By Deston Nokes
Located just a chip shot from the Canadian border, Bellingham offers a surprising range of picturesque golf opportunities. In fact, a huge percentage of its golfers scoot down from British Columbia to take advantage of Whatcom County’s stellar collection of courses.
“The Canadian dollar is at par right now with the U.S. dollar, so about 75 percent of our business is coming from across the border,” said Lincoln Olson, golf pro at Homestead Golf & Country Club. Coming up from the south, Bellingham is about two hours from Seattle.
What visitors find in Bellingham is incredibly clean air and iconic Pacific Northwest views. You can play alongside the Salish Sea, looking out at the San Juan Islands on one side, and tee off towards Mt. Baker on the other. In addition to golf, boating aficionados can choose from a variety of activities. There are whale-watching (May – September) excursions and dinner cruises galore, as well sails on the revered Schooner Zodiac, a 150-foot wood schooner that raced in the King’s Cup across the Atlantic to Spain in 1928. It’s also an agricultural area, with four local cheesemakers, acres of raspberry and blueberry farms and some of the finest ice cream this side of heaven.
But back to golf: Bellingham has a variety of course styles to suit every taste, from a Scottish-style links course at North Bellingham, to seaside resort golf at Semiahmoo. Here are some area favorites:
Homestead Golf & Country Club
Architect Bill Overdorf’s course in northern Whatcom County is sure to bedevil some players with its abundance of water hazards. In fact, if ducks ate golf balls, they’d be too fat to fly at Homestead. But thankfully, the landings are wide and there are multiple tees for those who don’t want to tempt fate too much. There’s plenty of wildlife to enjoy, from muskrats and Canadian Geese, to bald eagles overhead.
Golf pro Lincoln Olson enjoys playing the back nine, especially the spots where he can hit a draw and shave 30-40 yards off the hole. Also, the greens are on the slow side, so Olson recommends a little time on the practice green before your tee time.
The signature hole is the last: #18 has a par-5 island green, which has been voted the best par-five finishing hole in the state. Above the pro shop is the Steakhouse9 Bistro & Lounge, with tasty food made from scratch, as well as affordable steaks, burgers, pizza and sandwiches.
The price to play during the summer through September is $45 on weekends and $35 on weekdays. For more information, call 360-354-1196 or go to www.homesteadgolfclub.com.
Semiahmoo Resort, Golf & Spa
Branded as “Washington’s seaside retreat,” Semiahmoo Resort is located between Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor, about 90 miles from Seattle and 40 miles from Vancouver, B.C. The resort has two golf courses, Semiahmoo Country Club and Loomis Trail.
Semiahmoo, designed by Arnold Palmer, has wide landings on the fairways and slower undulation on the greens. There aren’t any sneaky shots or obstacles here, and the variety of each hole makes it one of the most popular and playable courses in the area. Semiahmoo’s excellent course conditions add to the value.
According to Brett Eaton, Semiahmoo’s director of golf, hitting that second shot into the right quadrant is key for scoring. But no matter where you drive the ball, the view is spectacular with beautiful tree lines and no adjacent holes to spoil the flow. The undulating greens might add an extra putt to your score. The champion tees are 7,005 yards and there are family tees at 4,100 yards, perfect for juniors and getting novices out to play.
A notable hole is #4, a fun par-4 with a two-tiered green. Hit it correct, or the ball rolls back to the front. The course has bald eagles, deer and plenty of wildlife on the Semiahmoo spit. It has a well-situated bar on the water called Packers Oyster Bar, which features captivating sunsets and live bands on the weekends. The Pierside Kitchen offers higher-end dining and reservations are encouraged.
During the summer, Semiahmoo costs $90 on the weekend and $75 during the week. It’s open to the public on the odd days of the month. For more information, call (360) 371-7015 or go to www.Semiahmoogolf.com.
Loomis Trail, designed by Graham Cooke, is more of a links-style course and features smooth, fast and true greens. A notable feature is that it has a water hazard on each of its 18 holes and has one of the highest slope ratings in the state. If a member of the party gets a little skittish about driving over, around (or into) the water on every hole, they can avail themselves of the beginner tees to ease frustration. It’s not a grip and rip course requiring a lot of longer drives, rather there are lots of spots that need accurate shots to set up a shot to the green. It’s harder than Semiahmoo — strategic golf at its finest.
“Loomis is the polar opposite of Semiahmoo and it’s great to have two courses six minutes apart from one another,” Eaton said.
During the summer, Loomis costs $90 on the weekend and $75 during the week. Loomis is open to the public on even days of the month. For more information, call (360) 332-1725 or go to www.semiahmoo.com/golf/loomis-trail.htm.
North Bellingham Golf Course
Ted Locke’s North Bellingham Golf Course is described as a “real Scottish-style links course,” with plenty of water, shad, rolling hills and a stiff wind coming from the southwest. Nathan Vickers, head golf pro, said there aren’t many weak holes and exceptional drainage keeps the course playable year round unless there’s snow on the ground.
You won’t have to hike up hills very much here, except for the sixth hole, which has some elevation to it. There is some undulation to the greens, which roll true year-round. Some of the favorite holes include #4, which is a par-4 requiring a dogleg left shot over water. Most of all, you’ll want to take plenty of time to lift your head after your shot and appreciate the inspiring views of Mt. Baker. You also might spot eagles and hawks, and occasionally a coyote.
North Bellingham is the site of the annual Western Washington Chapter PGE Pro-Am. One major attraction is North Bellingham has one of the region’s best practice facilities with a heated driving range, and a great chipping and putting green. The 9 Restaurant trumpets that it makes everything from scratch from house-roasted sandwich meat to hand-pressed and seasoned burgers. Even the buns are made by the chef.
North Bellingham costs $56 to play. For more information, call 360-398-8300 or go to www.northbellinghamgolf.com.
Sudden Valley, designed by Ted Robinson, is a tale of two courses. Its front nine is relatively flat, open and borders the waters of Lake Whatcom. The back nine takes players uphill on a narrow, tree-lined course with smaller greens to hit. Players will find the course to be a fun challenge as it has water hazards on 14 holes, with a total of 47 bunkers. “It’s tight and really makes you think,” said JT Perrine, assistant golf pro. “The course is unbelievably pure and our greens roll so smooth. We take a lot of pride in them.”
Perrine’s favorite holes are #5 and #6 because of their water approaches, and the #15 par-4 because you have to hit your shot off of a cliff and dogleg left.
He encourages golfers to give their golf boards a try. Similar in appearance to an oversized skateboard, they’re quiet and easy for anyone to ride, he said.
Sudden Valley costs $55 to play between May and September. For more information, call 360-734-6435 or go to www.suddenvalleygolfcourse.com.