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|No. 18 on the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain: Among the most thrilling finishes in tournament golf. (Jason Scott Deegan/TravelGolf)|
BREMERTON, Wash. -- Long before it became fashionable to be a municipal golf course worthy of championship golf -- ala the Holy Trinity of U.S. Open venues at Chambers Bay, the South Course at Torrey Pines and the Black Course at Bethpage -- it was the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club that embodied great government-owned golf.
The Olympic Course, built in 1996 by John Harbottle III to complement the older Cascade Course built in 1971 by the city of Bremerton, has won more awards from various golf publications than any of the public golf courses in Washington.
Despite its remote location on the Kitsap Peninsula across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Gold Mountain hosts elite college players every fall at the Washington Husky Invitational, and its 2010 NCAA West Regional championship will be its second in three years. The U.S. Junior Amateur will stop by in 2011.
"One of our niches is to host championship golf. We enjoy doing it. We are proud of it," says Director of Golf Scott Alexander.
Gold Mountain's crowning moment, the 81st U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2006, helped mold an already good course into an even better one. The USGA brass flip-flopped the nines, setting up one of the most distinct finishes in top tournament golf, a drivable par 4 that can play anywhere from 271 to 325 yards depending on the tee selection. From an elevated tee, players can swing for glory, driving it over five bunkers and a pond enlarged prior to the tournament for an opportunity at eagle. It's a thrilling end to any day.
Alexander says the original design called for a long par 4, but the shorter version fit the land better. He says when Harbottle enlarged the pond to cut off the right side in 2005, it gave the hole stronger risk-reward characteristics.
"The USGA wanted players to go for it in match play," Alexander says. "It worked out so great, we left it that way. It's pretty rare to have that hole in the spot that it's in."
Gold Mountain is hardly a one-hit wonder. From the moment players drive around the bend toward the clubhouse, they're usually left breathless by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Towering trees frame rolling fairways with the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Mountains hovering on the horizon. Alexander says there will never be any houses on the courses.
Several holes seem to fall off cliffs toward greens. The 563-yard sixth plays uphill to a ridge before rocketing downward to a reachable, multi-tiered putting surface. The elevated tee off the 251-yard 12th hole drops to a redan green that slopes from the front right to the back left.
Doug Allen of Poulsbo says the Olympic Course is the best value golf course in the state.
"Its beauty and playability for the price are hard to beat," he says. "It's not too hard. The fairways are wide. The landing zones are nice. From one to 10, it's a nine."
Visitors flock to the Olympic Course. Locals, especially seniors and higher handicaps, though, tend to favor the flatter 6,707-yard Cascade Course. It never costs more than $40, plays several shots easier and is just as scenic. Although the fairways are narrower, getting on in regulation is infinitely easier with punchbowl greens receptive to approach shots.
Be forewarned: the 168-yard 17th has the most severe green on the property.
"I get comments from people every day. They go and play Cascade and tell me, ‘Man, I forgot how good the Cascade is,'" Alexander says.
The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club will probably always play second fiddle to the magnificent Chambers Bay in the rankings of the state's best munis, but you could argue a round of golf here is just as inspiring and memorable. The setting is so rustic you almost expect to stumble upon Bigfoot. Considering the difference in the greens fees between the two places (roughly $100 plus caddie fees), the Olympic Course is worth the extra drive time from Seattle or Tacoma.
July 28, 2009
Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 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. 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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