Little Creek Casino Resort

There are many good reasons to visit the Seattle area, but one of the best is to stay and play golf at Little Creek Casino Resort.

The casino and its award-winning course, Salish Cliffs Golf Club, are owned and operated by the Squaxin Island Tribe. The Shelton, Wash., resort is conveniently located just 75 minutes from Seattle, 20 minutes from Olympia, and a quick ride from Yakima, Wash., and Portland, Salem and Eugene, Ore.

Little Creek has nearly 190 luxurious guest rooms, and the Indian-style gaming casino offers more than 1,000 slots and table games. Seven dining options range from casual espresso cafe to fine dining. The new Skookum Creek Event Center hosts big-name live entertainment — comedy, music and other shows — and other events for up to 2,000 people.

In 2012, the resort opened a new full-service spa, cigar and wine lounge and state-of-the-art RV Park. The Seven Inlets Spa features seven personal care suites, relaxing massage, eucalyptus steam rooms, saunas, manicures and pedicures, hot stone therapy, rejuvenating facials and exfoliating scrubs.

However, the best enticement for golfers is Salish Cliffs, which opened in September 2011 and immediately earned “best new course” accolades from countless national and regional publications, including Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine, Golfweek and LINKS. The Gene Bates-designed layout is ranked sixth (second among public courses) in Golf Digest’s 2013-2014 “Best in State” ranking for Washington and also cracked the top 10 in Golfweek’s “Best Casino Courses” ranking.

Upon checking into the casino hotel, you won’t need your car again until checkout. All the exciting off-course action is under one roof, while golfers are chauffeured up the hill to the architecturally cool, timber-log clubhouse in style — a souped-up, eight-passenger Cadillac Escalade golf cart.

The Tribe tabbed Bates to seamlessly marry the layout to the native landscape and wildlife. Bates — whose many highly acclaimed creations include another northwest head-turner, Idaho’s Circling Raven — delivered. Salish Cliffs became the first “Salmon-Safe” certified golf course after passing an exhaustive assessment verifying the Tribe’s commitment to protecting native habitat, managing water runoff, reducing pesticides and advancing environmental practices throughout the region.

The exciting 7,269-yard journey up and down 600 feet of elevation changes includes 360-degree vistas of the beautiful Kamilche Valley. With thick forest enfolding all but two holes, it’s easy to forget other golfers are on the course and that civilization is just a short Cadillac Escalade golf-cart ride back down the hill.

It’s hard to believe the immaculately manicured Salish Cliffs — whose back tees carry a stout course rating/slope of 75.4/137 — opened less than two years ago, as the ryegrass rough and high, waving fescue surrounding the wide bent-grass fairways and generously sized putting surfaces appear as though they’ve been part of the landscape forever.

This is a stern-yet-fun course to play thanks to a plethora of unique holes. To wit, depending where the day’s tee markers are placed, the drivable 305-yard, uphill par-4 second hole can actually measure shorter than the next hole, an unforgiving 291-yard, downhill par-3.

Salish Cliffs1

The more-difficult back nine’s five par 4s are beastly, measuring between 411 to 455 yards. Two rounds verified I have no solution for the 437-yard 14th hole. To reach the narrow, angled green in regulation you must crush a drive up the left side, followed by a semi-blind, all-carry long iron/hybrid over a waste area to the putting surface. Even laying up leaves an awkward pitch over the junk.

Concluding your round on a 15,000-square-foot double green is also memorable, particularly if you mistakenly hit the day’s final approach to the right-hand, ninth-hole side, leaving yourself a 200-foot birdie putt, as did yours truly.

Grab some breakfast or lunch at the clubhouse’s Salish Cliffs Grille, where you can review your round indoors or outdoors, downstairs or on the second-floor mezzanine and wrap-around deck, which overlooks the double green. The bar also has big-screen televisions.

You’re also in great hands for dinner. Little Creek’s signature Island Grille is the South Sound’s premier steak, seafood and chop house. Next door is the Creekside Buffet, which offers delicious fresh local seafood prepared before your eyes, and tender prime rib and juicy steak. The Starlight Lounge boasts exclusive Little Creek Ale and a full palate of regional selections from Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado.

Water’s Edge Café, located in Little Creek’s smoke-free casino, offers quick meals such as burgers and salads. The new Skookum Spirit Cigar & Wine Lounge features a humidor stocked with more than 70 different premium cigar names, top-shelf spirits and a great tapas menu.

Gaming includes hundreds of slot titles, from penny slots to high-stakes machines. Table games include craps, roulette, blackjack, royal match, lucky ladies, Spanish 21, emperor’s challenge pai gow poker, crazy 4 poker and ultimate Texas hold ‘em. There’s also poker, blackjack, bingo, keno and pull tabs.

Exhausted after 36 holes of golf and my outstanding Island Grill filet dinner, I unsuccessfully played a couple of hands of blackjack before deciding to head upstairs and hit the sack before my early morning departure. On my way out of the casino the slots beckoned me back, whereupon a quarter slot machine swallowed 10 bucks before my butt hit the seat. I knocked back a couple of Little Creek Ales in the Starlight Lounge, then, feeling lucky, I sought out a dollar slot machine, finally finding a vacant one. I fed the machine my absolutely final $10 bill and, on my third play, bells began ringing and lights flashed as I watched the amount of my winnings continue to rise until it reached $3,400!

“I can’t believe I won $3,400!” I blurted, throwing my arms in air with gusto.

The old lady to my right turned and, with great sarcastic pleasure, said, “What the hell are you talking about, mister? It’s the penny slots, not the dollar slots. You won $34.”

Despite returning to earth at warp speed and clearly being more exhausted than I thought, it was just another memorable moment at a memorable destination.

The Lowdown: Little Creek Casino Resort

• The resort is also a great base for a day trip to play a round at Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, which is just a 50-minute drive north in University Place, Wash. Chambers Bay is ranked 25th among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses 2013-2014.”

• Golf tee times: www.salish-cliffs.com; 360-462-3673

• Lodging reservations: www.little-creek.com; 800-667-7711

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