Put it All on Green

By Tony Dear

Golfers are aware that Tribal-owned casino courses are among the best in the country. And we have a few beauties in our neck of the woods.

It’s been a while since ‘Golf Today NW’ focused on 7Cedars at Dungeness. The ever-popular Jack Reimer-designed course opened in 1969, was updated by Mark Miller of Nelson-Haworth Golf Course Architects in the late 1990s, and continues to win King5 Evening Magazine’s award for ‘Best Northwest Escapes’ (the last four years in a row).

It’s remarkable that Reimer’s design credits extend no further than Dungeness. As far as courses created by one-time architects go, it’s admittedly not in the same league as Pine Valley (George Crump with help), Oakmont (HC Fownes), or Pebble Beach (Douglas Grant and Jack Neville, though they consulted at a couple of others), but it very rarely disappoints the visitor, especially when he or she is looking to escape Western Washington’s persistent winter rain, and tee it up somewhere dry – Dungeness sits in the Olympic Mountains’ rain shadow where it receives only 13-14 inches of rain a year which is less than half of Seattle’s annual precipitation.

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Image courtesy Cedars at Dungeness Golf Course

The course is an amenity of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe-owned 7Cedars Casino which purchased the 122-acre layout in January 2007. The casino, managed by Glenn Smithson, lies twelve miles to the southeast, near the southern tip of Sequim Bay. Miller raised the course’s total yardage to 6,641 yards and gave it a Slope Rating of 124 – no, not terribly difficult but, with 50 bunkers – most notably the Dungeness Crab-shaped Old Crabby on the par 5 3rd – not a total pushover either. That said, Semiahmoo’s Jeff Coston seemingly made light of its challenges last year shooting 17-under 199 to win the 54-hole Washington Senior Open – a championship the course will host for the eighth consecutive year in 2017 (May 30-June 1).

“That event brings 280 of the West’s best senior golfers to Dungeness for three great days,” says Garrett Smithson, the course’s Head PGA Professional for the last five years, and Glenn’s son. “We will also be hosting the Annual Sonny Sixkiller Celebrity Golf Classic on July 27 and 28.  And our Pro-Am/Pro-Pro, which also attracts players from all over the PNW, will take place on Halloween weekend.”

Much else has occurred at the Cedars at Dungeness since we were there last. The clubhouse kitchen has undergone a complete remodel, the new state of the art facilities enabling Stymie’s Bar and Grill (classic 19th hole fare) to update its menu, and continue receiving those five-star reviews (also at the golf course is the acclaimed Double Eagle restaurant, serving steak and seafood with an extensive wine list).

“We’ve also begun managing Peninsula Golf Course in Port Angeles,” says Smithson. “At this time, we are only managing the golf operations, but we have already added a full-Swing simulator and intend to add a new fleet of carts.”

Back at Dungeness, the maintenance crew moved into a new building 18 months ago, the facility now regarded as one of the best of its kind in the region. And the course has entered into an agreement with the Black Ball ferry line to offer special rates for golfers coming to Port Angeles from Victoria, BC. on the 341 ft/5,135 ton MV Coho.

The current green fee for 18 holes midweek is just $37, while a weekend round will set you back an extra $3. For a course of this quality, that really is terrific value.

The Jamestown S’Klallam are still biding their time before committing to adding a hotel to the casino, golf course, and its other enterprises, though the Squaxin Island Tribe continues to invest heavily into its Little Creek Casino Resort near Shelton, home of Gene Bates’s fantastic Salish Cliffs GC.

Check out the Little Creek Casino Resort
Courtesy Little Creek Casino Resort

In February, the tribe began major renovations to the rooms in one of its two hotel towers, creating more livable space, and adding numerous upgrades. Each room is getting new décor, bedding, carpeting, paint and cabinetry, the bathrooms likewise becoming larger and receiving new vanities, towel warmers and glass walk-in showers.

The work is scheduled to be complete by May 27th – in good time for another glorious summer season on what has quickly become established as one of Washington’s top five public-access courses. Salish Cliffs uses what it calls ‘Demand-Based Pricing’, meaning rates fluctuate a great deal depending on time of year, day of the week, and time of day. For instance, if you book 18 holes for Sunday May 14th 15-31 days in advance, the round will cost you $80. Show up with no reservation on the morning of, however, and you’ll pay $99.

Whatever you pay though, you’ll enjoy the round, as not only did Bates create a fascinating routing over the forested 320-acre property that rises and falls 600ft throughout the round, but Superintendent Rob Pearsall typically produces some of the finest putting surfaces in the State too.

Perhaps the best way to play Salish Cliffs is by purchasing the OPC Card which gives you a round at Salish, a round at Dungeness, and a round at the superb Cynthia Dye-McGarey/John Harbottle White Horse GC in Indianola, with a cart at each and range balls for $169, plus tax. You can use the card any day of the week (yes, the rate at each could average $57 at the weekend!) but must tee-off after 12pm.

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Image courtesy Whitehorse Golf Club

You’ll have a job picking your favorite of the three courses. Each will have its devotees, the White Horse champions emphasizing the quality of Harbottle’s 2012 renovation during which he spent $700,000 softening Dye-McGarey’s somewhat taxing original by removing over 200 trees and 62 bunkers, and widening landing areas.

Now owned by the Suquamish Tribe which also owns the 1,200 slot-Clearwater Casino, White Horse built its first proper clubhouse in 2013 and is currently offering an early-bird special of $39 for anyone teeing off between opening and 9.30am.

At the Seattle Golf Show in March, Director of Golf Operations at White Horse, Bruce Christy, announced the course would host the Pacific Northwest’s first ever Legends Tour event in June 2018, when a number of great women golfers over the age of 45 will tee it up at White Horse in the Suquamish Clearwater Legends Cup. It’s possible Annika Sorenstam will be there, along with Laura Davies, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Patty Sheehan, and Nancy Lopez. The Legends Tour began in 2000, and twenty-seven-time LPGA winner Jane Blalock is CEO. There are currently seven tournaments on the schedule.

Before then though – July 27 & 28, White Horse will host Kenny Easley’s Celebrity Tournament, just a week before the former Seahawk’s induction in to the NFL Hall of Fame.

Wildhorse Resort and Casino near Pendleton, OR, is home to the Pacific Northwest’s most remote casino golf course and is looking to invest heavily after proposing major additions for 2017. Details are hazy at the moment, and according to Tiah Degrofft, Head of Community Relations at Wildhorse, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) are still “hammering out the details for the next expansion (the last was in 2009), but there has been speculation that besides a new hotel tower with 228 more rooms, the expansion will include a bowling alley, concert venue, and horse arena. “But we don’t know if the expansion will include anything golf-related,” says DeGrofft.

Which means that for now, visitor will have to make do with the existing John Steidel-designed course, a hop, skip, and a jump from the casino/hotel down Wildhorse Boulevard. ‘Make do with’ is actually a poor choice of words as Steidel’s thoughtful design proves plenty popular with guests who pay just $34 midweek and $40 at weekends to play it. Though largely flat, Steidel incorporated enough twists, turns, angles, and hazards to keep it interesting.

DeGrofft wants to direct readers’ attention to the Pepsi 2-Man Best Ball Tournament taking place on April 22-23. “Tee times begin at noon on Saturday and Sunday’s shotgun start begins at 9am,” she says. “The cost is $270 per team which includes greens fees for three days (includes complimentary practice round), cart, unlimited range balls, complimentary beverages, and a BBQ after the second day.” The purse of over $13,000 is based on a full field with additional financial backing coming from numerous event sponsors.

“We also have Get Golf Ready Clinics,” says DeGrofft. “Our golf staff will host a one-hour clinic from 5pm-6pm to help golfers get back in the swing of things on April 7, 15, 21 and 29th. Pay just $10 per clinic.”

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Courtesy Circling Raven Golf Club, Worley, ID.

Another really good value round – $38 midweek – can be had at the ever-improving Swinomish Golf Links on the road to Anacortes. Since the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, which owns the Swinomish Casino and Lodge, purchased Similk Beach GC in 2013, and put former Suncadia Superintendent Matt Atterberry in charge of reviving the notoriously soggy ground, course conditions have been getting better and better.

Slightly more expensive rates, though still very reasonable considering how good the courses are, can be found in Eastern Washington and Idaho – at the Kalispel Golf and Country Club in Spokane ($115 from April 16th to October 15th) which is owned by the Kalispel Tribe that also owns the impressive Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights, and Circling Raven in Worley Idaho – another great Gene Bates course where the peak summer green fee took ten years to inch about $100. It now stands at $105 (weekends from May 26th to September 24th) which, when you compare it to rates at other Top 100 courses, seems like a steal.

For many, a weekend’s golf is made all the better by an after-round visit to the slots, tables, and wheel. If that’s you, you’re well catered for in the Pacific Northwest.

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