IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Salish Cliffs, Shelton, Wash.
THE LAYOUT: Gene Bates designed Salish Cliffs to merge the natural terrain and environment of the expansive area he was given to work with, and the course has a very similar feel to one of Bates' other highly acclaimed designs -- Circling Raven in Idaho.
Salish Cliffs opened in 2011 on 320 acres of land to outstanding reviews as one of the top new public courses in the country, including the No. 8 new course by Golf Week. It winds 7,269 yards from the tips through 600 feet of elevation change, featuring 68 bunkers with ragged edges filled with white Oregon sand, enhancing the already beautiful layout.
The course is maintained in immaculate condition, with the fairways consisting of bentgrass and the rolling greens playing fast and true.
Pine trees line many fairways, providing a unique and secluded experience on every hole. Holes that don't have significant elevation changes typically feature strong doglegs and tight angles to the green if drives aren't placed in the right spot.
The tips, or Championship tees, play to a 75.2 rating and 140 slope, while the Tournament tees are 6,766/72.6/133. The Players tees are the equivalent to white and while considerably shorter at 6,312 yards (70.5/128), are still quite challenging, especially when the trademark winds kick up.
Bates wanted the course to fit the land after the final destination for the course was selected out of three potential spots. He accomplished that goal in spades with a course that has the feel of being around far longer than it has.
HEAD PROFESSIONAL: David Kass.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Pristine weather is difficult to find in the Pacific Northwest outside of July through September, particularly in the area where Salish Cliffs sits, north of Olympia and south of Hoodsport, where the winds can pick up around the Olympic mountain range. If you get a calm, sunny day, there are few designs that top Salish Cliffs' in the state.
Do come prepared to add wind to the equation, and as the starter said with a chuckle: "Some golfers ask if we have a rotating course because some days it feels like all the holes are into the wind."
This isn't meant to steer you away, it's simply a regular element to account for when making your way around the beautifully designed course.
Also take heed to the starter's advice to take one direct look for any ball that finds the fescue and quickly move on. There is no out of bounds at Salish Cliffs, but fescue that is prominent throughout the course is thick and swallows balls into the abyss.
Naturally, that places a strong emphasis on driving accuracy. It's evident from the first tee box, a downhill 514-yard par 5 from the Tournament tees that demands an accurate drive between a large tree and fescue on the right and a bunker and red stakes on the left. A well-stuck drive does leave a reasonable look at reaching the massive green in two.
And therein lies the backbone of Salish Cliffs. You must drive the ball well to have good looks at the green, and crisp approach shots can help navigate multi-tiered greens.
As mentioned, one of the great characteristics of the course is the uniqueness of each hole. For example, the first par 3 is a 233-yard shot from the Tournament tees, but it's a good two-club shot steep downhill to a huge green you don't want to be on the wrong end of.
One of the signature holes is the 576-yard par-5 eighth, which can be stretched out to 601 yards from the tips. Making your way back to the clubhouse on the ninth hole, you're greeted with a 380-yard par 4. The drive requires a decent carry, and if you navigate a reachable bunker on the right side, you have a clear look at the green, which shares a putting surface with the 18th hole. Anything down the left side requires carrying water and a bunker in front of the green.
The highest point on the golf course is roughly 600 feet above sea level on the 12th hole. It's also the narrowest fairway on the course and protected by reachable bunkers on the left. Depending on the pin placement and conditions, approach shots can be rolled onto the right side of the green, which slopes markedly to the left.
The devilish 414-yard par-4 14th hole was voted one of the "Great Holes of the Northwest" by Cascade Golfer magazine readers. It requires a striped drive in the fairway to set up a reasonable second shot. The green lies just past a ravine, and the surface runs away from you. Any drive not in the fairway begs for a layup down the left side.
Bates has said his favorite hole is the 16th. It's the longest par 4 on the course at 428 yards from the Tournament tees and features a big dogleg right around three bunkers. But it's a potential birdie hole that plays downhill and is the No. 10 handicap hole on the course.
Our money for favorite hole, however, is on the 18th, a well-conceived 514-yard par 5 from the Tournament tees that requires a game plan. A big drive down the right-center will clear a bunker and get significant roll on the sloped fairway. Or, aim further left and consider it a three-shot hole.
For the aggressive players who hit a straight drive, they're rewarded with one of the great approach shots on the course. The 18th is reachable in two, but it requires a full carry over water and a swath of four bunkers in front of the enormous putting surface. Hit the green, however, and it's a surface that runs uphill to the back and is receptive to long irons and hybrids, with an eagle putt as the reward to close out your day.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: If you're driving from Seattle or Tacoma, there are several excellent golf courses on the way to Shelton. Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, runs along the Puget Sound in University Place just south of Tacoma, while the Home Course, which co-hosted the 2012 U.S. Amateur with Chambers, is very similarly styled and much more affordable option in DuPont.
Another good value is The Golf Club at Hawks Prairie, just north of Lacey.
The best bet is to travel to Shelton, stay the night at the casino resort after playing Salish and hit one or two of the other courses on the return trip.
WHERE TO STAY: The Little Creek Casino Resort is a stone's throw from the driving range and offers food and entertainment in addition to gambling. For those not keen on the gambling scene, there are plenty of lodging options in Olympia, or travel north of Shelton for quaint hotels in Hoodsport along the Hood Canal.
On the web: www.salish-cliffs.com
--Shalish Cliffs review By Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
THE LAST RESORT: The Fairmont Orchid and Mauna Lani Resort; Francis H. I'i Brown Golf Courses, Kohala Coast, Hawaii.
THE LAYOUT: The Brown courses, North and South, technically are public courses that wind gracefully through lava fields on the site of two magnificent vacation hideaways -- the Mauna Lani Resort and the Fairmont Orchid.
The Mauna Lani Resort community is located on historic land along the Kohala Coast of the Big Island near the birthplace of Kamehameha the Great at the foot of three volcanoes -- Mauna Kea, Kilauea and Mauna Lani -- whose lava flows created the land on which the resort is situated.
In addition, the Puako Petroglyph Preserve and the Kalahuipua'a fishponds are located adjacent to the Fairmont Orchid.
Conde Nast Traveler has consistently rated Mauna Lani among the best golf resorts in the world, and Golf magazine has called it "one of the most breathtakingly beautiful seaside golf courses in the world," comparing the South Course to Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Turnberry.
Even though the Francis H. I'i Brown courses are side by side, and each layout includes nine holes from the original course designed in 1981, the lava flows have helped create two entirely different golf experiences.
While the South course is located on the prehistoric Kaniku lava flow, which is black in color, the North was built on a much older field of reddish lava and rolling terrain dotted by kiawe (mesquite) trees.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Tom Sursely.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The Senior Skins Game, featuring the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, delivered to the U.S. mainland an annual televised postcard from the Francis H. I'i Brown Golf Courses for 11 years through 2000.
The resort and courses at Mauna Lani were the dream of Francis H. I'i Brown, perhaps Hawaii's greatest golf champion who held the Hawaii, California and Japan amateur championships concurrently in 1930.
Brown, a descendant of Papi I'i, a general under King Kamehameha, never lived to see the resort, which was completed by his partner, Noboru Gotoh of the Tokyu Corporation in Japan. Undoubtedly, Brown would love it, especially the magnificent sets of par-three holes on both courses.
"We think Mauna Lani has arguably the best collection of par-three holes in the world," said the late Dennis Rose, longtime head pro at the Brown Courses.
Most famous from its exposure during the Senior Skins Game is No. 15 on the South Course, where the tee shot from the championship tee must carry 196 yards into the wind across an inlet of Iliilinaehehe Bay, but it is much more friendly from the resort tee.
Not as famous, but equally stunning visually, is No. 17 on the North Course, which plays only 132 yards from the back, elevated tee within an amphitheatre of lava, with the grass and sand providing a remarkable contrast to the rock.
Perhaps the best of the longer holes on the property is No. 9 on the North course, No. 1 in difficulty on the card, a 455-yard monster that plays straight down to the beach alongside the Fairmont Orchid on the left. The green is guarded by a large lake and a long, narrow bunker on the right, with heliotrope trees dotting the landscape.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: In all, there are 20 golf courses on the Big Island, with more on the way. Right up the road are two other side-by-side resorts with their own magnificent courses, Mauna Kea (with a course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.) and Hapuna (designed by Arnold Palmer). Just to the south of Mauna Kea is Waikoloa, with three excellent resort courses -- the Kings Course, Waikoloa Village and Waikoloa Beach. Also nearby is Hualalai Golf Club, which hosts the Champions Tour every year, and Kona Golf Club has the Ocean and Mountain courses. For a truly unique experience, play at Volcano Golf and Country Club in Volcanoes National Park.
WHERE TO STAY: The Fairmont Orchid is a AAA Four-Diamond resort nestled on 32 acres of oceanfront property within the 3,200-acre Mauna Lani Resort community, with spectacular views of the Big Island's five mountains, including Mauna Kea, the world's tallest peak when measured from its base on the floor of the Pacific.
Right next door is the Mauna Lani Resort and its famous beachside bungalows.
Others resorts nearby include Mauna Kea, Hapuna, Waikoloa and the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
ON THE WEB: www.maunalani.com; www.fairmont.com/orchid
--Brown Golf Courses review By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange