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Coeur d'Alene resort's island green only the start of the eccentric luxury golf at Northern Idaho's drama king

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort - Island Green
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You've never seen anything like Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort's floating island green. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

The floating island green on the Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort's 14th hole, in a 26 mile-wide lake in Northern Idaho, just might be the coolest shot in golf.

COUER D'ALENE, Idaho - It sounds as corny as a carnival game at first blush. You're a sophisticated golfer, too. A grown man. You're not going to fall for this. A floating island green with a water taxi ride to the putting surface? Certificates of achievement handed out to any golfer whose first tee shot lands on the green?

What is this, Disneyland? You don't need these tacky theatrics. You're a serious golfer. I'm not here for the island green, you'll tell your buddies. They'll nod as you assure them your golf tastes run much more high-brow than this.

Then, hours later, everyone's stepping up to the 14th tee box, looking out over the glistening blue Idaho water toward that floating green and ... well, damn if getting one of those certificates isn't suddenly the most important thing in the world to you.

Only now that 175 yards or so from the tees looks like a blue mile. And that 15,000-square-foot green complex framed by colorful busts of flowers on its sides strangely appears about as easy to touch down on as a runway in a blinding snowstorm.

"It's about mind over intimidation on this shot," William T. Reagan, general manger of the Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort, says as he steps up to take his swing.

It turns out that most recreational golfers don't exactly have steel traps for heads. For more than 30,000 golf balls a year are recovered in the water off Coeur d'Alene's famous island green. Thirty thousand balls a year lost on one golf hole ... in Northern Idado, where the winters shut down the courses for five months.

Turns out that the floating island green isn't a gimmick. It's a graveyard.

And it's arguably the coolest single shot in golf.

Coeur d'Alene's island green puts other famous island greens to shame. It's not in some golf-course-designed little lake. It's out in the Coeur d'Alene Lake, a massive, 26 mile-wide body of water that's a vacation draw in its own right. Going from playing other island green holes to playing Coeur d'Alene's floating green 14th is like switching from a lifetime of eating Spam to munching on Kobe beef.

There's nothing quite like standing on that tee, shooting over at that floating green, knowing it's either certificated glory or egregious plop, with no gray area and no second chance.

While Coeur d'Alene's course rules actually ingeniously insist that you take a second shot from the tee if your first splashes - since everybody is going to take two shots anyways - and only then after a second plop can you drop on the green to play four, the certificates are only earned with a first successful green landing.

Even Bill Clinton couldn't talk the certificate makers into a mulligan award exception. They do their work right on the water taxi, writing in the name of the lucky few, as a Coast Guard-certified captain guides the tiny vessel with the wood-polished interior to the floating green.

Yes, you have to dock to putt. How cool is that?

Go ahead and drop the unaffected facade. By now, no one will be buying it anyway.

"It's certainly the single most memorable hole I've ever played," vacationing golfer Gary Williams said. "My wife would even like this golf course."

If James Bond designed a golf course, he'd come up with something like Coeur d'Alene. This place is packed with fun high-end extras and intriguing gadgets. You warm up on a practice range that has you shooting into the lake. Flags float on buoys in the water, and you use special floating water balls that have the same weight and flight characteristics as regular golf balls.

Then, you hop into a golf cart that may be a better ride than your actual ride. You know, the car you're making monthly payments on. Coeur d'Alene's golf carts have mahogany paneling, chrome wheels, tinted windshields and plush, fullback, heated leather seats. You could take one of these things to the prom.

Each group also gets assigned a forecaddie - who will sprint out ahead to track your wayward shots and provide course knowledge, no small bonus on a somewhat quirky design from course architect Scott Miller that defies more than a few conventions.

Including any thought that golf cannot be endlessly entertaining.

Coeur d'Alene Resort owner and original developer, Duane Hagadone, came up with the idea for the floating island green when he watched how the mills used to move logs down the lake (in controlled floats).

"He knew he wanted something different than anything anyone else had," Reagan said.

Hagadone got it. Now golfers get to enjoy a course where the mold wasn't just broken - but tossed in the lake. To float.

The Verdict on The Coeur d'Alene

The Coeur d'Alene isn't just one unforgettable golf hole. The 11th through 14th holes all play along the lake. No. 12 is a long par 3 where you shoot underneath the shadow of a hulking lakeside luxury condo building and have to make sure you don't fly the green in the back and end up fishing with your 9-iron. No. 13 might be the best hole on the course, but sandwiched by the two showy par 3s, it can get lost.

Along with some of your golf balls in the two water-forced carries in this short par 4.

You can't just pull out clubs by rote at Coeur d'Alene. You need to think about what you're hitting off the tee. The front nine features a devilish three-hole stretch that could make even Nelson Mandela lose his patience. It starts with No. 4, a tiny, terrifying par 4 (307 yards from the tees most golfers will play it from) that immediately curves sharply around tall trees, leaves almost no room for landing space error and then curves back up to a green high up on a hill that you can barely fathom, let alone see, from the tee.

If it wasn't for 14, No. 5 would be the hole everyone talks about, with its rock wall blocking the flag, a curving, dipping, rising bunker that covers the whole area from tee to green, a second rock wall to the side and that stunning blue lake ahead over a crest. After that, just when you think you've figured out the unpredictable, Miller makes it back-to-back par 3s with a steep downhill shot straight toward the lake on No. 6.

All these nooks and crannies, shots around rocks, deep vegetation on the sides of steep hills (not to mention that floating green that weighs 5 million pounds) makes for some interesting maintenance issues. Coeur d'Alene handles these in its unique, upscale, eccentric manner as well with a night maintenance program.

"The course is frequently worked on very late into the night," Director of Operations Brendan Lenihan said. "It will be pitch black and the superintendent's staff will still be out there."

It turns out Coeur d'Alene's anything but carnival. More like obsessive genius. And you'll love it.

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Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort - Hole 5Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort - Idaho

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • The Coeur d'Alene Resort

    blake wrote on: Oct 1, 2010

    This course is just way too amazing, we played 3 rounds here in 2 days and still didnt want to leave, i hope i win the lotto so i can live here during the golf season