Buckle up, folks, and welcome to the sixth and final installment of America’s Best Golf Road Trips, a GOLF.com series in which our well-traveled writers are guiding you through some of the most thrilling itineraries for golfers with a nose for the open road. Each journey has been built around golf but we’ve also sprinkled in a few other sights and stops along the way. Bon voyage!
Previous installments: Lake Michigan Loop | Appalachian Mountains Trail | Carolina Lowcountry | Golden Coast | Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail
I moved to Seattle this past summer, which makes me the resident expert on all things Pacific Northwest — and boy, is there a lot that falls under my jurisdiction! While the word is out on Bandon Dunes, in neighboring Oregon, Washington State has quietly accumulated an incredible slate of public-access courses. You’ll see why with this breathtaking week in the Evergreen State.
Start point: Spokane International Airport, Spokane, Wash.
End point: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Day 1: Eastern Washington
There’s no better way to begin a road trip than touching down in a small, friendly airport. Welcome to Spokane International! One terminal, three concourses, unlimited possibilities ahead.
Course No. 1: Palouse Ridge Golf Club, Pullman, Wash.
After a morning flight, trek some 90 minutes south to the pride of Pullman: Palouse Ridge Golf Club. Set on the edge of Washington State’s campus, Palouse Ridge has been discussed as one of the premier college courses in the country. In the country! So, it’s time to study up for what’s sure to be an action-packed week of golf.
Architect John Harbottle was a lifelong admirer of golf in Scotland; at Palouse Ridge he focused on fun and made a big, playable golf layout. The course measures 7,300 yards from the tips, boasts expansive fairways and is playable through the air or on the ground. It’s beautiful, too, set against a backdrop of rolling hills, pines and farmland. Who knew a trip to Pullman was just what you needed?
Day 2: Wine Country
Well, it’s all wine country around here — but we don’t hear you complaining.
Course No. 2: Wine Valley Golf Club, Walla Walla, Wash.
Welcome to Walla Walla, the city so nice they named it twice! Wine Valley GC, like Palouse Ridge, is only a decade old and represents some of the best of creative 2000s architecture. Dan Hixson is responsible for the “inland links” design, which will win you over with its open terrain, challenging greens and firm, fast conditions in an open, epic setting. The rugged bunkering, fescue grasses and windswept terrain only add to the effect. Wine Valley is a blast, and because you’re still in remote eastern Washington, you’ll pay a fraction of the green fee you’d pay near some bustling metropolis. And the post-round Cab Sauv is fresher, too.
Day 3: Whoa.
We’d recommend an early start from Walla Walla, because this is the single longest drive of the trip.
Course No. 3: Gamble Sands, Brewster, Wash.
Course No. 3.5: QuickSands
Planning a road trip requires some difficult decision-making, and once you’ve arrived at Gamble Sands you’re going to be facing a serious dilemma. Do you play the brand-new David McLay Kidd short course QuickSands — which has holes ranging from 70-130 yards — as a warm-up to your round on the big course, or do you treat it as an evening dessert? With any luck, you can do both.
Regardless, the anchor of the property is the Sands Course, a rollicking course on an epic property designed by McLay Kidd, a delightful sequel to his work at Bandon Dunes. (Yeah, the original Bandon Dunes. That was his course!) You’re in the midst of Washington’s high desert but the course overlooks the Columbia River, which only adds to the sensation you’re having an authentic links experience. A bucket-list round. Spend the night delighting in the rustic-chic lodging and rest up; there’s plenty still to go.
Day 4: Suncadia!
The “Seattle” road signs will give you the unmistakable sensation that you’re driving toward civilization, but you’re not there just yet.
Course No. 4: Prospector Course, Suncadia Resort, Cle Elum, Wash.
Course No. 4.5: Rope Rider Course (Suncadia)
Suncadia Resort is enormous; it’s a sprawling, 6,400-acre property that serves as a retreat from the city for Seattleites and adventurers alike. It can be a challenge to build a golf course with any soul inside the confines of a massive resort property, but this Arnold Palmer design does an effective job of helping you escape into nature. Like the rest of the courses thus far this trip, this is a post-millennium course that’s designed for your enjoyment. If you’re looking for a double, add the Rope Rider course for 36 holes of delightful, scenic resort golf.
Day 5: The USGA Experience
We’re skirting south of Seattle proper, but there’s no doubt that you’re closer to a population center now. One great bit of news about that: The golf courses are closer together.
Course No. 5: The Home Course, DuPont, Wash.
Course No. 6: Chambers Bay Golf Course, University Place, Wash.
Mileposts: 668 and 680
You’re in for a day. First, snag a morning tee time at The Home, a Mike Asmundson design that opened in 2007, just in time to help co-host the 2010 U.S. Amateur. The tournament was particularly significant because it was the first time it had been held at a public course — and in fact it was held at two public courses when you include The Home. Soak in the views of the Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and Mt. Rainier, and enjoy walking the same fairways as Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and eventual winner Peter Uihlein.
Head over to Chambers Bay, where you’ll grab lunch and sit on the patio as you admire the adventure that awaits. You already likely know about Chambers: it’s a former mine that has been transformed into a new-age super-muni. The course was sensational as the 2015 U.S. Open host site (with the exception of the greens, which weren’t great but have been completely redone) and there are few golf courses you’d rather be on when the sun is setting. Time your afternoon up right and you can enjoy the day’s waning hours as you play along the train tracks overlooking the Puget Sound before turning inland. Chambers rules.
Day 6: The Grand Finale
Let’s finish strong!
Course No. 7: Gold Mountain Golf Club, Bremerton, Wash.
Course No. 8: Salish Cliffs, Shelton, Wash.
Mileposts: 710 and 749
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better one-two muni punch than Chambers Bay and Gold Mountain. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a starker contrast between two nearby courses. Where Chambers is treeless, Gold Mountain is hewn from the Pacific Northwest’s characteristic pines. While it’s just 25 miles from downtown Seattle, there’s no direct route (the most direct involves a ferry) so you remain a world away as you trek the Olympic Course. One strange side note: Even though the course opened in 1996 (designed by John Harbottle, the same guy behind Palouse Ridge) it’s actually the oldest course on this trek. How many states have pumped out more top-notch public courses than Washington since 2000?
In the afternoon, you’ll conclude with a trip to Salish Cliffs, which opened in 2011 and instantly became one of the country’s greatest (and most scenic) casino courses. Any course that can include “cliffs” in its name and has the views to back it up is worthy of praise, and Salish Cliffs walks the walk.
When you hole out on No. 18, you have three options. You can head straight to the SeaTac Airport, just an hour away. You can take the rest of your unspent budget to the tables at the adjacent casino, reflecting on the week’s adventures over some dinner and blackjack. Or you can start looking at real estate, realizing that you’ve been sleeping on Washington this entire time.