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Course Source: Mahogany Run, Circling Raven

The SportsXchange

IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Mahogany Run Golf Course in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

THE LAYOUT: This spectacular Caribbean course, designed by George and Tom Fazio, is located on the scenic north side of the island, about 20 minutes from the bustling resort town of Charlotte Amalie.

Opened in 1980, the sporty course plays to a deceptive 6,002 yards and a par of 70 from the back tees, with a USGA rating of 70.5 and a slope of 133. The ocean and several water features on the course come into play on nine holes.

The course had a tendency to dry out during years in which there was a drought, but in recent years a new irrigation system and total re-grassing of the greens made it even more delightful to play.

Golf Digest proclaimed it more of an engineering marvel than an architectural one -- the course had to be carved and blasted into an area of land that covers less than 110 acres.

Golf carts are required because of the elevation changes on the course.

DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Nevin Phillips.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Augusta National has Amen Corner, but Mahogany Run can boast the Devil's Triangle, a scary three-hole stretch on the cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean.

The 13th hole, a 327-yard par-4, plays along a precipice to a shelf-like, 25-foot-wide green that Golf Digest has called "one of the most beautiful settings for a putting green in the game of golf."

No. 14 is one of the most dramatic par-3s in the world, with a 173-yard tee shot across an inlet of the Atlantic to a green guarded by three bunkers, with the islands of Hans Lollick, Jost Van Dyke and Tortola as a backdrop.

Then comes the most difficult hole on the course, a 560-yard par-5, which plays to a shallow green guarded by a pond that covers the last 80 yards, with out of bounds beyond a green that slopes from front to back.

Players who negotiate the stretch without a penalty shot are awarded a certificate that reads, "I Survived the Devil's Triangle."

After golf, enjoy a gourmet meal at the Grille at Mahogany Run overlooking the course.

Then-Senator Barack Obama played the course during an Easter vacation break from his campaign in 2007, and former President Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Hank Aaron, Bill Gates and John Travolta are among the other dignitaries who tested the Devil's Triangle.

When asked how he played the course, Obama said: "With difficulty."

OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Mahogany Run is the only golf course on St. Thomas, but there are three on neighboring St. Croix. Probably the best is Carambola Golf Club, in the island's northwest valley, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.

The Buccaneer Resort, outside Christiansted, boasts a challenging course that was a favorite of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The Reef Golf Course in Teague Bay is a nine-hole layout that offers fun for the entire family and is located farther east than any other golf course in United States territory.

WHERE TO STAY: The major resorts on St. Thomas, including the Grand Beach Palace Resort, Bolongo Bay Beach Resort, the Frenchman's Reef and Morningstar Marriott Beach Resort, the Windward Passage Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and the Sugar Bay Resort and Spa, are only 15 or 20 minutes from Mahogany Run.

Among the fine boutique hotels and inns on the island are the Bellavista Bed and Breakfast, the Crystal Palace, the Flamboyant Manor Inn, the Mafolie Hotel and Bluebeard's Castle Resort -- formerly a villa built by the famed pirate for his lover, Mercedita, overlooking Charlotte Amalie and its magnificent harbor.

Most of the major cruise lines, including Princess, Holland America, Carnival, Disney, Celebrity, Radisson, Royal Caribbean and Cunard have Charlotte Amalie on their itineraries.

ON THE WEB: www.mahoganyrungolf.com

--Mahogany Run review by Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange

THE LAST RESORT: Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, Idaho.

THE LAYOUT: For destination golfers, the Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course deserves its lofty praise. The well-manicured course is picturesque, has a famous floating green and all the amenities one could ask for, from pre-round massages to world-class food.

But ask avid Northwest golfers for their favorite course on the east side of the Cascades, and they are likely to point you 40 minutes south to the small town of Worley, Idaho.

Tucked a short drive away from the Washington border sits Circling Raven, the gem of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe that operates the casino and hotel next door.

Designed by Gene Bates, Circling Raven winds through 620 acres next to the Coeur d'Alene National Forest. The par-72 course is 7,189 yards from the tips, and heed the advice of the starter to play from the blues (6,589) or whites (6,108) unless you're an accurate bomber who has played the course before.

There are five tee boxes in all, and a true test of golf awaits from each.

Circling Raven weaves along its expansive property with significant elevation changes and a well-thought-out design on every hole. No two shots feel the same, but a good score can certainly be had with fairly wide fairways on most holes and receptive greens that roll true and fast.

There is a distinct feel of Bandon Dunes-style golf. You won't find much trouble unless you're wayward off the tee, and most of the score-busting comes in the form of plentiful bunkers as well as wetlands and grasslands that snag errant shots.

When Golf Digest re-ranked its biennial list of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses to factor in greens fees in 2009, Circling Raven ($65-$95) was ranked No. 19.

Golfweek ranked Circling Raven No. 89 among its top 100 resort courses in October 2012, and Golf.com ranks it No. 90 among the best public golf courses in the United States.

DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Tom B. Davidson.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Tony the starter is chock full of information, and soak it all in while you can because Circling Raven's undulations, bunkers and waste areas aren't all easily viewable for first-time visitors to steer clear of. Once you're out on the course, the state-of-the-art golf carts provide GPS guidance and hole-by-hole overviews.

Consider your clubs selections very carefully. The elevation changes, particularly on several of the par 3s, can turn a good swing into a sideways bunker lie in the blink of a 6-iron when a 7-iron would have done the job.

The 18-hole journey begins with the No. 7 handicap on the course, a 513-yard par 5 with a hard dogleg left. A well-placed drive -- Tony will caution you about anything left -- makes this a reasonable opening birdie look on a green that slopes right to left.

From there, you're through the tunnel under the railroad tracks and to a 395-yard par 4 that plays uphill and has a dogleg to the right. One of the prettiest views of the course awaits at the par-3 third, which plays 217 yards, with a two-club drop down the valley and a green that is well-protected by big, deep bunkers you want no part of.

If you appreciate scenery and not ducking shots from other holes, Circling Raven has more than 8 miles of cart paths. Enjoy the wide swaths of blue grass as you approach No. 4 -- the hardest hole on the course at 406 yards from the gold tees.

The front nine also features the short eighth, 386 yards down the hill, but with danger to the right and a green again protected by bunkers. It's drivable, depending on the tee box you choose.

The trek back to the clubhouse on the outward half closes with the 474-yard ninth, which requires a big drive that avoids the wetlands down the left side.

The back nine begins with a fun carry off the tee at the 336-yard 10th, where it's wise to play to a full club and not leave yourself an awkward approach if you're not able to drive the green.

Bates' unique vision for each hole continues on the 11th, a winding uphill par-4 that showcases the bluegrass and huge space that Circling Raven takes advantage of.

If you play the tips, the 253-yard 13th with a forced carry of the wetlands is a monster. Heck, even at 218 from the blues it's no picnic.

When you reach No. 15, trees greet you on all sides for a downhill 426-yard par-4 that includes another dogleg.

The 18th plays alongside the road, where white stakes definitely come into play and can snag a solid back-nine score right out of your hands. And don't get overaggressive with the approach shot -- anything long or right will be stolen by the wetlands.

OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: The Coeur d'Alene Resort Course really should be on any golfer's bucket list, but it will run you between $150-$250 depending on the time of year, so check for good specials on twilight and replay rates.

A favorite of the locals, and where many of the employees of the resort frequent, is Avondale Golf Club, about 7 miles away in Hayden.

A 6,573-yard course that weaves among the trees, Avondale has a fun layout with water coming into play on several holes. Bring your straight driver, however, as the course is littered with white stakes that can balloon scores quickly.

Worley is less than an hour from Spokane, Wash., which has five fun courses that you wouldn't expect to see from a city-run operation. Each is unique and well worth the $30-35 greens fees.

Palouse Ridge on the Washington State campus in Pullman and the University of Idaho course are also local favorites.

WHERE TO STAY: The Coeur d'Alene casino has more than 300 rooms and gaming that includes slot machines, high-stakes bingo, off-track betting, table games and entertainment. Call well ahead of time, however, as events like the Ironman triathlon sell the hotel out quickly.

The Coeur d'Alene Resort also can book up quickly and is very pricey. For more reasonable accommodations, head to Spokane. You can drive from Spokane to Worley, up to Coeur d'Alene and back for 36 holes in a well-traveled day. We would advise staying in Spokane and replaying Circling Raven if you can't stay at the casino.

On the web: www.circlingraven.com

--Circling Raven review by Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
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