There’s something entirely unnerving about standing on the tee of a short hole and aiming at a green totally surrounded by water where the only connection to dry land is a boat. The fact that it is a handsome boat with a sleek white hull and piloted by an attractive lady skipper with a pretty sleek hull of her own is still not enough of a distraction to ease the terrorising prospect of the shot.
At least at Sawgrass there is a sliver of land to make the connection to the green at the legendary 17th, but here at the 14th at Coeur d’Alene there is nothing, only the vast expanse of the Coeur d’Alene lake and the prospect of at least a 150-yard carry across an imposing stretch of it to find salvation. Show up on the wrong day and the computerised re-measuring system of the world’s only floating green will have towed it out to make that carry more than 200 yards. There are few lonelier spots than the 14th tee at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, but if your tee shot should make it to terra firma, the journey with the twin sleek hulls offers a wonderful opportunity to glow in the achievement of the moment. And on the return journey the lady captain of the good boat Putter – what else could it be called? – will present you with a personalised certificate to mark your achievement. And very proud of it you will be.
This is Idaho in the Inland Northwest of the United States where the skies are big, the landscape is spectacular and the golf is a lot less well known than it deserves to be. It is true that it demands some effort of will and some logistical travel planning to seek it out, but the effort brings more than its own just reward.
The golf course at the Coeur d’Alene Resort is one of a fine collection of courses in northern Idaho and neighbouring Washington State. It lies 30 miles east of the city of Spokane, Washington, and only 100 miles south of the Canadian border. Flanked by the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, the resort enjoys a glorious setting overlooking the lake. And it’s not just about the floating green, this Scott Miller-designed layout is in many ways the perfect holiday golf experience. Tough enough to be testing, but quite amenable if your game is in good enough shape.
In the city of Spokane itself (the ‘a’ is soft) there are also four public courses within a ten-minute drive of the city centre, all of them enjoying a fine reputation and offering what is in effect country club-style golf at public course prices of, on average, $27 a round.
Further to the east there is another resort with the Coeur d’Alene name attached to it, but this one is the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort. It’s confusing until it is explained that Coeur d’Alene is the name of the Indian tribe that for generations gathered along the banks of the lake of the same name and at the mouth of the sleepy St Joe river, to fish, camp, dig water potatoes and share stories of their people.
Today the tribe owns and operates the Casino Resort and its Circling Raven Golf Club. Eighteen years ago the Casino was a modest bingo hall; today, after six expansion phases, it is a luxury resort with more than 200 bedrooms, a spa and a 100,000 square-foot casino.
Architect Gene Bates laid out the Circling Raven Golf Course, named in honour of one of the most powerful and spiritual chiefs of the Coeur d’Alene, in 620 acres of lush, forested landscape offering him a huge canvas to work on. The result is a beautiful and testing golf course where the only other golfers you are likely to see from the 1st tee to the 18th green are your playing partners.
Across the state line, tucked into the southwest corner of Washington State, is the Palouse Ridge Golf Club, home course of Washington State University and regarded as the third best college course in the United States. John Harbottle laid out this fine challenge in a beautiful setting on the rich, fertile prairie surrounded by pine-dotted ridges and rolling farms.
If the excitement of this 7,300-yard battle across terrain where the only piece of reasonably flat land belongs to the local airport, then there is always rafting on two of the most renowned white water rivers, Hells Canyon on the Snake River and the legendary Salmon River, the two deepest river gorges in North America.
Personally, I would stick with the golf in this fascinating and relatively unexplored part of the US for visitors from this side of the Atlantic. The season pretty well matches our own and the courses offer incredibly good value for money.