Salish Cliffs Golf Club, located 70 minutes south of Seattle, opened in September 2011 to immense fanfare. Today, the Shelton, Wash., layout continues to earn media acclaim while providing golfers with an unforgettable experience.
The 7,269-yard, par-72 Gene Bates-designed course is, along with the adjacent Little Creek Casino Resort, owned and operated by the Squaxin Island Tribe, which mandated Bates to create a layout that’s one with nature. Mission accomplished.
Despite 600 feet of elevation changes, Bates masterfully transitioned holes smoothly, so uphill and downhill holes will never make you never feel like you’re riding Space Mountain, which is how it seems at some similar tracks. You’ll love the serene 360-degree Kamilche Valley views and, since dense forest surrounds 16 holes, you’ll feel as though you and Bigfoot have the place to yourselves.
Bates’ tongued bunkers appear deep and penal but are actually very shallow, at least the fairway pits, and easy to escape. His stunning canvas also includes wide, immaculately maintained bent-grass fairways and large greens bordered by ryegrass rough and, beyond that, high waving fescue that digests errant shots.
While the test is very stern from the tips – a 75.4/137 course rating/slope – there are four other tee choices, so choose wisely. You’ll notice -more so if you play multiple rounds, as I did (twice) -every hole is distinct and the course contains some unique features.
For instance, depending on the day’s tee-marker setup, the drivable 305-yard, uphill par-4 second hole can measure shorter than the intimidating 291-yard, downhill par-3 third, which is encircled by high fescue. Thus, if you don’t hit the green or land short of it you’re dead. Count me among the deceased – twice.
The back nine is considered more difficult, largely because the five par 4s range from 411 to 455 yards. The fiendish 437-yard 14th was the pain in my back side, so to speak, since I doubled it twice. The hole requires a very long, uphill drive followed by a semi-blind, all-carry, downhill long-iron/hybrid over wetlands to a narrow, angled green with a tiny, right-front shelf. Despite two 260-yard drives, I had no chance.
The round concludes with a fun, 537-yard par-5, which shares an expansive 15,000-square-foot double green with the ninth hole. Concluding my second round, I perfectly wedged my third shot to the front right of the green – unfortunately the ninth green, to which I mistakenly aimed. Somehow I two-putted from about 200 feet (with about 30 feet of right-to-left break), finishing with an all-world, brain-fart par.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club, Shelton, WA