Contributed by Garland Bayley
Palouse Ridge Golf Course (Pullman, WA)
Par 72 (7,308 yards)
Green Fees: $39 to $89 depending on time of day and time of year. Cart is included at “Peak” times.
Architect: John Harbottle
Review #1 – By Doug Rich (2010)
Most folks think of Eastern Washington as flat. Really, really flat. And desolate, too. That was my impression when I decided to attend Washington State University in the late 70’s. But what I found on the trip there was rolling hills covered in wheat, lentils, hay and just about anything else that would grow from the winter rains since the soils are deep and quite rich – their colors changing constantly with the seasons and harvests. Truly a beautiful part of the planet. Back then, the University’s golf course consisted of a rickety 9 holes on the east edge of the Campus. Not much to look at, but, it made for an excellent hilly route when I would go out there for my morning runs.
All this began to change in 2006 when the University closed the course and hired John Harbottle to design a minimalist approach to 18 holes of what can only be described as a course that makes you play your ball. Bring every club, every shot and a heavy dose of imagination as you play this track for the top-quality turf and a multitude of lies—elevation changes. The course is very receptive to bump-and-run shots, and, the golfer is rewarded well for being straight off the tee. As the greens are still young, I played much better after learning to take half a club off my approach distances.
Minimal use of trees gives Palouse Ridge a linksy feel to go along with the firm turf. The seasonal breezes can also change the character of the course considerably. The design allows you to safely play low to the ground on most of the holes. (Hint on all tee shots – the Fairways roll out very well thus shortening the holes considerably.) Most every hole rewards you with vistas of the rolling hillsides of The Palouse.
One of the signature characteristics of the course is the “whiskering” around all the bunkers – thick grass allowed to grow to 1’ high – an obvious homage to the mascot of WSU, The Cougars. While the bunkers are not difficult to hit out of, it makes you add elevation to any shot from same. Given a choice, you will want to play from the sand rather than from the whiskers.
Par is 36/36. The Tees are as follows:
- Crimson – 7,308 yds. 75.9/140
- Blue – 6,723 yds. 72.9/134 (I will typically play this set.)
- Gray – 6,172 yds. Men = 70.2/126, Women = 75.8/135
- Black – 5,552 yds. Women = 72.1/129
- Green – 5,106 yds. Women = 69.4/125
A few highlight holes:
#1 – Par 4 (346 – 463 yards): Aim your tee shot at the clock on Bryan Tower in the center of campus since the green will not be in view until you crest a rise in the fairway. It’s possible to have a downhill lie to your second shot to an elevated green, so, know your distances off the tee. The green is generally forgiving except for shots back and right which will be captured into a collection area.
#3 – Par 4 (362 – 484 yards): A huge sweeping dogleg left with waste area left to capture the overzealous draw. Take aim at the inside edge of the fairway bunker. Your mid-iron approach likely will involve the ball being above your feet played to a slender green guarded either side by bunkers. Par is an excellent score on this hole.
#5 – Par 5 (453 – 589 yards): On paper, this hole should be a Birdie opportunity, but, that’s why we don’t play the game on paper. Your Second shot is the key to this hole. If you hit a good drive, you will be sorely tempted to go across the waste area for the elevated and front-bunker-guarded green. The smart play is to hit a mid-iron to the fairway left of the waste area to put you within wedge distance of the somewhat bowl-shaped green.
#6 – Par 3 (146 – 253 yards): Par 3’s don’t normally make my highlight reel, but, this one is compelling to me for the variety of ways you can play it. The entire slope of the hole goes downhill right to left. The left side of the green is lined with bunkering and will catch many shots unable to hold the green. I’ve come to like a low cut that runs onto the green as the shot of choice. A high well-placed fade would also serve you well if you have the right club for it.
#10 – Par 5 (473 – 626 yards): A visually spectacular hole from the elevated tees that plays shorter than the markers. A good drive will roll out very well and a well-struck second shot will roll forever. I am of modest length and I have been either putting or chipping for Eagle about a third of the time playing from the next-to-back tees (566 yards). Go right on this hole and you will have significant work for a Par.
#12 – Par 4 (278 – 455 yards): This hole plays longer that the yardage indicates as it is all gently up hill from tee to green. Danger to the left and a somewhat forgiving slope to the right that will kick errant approaches toward the green.
#15 – Par 4 (271 – 369 yards): How can such a short hole create so much havoc in your game? You have multiple positions to play to in the fairway to either the left or right of 2 fairway bunkers, or, challenge the long carry to try to get to the green on your drive. The green is well guarded by a front bunker that hides a considerable ridge in the middle. Short, but, crafty – Think “Danny DeVito” when you play it!
#17 (527) & #18 (551) are 2 closing Par 5’s that will test your ability to close the deal. 17 can be gotten 2 in two if you want to challenge the water on your approach. A very large putting surface, so, getting to the green doesn’t guarantee a two-putt Bird. 18 plays up hill with hazard left and trees right that will come into play should you flare your tee shot. Any way you look at it, they will keep things interesting for a Match or Nassau to the very end.
The walk is by no means flat. I give it a 2.5 (out of 4) for walkability, but, it is certainly manageable. I consider it a similar walk as Chambers Bay near Tacoma. Aesthetics and Design gets 3.5 stars as Harbottle moved minimal amounts of earth yet created plenty of challenge without coming off as too gimmicky. (Can’t give it a 4 – gotta save those for the Pacific Dunes of the world.) Strategy and Shot-Making gets a 2 out of 2. You need every club in your bag, creativity and an ability to move the ball around – both left/right and high/low to get all this course has to offer. That’s a solid 8 – which is what I think this course deserves.
The regular Weekday Rate is $59 which includes a cart – $89 on weekends. The locals get a reduced rate. Off-season the fee drops to $45 & $69. Replays for the second 18 are also lower though I do not have them at hand. Be sure to stop for lunch between rounds at Banyan’s on the Hill – their full service restaurant and bar. Very nice menu selection and preparation though the average lunch will be in the $10 – $15 range.
Review #2 – By Garland Bayley (2009)
I truly enjoyed walking and playing Harbottle’s Olympic course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton, WA, and his Juniper Golf Club in Redmond, OR. Therefore, I was looking forward to walking and playing Palouse Ridge. I was sorely disappointed, and since I gave this course very bad marks for walkability, I have only added pictures illustrating the walking issues. Please note that since greens fees include a cart at peak times, any walker is forced to pay for a cart that he or she will not use.
Knowing little about the routing, I played the first hole and could see a green in the distance that might be a long par 3 or short par 4 second. I expected to walk around the corner to the left of the first green and find its tee. As it turns out, the green I saw was part of the short game practice area, which seemed totally out of place since it was so far from the club house.
I soon discovered a steep uphill walk to the second tee for a hole that led back to the clubhouse. Hoping that was the exception, I played the hole and headed for the third tee. The path leading there is shown below:
It is important to recognize that photographs do a very inadequate job of showing the severity of terrain. It was a very steep walk down to the third tee.
Having not realized what the unwalkable nature of the course would be, I failed to fully document what I found at the fourth hole.
The reason for this picture may not be very apparent, but it shows the anchoring of a rope that was attached to two sturdy metal poles to assist golfers in walking down and back from the cart path to the fourth tee. Not only was the course unwalkable, but the paths from the cart path to the tees were unwalkable!
The slope down to the 4th tee is so steep that they should build in some stairs or provide grapling hooks for the climb back up.
Leaving the fifth green you are faced with a fairly steep walk up to the sixth tee. The effort gains you a downhill shot to a par 3 green. I saw no need for the hole to play downhill as opposed to level or even slightly uphill.
After leaving the sixth green you need to walk down steep switch backs to the seventh tee.
When standing on the ninth tee, you see the green located well below the club house.
The ninth green, as pictured above, is located in a bowl at the bottom of the hill instead of farther up, which is a design trait that Harbottle employed at Juniper and the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain. After completing the hole, the walker must climb a steep slope before beginning the long trek to the 10th tee.
The real jilt to the walker comes in the walk from 9th green to the 10th tee. As we have already seen, the climb after the ninth green was longer than necessary. To get to the 10th tee you walk past the 18th green, which was built below the 10th tee in this picture.
While the steep climb gains the golfer a tee shot back down the other side of the hill, that is a lot of work for a small thrill. Furthermore, the walk would be much easier if the nines were reversed. There would be a climb to the first tee, but the transfer from the 9th green to 10th tee, which is right outside the club house, would be reasonable instead of the endurance test it is now.
To make matters worse, on 10 they rope off the fairway to keep the carts from damaging it, and they also force the walker with his push cart to walk out into the high rough, which contains those accursed stickers that attach themselves to your socks and constantly poke into your skin.
Several manageable green to tee transfers on the back nine allow me to give the course a one for walkability, if the trend on the front had been continued it would have received a zero.
The course is set in the Palouse hills of eastern Washington which have an attractive aesthetic all their own. Everything has a rounded look to it in that landscape, except the greens which were flat, as can be seen in this picture of the fifth green.
They chose to put very white sand in the bunkers which is an aesthetic that many will approve of, but I cannot imagine it matching anything in the surrounding landscape. Another aesthetic that bothered me was the stiff grass they chose to grow on the course. I felt like I was pushing my cart uphill the entire day at Palouse Ridge.
I would rate the course 2 out of 4 for Architecture and Aesthetics. The routing did not take the walker into account at all, and the green to tee transfers were challenging with little reward for the effort. Furthermore, the terrain was not used as well as it could have been.
Playability suffers from some of the ways the land was used to present a challenge to the scratch golfer while overly penalizing those with no hope of executing the required task. Strategy suffers from the flat greens that make any shot on the putting surface acceptable. Therefore, I deduct a point for playability and strategy.
Using The Walking Golfer Course Rating System, Palouse Ridge rates 4 out of 10 for me, with many of its issues deriving from a total disregard for the walker.
Review by Garland Bayley (2009)
Photos by Garland Bayley (2009)
The Walking Golfer Course Rating System
Total is out of 10 Points
0 – 4 points – Walkability
0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics
0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy