3 Days In The Idaho Panhandle
In our modern times, unless your last name is Trump, Kaiser (Bandon Dunes) or Kohler (Whistling Straits), chances are good that a new course with killer views will, eventually, sprout homes alongside its tightly mown fairways. After all, building golf courses ain’t cheap, and many new public access layouts are conceived with real estate in mind. Recently, however, that model has been changing.
Over the past decade or so, a number of excellent courses have sprung up on Native American Reservations with the hope that great golf will lure gamblers to their gaming oases. From Barona Creek Golf Club outside San Diego to Turning Stone Resort in upstate New York, golf on these tracks comes development-free (save the obligatory casino) and with unencumbered views—not condos—between holes. One such course in northern Idaho, Circling Raven Golf Course, is no different. It comes in at a massive 620 acres (nearly three times the size of your average golf course) and, along with Coeur d’Alene Resort, has made the region one of the most unlikely golf getaways.
Day 1: Circling Raven
After you arrive at the Spokane, Wash., airport, drive 45 minutes east to the Coeur d’Alene Casino. While the hotel is modest and the casino limited only to slots, what it lacks in charm, it makes up for in convenience. It’s just a gap wedge away from Circling Raven Golf Course.
Once you’ve settled in, head over to Circling Raven, a Gene Bates design that opened in 2003. As summer is the best time to play in the panhandle, you can tee off late in the afternoon and still get in 18 holes on this rolling, expansive course. (Take a cart, there’s a lot of room in between holes.)
If you find yourself playing in silence, enjoy it. You won’t see or hear planes or cars during most of your round. The Burlington Northern breaks the silence three times a week when it chugs along the railroad tracks dividing the course, but even that sound is a welcome reminder of time gone by.
From the individual, subterranean slots reserved for each rake to the out-of-sight bathrooms tucked away beneath two of its tee boxes, Coeur d’Alene Resort takes great pride in its appearance.
Despite not having as much room for its golf course, Coeur d’Alene manages to take advantage of its natural surroundings well. Its signature hole, the 14th, features the infamous movable “Floating Green.” The five-million-pound green is anchored in Lake Coeur d’Alene and is accessible only by a small ferry. Ranging from 100-175 yards (its length is controlled daily by a computer), the 14th doesn’t just add an innovative architectural element to the course, it addresses one of the course’s dilemmas: what to do when there’s not enough space for your golf course.
The 14th isn’t the only hole that incorporates the sparkling blue Lake Coeur d’Alene into its routing. The short par-4 13th tempts you to go for it off the tee, but challenges the player with an inlet off the tee.
Still, it’s the 14th and the world’s only floating green that lures most players to this immaculate layout. Don’t worry; despite being surrounded by water, the green is a robust 15,000 square feet. That statistic alone should boost your confidence on the tee box.