, sometimes on the same hole. There isn’t much to distract you away from the golf here, so best to make a day of it and plan for 27 holes. avalonlinks.com, visitskagitvalley.com.

Brasada Canyons Golf Course, Powell Butte, Oregon

Bend, Oregon, is designed for golf, a desert sun complemented by three rivers for irrigation. Not surprisingly, on the Central Oregon Golf Trail, golfers find 30 courses within 45 minutes of this dynamic city’s center. (Learn more about the Central Oregon Golf Trail at visitcentraloregon.com/things-to-do/golf or call Central Oregon Visitors Association Concierge Services at 800-800-8334.)

In this land of beautiful layouts such as Tetherow and Pronghorn, Brasada may be the prettiest of all. A semi-private club for members and resort guests, Brasada also stands apart from some of its peers for its playability. Satisfaction for the regular golfer is always a goal of co-designer Peter Jacobson, Oregon’s most colorful PGA player and now a popular television commentator. Several greens contain slope and bumpers to make for interesting approaches that are more typical of a links layout. No signature here, every hole reveals the sublime Central Oregon landscape. The air may be thinner at 4,000-feet, but your ball will sail far, and the perfectly shorn fairways will invite plenty of roll on this 7,295-yard masterpiece. brasada.com/golf, visitcentraloregon.com.

Headwaters Golf Club, Teton Springs Resort, Victor, Idaho

A golf course must combine playability, challenge and interest to satisfy members. Teton Springs achieves this trifecta well, a layout that demands concentration and rewards shot making without ever growing stale. Designed with input from the legendary Byron Nelson, this valley setup brings plenty of water into play, demanding carries on the first two par 5s and on the 10th, and a par 3 that requires a precise tee-to-green shot over a pond. Range Dining offers pre-round breakfast and post-round lunch, or ride back to a rented cabin and recharge for a re-swing that evening.

Victor settles into the Teton Valley about 30 minutes from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The best way to take in the spectacular scenery is to ride the Jackson Hole Resort gondola to The Deck for happy hour. tetonsprings.com, tetonvalleychamber.com.

Step Aside, Pros: Lithia Pacific Amateur Golf Classic

The prestigious PacAm Golf Classic, organized by Central Oregon Visitors Association, brings championship-caliber amateur golfers to compete near Bend, Oregon. Sunriver Resort is the host property for this event, held this year from September 20th to 25th. Competitions will take place on seven of Central Oregon’s premier courses, including courses at Sunriver Resort. Amateur golfers can register at pacamgolf.com.

To organize a Central Oregon golf vacation with course variety, flexibility and special Central Oregon Golf Trail privileges and discounts, go to visitcentraloregon.com/things-to-do/golf or call Central Oregon Visitors Association Concierge Services at 800-800-8334.

Golf at Sun Valley Resort

Digital Exclusive by Crai S. Bower

The Sun Valley Club lords over 45 holes of outstanding golf, providing a perfect layout for your Ryder Cup weekend. Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Trail Creek Championship Course runs to 6,968 yards, demanding your concentration along every foot of it. It is consistently ranked by Golf Digest among the top resort courses in America. Just take a look at the 446-yard par-4 3rd, a left turn of a dogleg that taunts the long hitter to carry the trees and, by the way, the creek that runs beneath. Elkhorn, a rare (and the final) collaboration between Robert Trent Jones Senior and Junior, tosses 100 bunkers into a mix of undulating greens, elevation changes and general celebration of alpine golf.

Idaho resort destinations all present the same problem, scheduling. If we fish this morning and golf this afternoon, where will we find time to mountain bike across more than 200 miles of trails? Sun Valley was first to set this standard, not just in Idaho, in America. The glamorous, from Clark Gable to Demi Moore, soon followed. The town of Ketchum manages to ignore the hype, sticking with a saloon scene that features the Pioneer, Grumpy’s and Whiskey Jacques, among other watering holes. You may need a vacation from the vacation upon return home, but a Sun Valley visit still yields one of the finest holiday workouts this side of the Sawtooths. sunvalley.com/golf