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._Ê
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.
Day 3: Circling Raven...from the "Tips"
Yes, you've already played it, but Circling Raven is worth a second look. This round, take a few steps back and tee it up from the Gold tees...if you dare._Ê
The difference between the Blue and Gold tees is significant: 611 yards, to be exact. Tacking on extra yardage doesn't just make the golf course more challenging, it literally changes the golf course. The 12th hole, a reachable par-5 for some from the Blues, becomes a tough fairway to reach from the Golds. By moving back to the tips, Circling Raven digs its talons into you and doesn't let go. Three par-3s exceed 200 yards; one, the 13th, measures 253 yards._Ê
Circling Raven may be one of the purest new additions to the canon of American golf. From the wooden cart paths that snake their way through marshland to the 620 rolling acres on which the course was built to its generous 25-acre practice facility, this refreshingly open, spacious and untarnished course is even more impressive when you pull out your wallet. Green fees never exceed $100 during the year._Ê
Where To Stay
Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort Hotel
US Highway 95
Worley, ID 83876
Coeur d'Alene Resort_Ê
115 S. 2nd St.
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
Nine major airlines fly into the Spokane, Wash., airport, including Delta, Southwest and United. After touching down, rent a car and head 45 minutes east to Circling Raven Golf Club and the Coeur d'Alene Casino Hotel.
Where To Eat
Shooters, between Coeur d'Alene and Circling Raven, serves up good bar grub and even better lake views. Cedars, a more upscale restaurant, offers similar sights. The no-frills Hudson Hamburgers in Coeur d'Alene has been grilling meat since 1907.
Go fly-fishing up the St. Joe River, America's highest navigable stream. Empty your pockets into one of the 1,800 gaming machines at Coeur d'Alene Casino, just feet from Circling Raven.