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|The drivable par-4 18th hole is one of the signature moments on the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)|
BREMERTON, Wash. -- One's a tournament course ready to challenge the best golfers. The other's a local favorite that's plenty able as well -- walkable, enjoyable, affordable and playable.
The secluded, natural beauty and rolling topography of the Kitsap Peninsula entices Seattle residents to drive the 65-mile loop around the Puget Sound over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to experience the glory of Gold Mountain, owned by the city of Bremerton.
Players magically disappear into a forest of mammoth evergreens without a house or a highway in sight. The backdrop of the snow-capped peaks enhances scenery as good as anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
"You are at a place where you can relax and play golf," said Mark Knowles, the head professional at Gold Mountain. "The vision for both courses has held up over the years."
Architect Ken Tyson designed the 6,707-yard Cascade Course in 1971 as the true public municipal course, making it fun for all. He pushed bunkers well off to the side of greens. There's no water to worry about. The routing shifts gracefully as the land slides through the cedars and firs.
Knowles said a steady string of strong par 4s make the Cascade a tougher course off the tee than the Olympic. Locals take up the bulk of its tee times, while out-of-towners gravitate toward its more prestigious sister course.
Golfweek ranks the Olympic Course second among the state's top public courses and ninth in the country among munis. Tasked with building a tournament venue in the mid-1990s to complement the Cascade, the late John Harbottle III delivered a spectacular 7,168-yard layout that annually hosts college tournaments and has held two national championships for the United States Golf Association -- the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur.
The first USGA event reshaped how the Olympic course plays. The USGA reversed the nines and had Harbottle enlarge the pond near the 18th green, creating the ultimate risk-reward drivable par 4. From the staggered elevated tee boxes -- 325 yards from the tips, 271 yards from the blues, etc. -- every player must decide to either take on the pond and five bunkers or lay up left into the sliver of a fairway. Knowles said about 50 percent of college players go for it.
"It really just depends on what the wind does that day," Knowles said. "When there's a South wind, they lay up and wedge it in. In a North wind, you'll see a lot of guys going for that green. I think it really depends on your state of mind and how you are hitting the driver."
Knowles said there are stretches on the Olympic Course where players merely survive (like the first four par 4s on the front nine) and other spots (like the final four holes) where they can get strike back to gain a few strokes.
"One of the reasons Gold Mountain is so popular is that our courses have plenty of challenge, but they are fair," he said. "Even if you don't play well, you don't lose a bunch of balls. You can hit it and chase it and find it."
Friends Mike Sullivan and Craig Calbert regularly commute from Seattle to play the Olympic.
"Today I played every club in the bag," Sullivan said after a recent round. "That shows you the variety."
My man-crush on Gold Mountain Golf Club dates to the first time I laid eyes on the Olympic Course in 2009.
There isn't a bad hole on property. The uphill holes don't feel like the penal slogs designed at so many other mountain courses. Their yardages and strategy are well thought out. There's something special about watching downhill tee and approach shots soar against a backdrop of trees as tall as skyscrapers.
Dollar for dollar, golf at Gold Mountain is easily the best value in the country.
July 22, 2013
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 600 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Click here to read his golf blog, and follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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