Away Game: Idaho
North By Northwest
The sun had just dipped below the horizon -- the part of the evening some photographers call "the golden hour" because of the light's warm, diffuse glow. As I packed my car, having just finished 18 holes at the Idaho Club, the air was cool and quiet, almost impossibly so. "Look over there," club owner Chuck Reeves said in a stage whisper. A brawny moose and her calf had moseyed out of the trees and were easing onto the otherwise empty course. "Never loses its thrill," said Reeves.
I had come to Northern Idaho a couple of days before, drawn mainly by a famous man-made contraption: the world's only floating green, at the Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course, No. 75 on Golf Digest's ranking of America's 100 Greatest Public Courses.
Yet what impressed me most, in the end, was the area's natural side: the shimmering lake, the towering ponderosa pines, the snow-capped peaks on the not-too-distant horizon, the moose.
To get there I flew to Spokane, Wash., about half an hour from the Idaho border. In addition to Coeur d'Alene and the Idaho Club, I played Circling Raven Golf Club and StoneRidge. One knock on the Coeur d'Alene Resort course is that "it's kind of showbiz," as one Idaho golfer put it. True enough -- but if you accept that, it's a blast. The whole experience is over-the-top, starting with the mahogany boat that ferries you to the course from the resort. The golf carts have seat warmers and adjustable steering. There's a massage therapist stationed at the range or inside the golf shop's front door, ready to give you a pre-round back rub that's included in your green fee. (Take five minutes before you play and try it; you won't be sorry.) At the range, you hit out into the lake. The balls float and are gathered by boat.
Back when they were building the course, resort co-owner Duane Hagadone told architect Scott Miller he wanted visiting golfers to shoot a couple of strokes better than their average--the idea being that everyone leaves happy. Mission accomplished. With the exception of the 14th's floating green, there aren't many forced carries, and the fairways are mostly bowl-shaped, resulting in few lost balls.
The course isn't entirely benign. Since 2002, they've added 17 fairway bunkers, brought in about 250 trees, and added new tees on half the holes. Nevertheless, its USGA Slope Rating is just 119, even from the 6,803-yard back tees.
Circling Raven, about half an hour south of Coeur d'Alene on Highway 95, is a far more robust test of golf. Just do yourself (and everyone behind you) a favor and play one set of tees forward from what you'd think. It's not that the Gene Bates-designed course is unfair. To the contrary, there are many alternate approaches and bailout options. It's just that you won't reach the bailout options if you're playing from too far back. Again and again you'll be asked to hit driver or 3-wood over a big stretch of native grasses, wetland, a water hazard, or all of the above. Its back-tee Slope: 144.