By Tony Dear
The stay-and-play feature is one of our favorite stories of the year. We’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the finer courses in our region that boast quality on-site lodging and enable you to make a weekend of it. This year, we’re going state by state, recommending the best overnight golf trips in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and, venturing across the border, into British Columbia.
After opening in 2011, it took Salish Cliffs GC (and the attached Little Creek Casino) just shy of a year to rise among the most popular overnight golf destinations in the Evergreen State– as savvy golf travelers quickly recognized what a fantastic combination the resort and Gene Bates-designed course was.
In addition to the casino and excellent Seven Inlets Spa, the resort offers very spacious accommodations and impressive dining. Most notable among dining options, perhaps, is the Squaxin Island Seafood Bar, where the Dungeness crab and oysters never disappoint.
Stay-and-play packages for 2016 have recently been published (but are subject to change). Depending on the season, these packages– which include a night stay at Little Creek and round of golf– range in price from $149 to $279, based on double occupancy. Anyone who has taken advantage of these packages before will tell you what tremendous value that is.
Packages that include spa sessions (like the 50-minute Swedish Massage) or an $80 resort credit are also available and range from $269 to $459 (again based on double occupancy). Single occupancy rates are also available.
Salish Cliffs is coming off another year of significant growth, fueled primarily by the U.S. Open that was played just 39 miles away at Chambers Bay. Little Creek offered a special U.S. Open package that proved to be extremely popular. “The U.S. Open Package was a huge hit,” says Director of Golf, David Kass. “We had people from all across the U.S., Canada, a few Asian groups, and even a couple of groups from Europe.”
Kass was surprised at how many people actually wanted to play during the event, saying he imagined guests would want the opportunity to watch the Championship and then be too tired to play, themselves, once they got back to Shelton. “I assumed everyone would just want to relax back at the resort, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was very happy to see our U.S. Open guests go out for a round themselves. Our tee-sheet was booked solidly all week, mostly with golfers that had never played Salish Cliffs before. It was fascinating to meet and talk to golfers from around the country– and world– and hear them speak so highly of the golf course. And, interestingly, despite the full tee sheet, our pace of play for that week was surprisingly good – the quickest that particular week in June has ever been, in fact.”
The feedback on the course itself was entirely positive, says Kass. “Everyone I spoke with said they absolutely loved it,” he adds. “Superintendent Rob Pearsall did a typically fine job presenting the course. I think after seeing how burnt and fast Chambers was, everyone was happy to be playing on much more playable surfaces.”
In June 2013, the ownership change at Semiahmoo also involved a management change (Coastal Hotel Group was engaged by new owner Resort Semiahmoo, LLC) and has really begun to show fruit. The Birch Bay resort is looking forward to an especially busy year as it hosts both the Men’s and Women’s Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Championships, as well as a qualifier for the U.S. Amateur Championship. The women’s WAC event takes place on the Arnold Palmer-designed course at Semiahmoo from April 21st – 24th, while the men will play Graham Cooke’s Loomis Trail GC from April 29th – May 2nd. The U.S. Amateur qualifier will be played on July 7th at Loomis Trail.
As for stay-and-play packages, Semiahmoo is offering an outstanding deal for the first few months of the year. From now until May 14th, you can play unlimited golf during your stay at either course (Semiahmoo on odd days, Loomis on even) with a cart, range balls, and overnight accommodations from an amazing $79 per person, per night.
White Horse (Clearwater)
Just as Semiahmoo has undoubtedly benefitted from its new ownership, so has White Horse GC in Indianola seen considerable improvements since the Suquamish Tribe and its business arm, Port Madison Enterprises, purchased the ailing property in February 2010.
Bruce Christy, the Director of Golf Operations since the course opened in 2007, has seen it all in the last nine years: weathering the economic storm, overseeing the course alterations that John Harbottle made to Cynthia Dye-McGarey’s original, witnessing the construction and opening of the new clubhouse, and answering to new bosses.
Now, more or less fully settled, the fabulous course that Harbottle softened slightly in order to make it more playable for more golfers, is attracting some big numbers. “Last year we saw 4,000 more rounds than we had in 2014,” says Christy. “That helped us get back to our 2013 numbers.”
As well as ever-improving course conditions, White Horse introduced Golf Boards which, Christy says, proved ‘wildly popular’. “We actually purchased two extra Golf Boards to keep up with demand,” he says. “They arrived in the middle of July and players were pre-booking them seven to eight days in advance. We turned out an average of 4.8 rentals a day.”
Erik Linsenmayer who, like Christy, has been at White Horse since day one, worked hard in 2015 to improve the course’s drainage, opening avenues along selected fairways and behind a number of tee boxes to increase sunlight and ultimately produce healthier turf conditions.
White Horse also saw an increase in demand for the driving range and lessons, which Christy puts down to the great weather western Washington saw in the spring and summer. This year, the course will again be hosting two Seattle Seahawk Celebrity tournaments with Kenny Easley’s Greater Trinity Academy tournament in late July, and Randall Morris’s Celebrity tournament to benefit the Burned Children’s Recovery Foundation in mid- September. “They are both fun events and open to the public,” says Christy. “So get a team together and play with a celebrity for a day.”
In addition to all the above reasons to visit White Horse this year, there is also the Olympic Peninsula Card, which Christy introduced last year. For $169, golfers can play White Horse, Dungeness, and Salish Cliffs with a cart (and range balls) any day of the week, after 12pm. You also get an additional 10% off merchandise and food and beverage purchases the same day. Christy says a limited number of cards for this year are still available and will be valid until October 31st.
Between now and May 19th, the course, and Suquamish-owned Clearwater Casino and Resort, is running the Golf and Gamble Package, which costs $254 midweek ($283 weekend) and includes one night’s lodging, 18 holes for two with cart, a $40 dining card, and a gift from the pro shop. A new package will begin on May 20th and run through the summer.
Chambers Bay, Gold Mountain, Home Course
The Championship Experience combines golf at three USGA Championship-hosting courses with top-notch accommodations at Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac, and the Liberty Inn in DuPont. Spend two nights at the renowned Hotel Murano and play all three courses for $349 between now and the end of February. The rate goes up to $419 in March and April, moves to $489 in May, and tops out at $619 from June through September.
The Tetherow Lodges opened in April 2014 and have quickly become a hugely popular option for both golfers and skiers, as its World No. 1 Resort ranking in 2015– based on reviews by visitors to booking.com– would suggest. Tetherow is located just a few minutes from both Bend and Mt. Bachelor. There are 50 spacious luxury guest rooms with views north to the Cascades. Golf packages on the once intimidating, but now more player-friendly, David McLay Kidd-designed course, start at $307 per person and include two nights’ accommodation, two rounds of golf, cart and forecaddie, and all taxes.
Wildhorse Resort & Casino
In the fall and winter, Wildhorse can be a bleak and uninviting prospect. In the warmth of spring and summer, however, it blossoms into an absolute peach that is well worth the drive from Portland or Seattle.
The course is part of the Wildhorse Resort and Casino, which is owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and offers three golf packages. The first is the Birdie-Maker’s Special, which consists of a round of golf for two with cart and overnight accommodations, and ranges in price from $149.95 to $259.95, depending on time of week and choice of room (there are six room types). The Eagle Package is available for $271.95 to $381.95 and offers unlimited golf for two with cart, a night’s stay, a dozen Nike balls, and a lunch voucher. Lastly, those with the time and budget for the Double Eagle Package will enjoy unlimited golf for three days with cart, two night’s accommodation, a dozen Nike balls, and a lunch voucher– and pay from $372.50 to $600.90.
Another way to enjoy the course and hotel is to participate in the Pepsi 2-Man Best Ball Tournament
on April 23rd and 24th. Entry costs $270 per team, which includes green fees for three days (includes practice round), cart, unlimited range balls, complimentary beverages, and a closing BBQ at the end of the second day. The total purse for the event is $13,000, and discounted room rates are available.
The superb Gene Bates-designed course at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel, near the village of Worley, opened nearly 13 years ago, and is something of an old favorite now. And when its rate card remains unchanged for a ninth year in succession, it’s easy to love it even more. Circling Raven remains in the top 100 of the nation’s public courses, according to golf.com, and yet its peak summer green fees remains south of $100. Prices for stay-and-play packages are unmoved too. A round for two and a night’s stay in the Mountain Lodge starts at $199 in the spring, while the same package in the Spa Tower starts at $209. In summer, those prices rise to $219 and $249. In the spring, you can add another round for $55 midweek ($70 for weekends), and in summer an extra round is $70 midweek and $90 during the weekend.
Coeur d’Alene Resort
The famous Scott Miller-designed course at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in preparation for its big silver anniversary this year by completely re-turfing all 18 greens when the course shut for the winter in the middle of October. The new Bentgrass surfaces will, says Director of Golf, Andy Mackimmie, have a darker color and better coverage, and provide a smoother, more consistent roll than guests have been used to.
But that’s not all, adds Mackimmie. “In the middle of last season, we introduced new touch screen GPS units to our cart fleet,” he says. “In the past, golfers had to stay on the cart paths, but with the new units we can now manage cart traffic in sensitive areas of the golf course. This gives golfers the capability to drive their cart to their ball, something that has obviously been very well received.”
With new putting surfaces and touch screen GPS units, 2016 is clearly a great time to reacquaint yourself with the course at Coeur d’Alene, where the stay-and-play package includes accommodations at the resort, a round of golf, cart, a pre-round sports massage, a forecaddie for your group, unlimited use of the practice tee on the day of your round, and an engraved bag tag, all for $142 per person, based on double occupancy.
In the past, we have admittedly been a little slow to recommend you head to Bear Mountain on Vancouver Island. The place is beautiful; extravagantly so. And the Jack Nicklaus-designed Mountain Course, which opened in 2003, is hugely enjoyable, if a little demanding. But, like every other golf property in North America, the 1,300-acre resort and residential community, which added the less challenging, though equally enjoyable, Nicklaus Design Company/Chris Cochran -designed Valley Course in 2009 (and which is served by the Westin Golf Resort & Spa) suffered badly throughout the financial downturn. The original developer and owner, Bear Mountain Partnership, went out of business in 2010, and the site inevitably fell into creditor protection. Bear Mountain Holdings, a subsidiary of HSBC Canada, took over the property before selling it in the fall of 2013 to Ecoasis, a Victoria, BC-based company committed to developing sustainable resort and residential communities, and headed by Canadian Green Building Council founding member, Dan Matthews.
Since Ecoasis (which also owns properties in Whistler and at Hualalai, on the Big Island of Hawaii) took control the upgrades have been abundant. The courses have seen considerable investment and the number of club members have quadrupled.
Now, we have no hesitation in recommending a visit to Bear Mountain, located just 40 minutes northwest of British Columbia’s handsome capital city of Victoria– which you can reach from Seattle by boat via the Victoria Clipper or by seaplane on Kenmore Air.
The Bear Mountain stay-and-play package starts at $139 CDN per person and includes a round for two on the Valley Course (play the Mountain Course for an extra $50 per person) and one night in a Traditional Room at the Westin. Since being taken over by Ecoasis, Bear Mountain has been named Best Golf Getaway Resort by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.
Bear Mountain isn’t the only Jack Nicklaus design in British Columbia, of course. Seven years before working on Vancouver Island, the Golden Bear created Nicklaus North in the resort town of Whistler, 75 miles north of the city of Vancouver. Sitting on the southern edge of beautiful Green Lake, Nicklaus North has a number of memorable holes. None are more dramatic than the semi-island green 17th where a birdie two will earn you a free pint of beer at the Beacon Pub & Eatery. Just show your scorecard to the front desk at the Crystal Lodge & Spa, which is owned by the same group (GolfBC) that owns Nicklaus North and also Furry Creek GC, 50 miles south of Whistler. At Furry Creek, a birdie two on the gorgeous par 3 14th, which plays towards Howe Sound, will also net you a free pint.
Beat 80 at either Nicklaus North or Furry Creek and you receive a free entrée at the Beacon and, should you make a hole-in-one, your night’s accommodation at the newly-renovated Crystal Lodge is free.
A round at both courses and an overnight stay at the Crystal Lodge make up the Sea to Sky Getaway Package which starts at $199 CDN per person.
Another way to play Nicklaus North is by playing the Sea to Sky Golf Trail – a partnership between the two GolfBC courses and Big Sky in Pemberton, 20 miles north of Whistler. Three rounds and two nights costs $240 US in the spring, and $315 in summer. Alternatively, try the Golf Whistler Group Package – three nights and four rounds on the Whistler courses (Whistler GC, Nicklaus North, Fairmont Chateau Whistler, and Big Sky). This package starts at $125 CDN a day.
Play a round or two in Whistler and check out some of the town’s other activities and attractions and you’ll see why Whistler now draws more people in the summer than it does in winter.