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New golf in Seattle running on all circuits

By Daniel Mitchell,

SEATTLE -- The Pacific Northwest has waved goodbye to the lucrative days of the tech boom, and to the surge in golf course construction that accompanied it. But unlike so many dot-coms and software start-ups, the Seattle area's newer courses are still running on all circuits.

Their ranks include several high-end public tracks, the likes of which Puget Sound lacked in the pre-Microsoft days. Respected modern architects including Arthur Hills, Bob Cupp and John Harbottle have left their mark on the region, laying out demanding courses which take full advantage of the stirring Northwest setting.

While the stagnant economy has stemmed the tide of development -- only one new course has opened here since 2001 -- it has also helped rein in greens fees. With a few exceptions, golf in Seattle and surrounds is a relatively inexpensive pursuit, with many top venues playable for under $50 in the summer. Even better, most courses drop their rates come October.

Golf in Seattle proper is limited to private clubs and a trio of munis. Fanning out from downtown, however, golfers will find a phalanx of first-rate, daily-fee facilities.

Our tour starts on Seattle's bustling east side, where the Golf Club at Newcastle's 36-hole complex represents the vanguard of the city's new upscale offerings. Designed by Bob Cupp with an assist from local legend Fred Couples, the Coal Creek and China Creek courses serve up striking views of downtown Seattle as well as Lake Washington, not to mention the Olympic Mountains in the distance. The golf's not bad, either. Coal Creek measures over 7,000 yards from the tips and features some monster holes, like the 621-yard, par-5 opener, while China Creek is shorter (6,416) but offers plenty of strategic options.

Newcastle also features an 18-hole putting course and a practice facility regarded among the state's best. It comes at a cost, though. Coal Creek's off-season (October 16-April 15) fee of $125 is the area's steepest, while China Creek is a relative bargain at $75 per round.

Heading south into the suburbs, Druid's Glen Golf Club is notable for the up-close-and-personal sight of Mount Rainier as well as its water-laden test of golf. Keith Foster, who touched up Southern Hills for the 2001 U.S. Open, carved 7,146 yards of rolling fairways through massive evergreens and past numerous ponds, which threaten shots on half the holes. Beware the par-3s; Nos. 3, 12 and 16 require carries over the wet stuff. The course also features a shiny new clubhouse and -- only in the Northwest -- an on-site brewpub.

In the next 'burb over, Auburn, you'll find one of the country's finest college facilities, Washington National Golf Club. The University of Washington golf teams, who are headquartered here, get a top-notch education playing across Pine Valley-inspired waste areas into huge, shapely greens. Designer John Fought gave the college kids plenty of space to stretch their titanium shafts, pushing the Husky tees back to 7,304 yards. In fact, the ubiquitous UW purple and gold and the tee designations -- freshman, sophomore, junior and senior -- are about the only tipoffs to Washington National's collegiate underpinnings.

From downtown Seattle there are two ways to reach the cluster of excellent courses on the Kitsap Peninsula. You can head down I-5 to Tacoma, cross the Narrows Bridge, then jaunt up Highway 16 into Bremerton. Takes about an hour and 15 minutes. The more direct, relaxing and scenic route, however, is to drive on to the Washington State ferry for an hour-long trip into the pretty port.

Once there, golfers can pick from a handful of terrific options. The newest and best are Gold Mountain Golf Complex, McCormick Woods Golf Course, and Trophy Lake Golf and Casting Club.

Owned by the City of Bremerton, Gold Mountain earns big points for its low rates and two quality courses, the Cascade and Olympic. Cascade, opened in 1971, is the gentler gem, though at 6,707 yards it can sneak up and bite.

The main attraction is the Olympic Course, a John Harbottle dazzler which opened in 1996. Thick stands of Douglas fir frame imaginative holes imprinted with Harbottle's signatures -- open-fronted, undulating greens and broad fairways offering numerous angles.

Consistently ranked among Washington's best courses, Olympic is surely one of the great bargains anywhere: a peak-season weekend round requires a mere $50 outlay if you walk. That may spike a bit once the course hosts the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2006.

Nearby McCormick Woods repeats many of the themes found at Gold Mountain: thick forests, tricky greens, excellent conditioning. It's an understandably popular formula as McCormick Woods draws its share of devotees, including many of Seattle's professional athletes. Highlights here include the par-4 fifth, a risk-reward beauty with water shaping the tee and approach shots, and No. 12, a 350-yard par-4 ending in a three-tiered green.

The trees are smaller at Trophy Lake, but the golf is just as grand. Another John Fought creation, Trophy Lake gives golfers room to maneuver off the tee -- perhaps that's why they voted it the area's best public course in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer survey -- but gets more difficult on and around the bentgrass greens. You might want to slip a fly rod into your golf bag, too, as the lakes are loaded with Northwest trout.

Our next stop is the town of Mukilteo, about 30 minutes north of Seattle up I-5. There you'll find the stamp of Arthur Hills, who designed Harbour Pointe before anybody outside of Al Gore ever heard of the Internet -- 1991. Golf Digest named it America's best new public course that year, and with good reason. It's a target-golf haven, especially the front nine, playing through wetlands and overlooking the Sound. Some locals gripe about the encroachment of houses on the course, but if you're hungry for a challenge, you can certainly find it from the 6,862-yard back tees. The slope rating from there is a stiff 147.

From the oldest of Seattle's upscale public courses we head to the newest, Trilogy at Redmond Ridge, a little more than a driver and a 3-wood from Microsoft headquarters. It opened in May of 2003, earning solid reviews for its hilly, wooded Gary Panks layout. Situated in an over-55 housing development, Trilogy isn't especially long at 6,434 yards, but compensates with 43 bunkers and water on nine holes.

Had enough modern architecture and suburbia for one tour? If so, head back into the city for the vintage design and stellar scenery that make West Seattle Golf Course one of the country's most intriguing urban eighteens. Back in 1939, H. Chandler Egan routed a fairly flat front nine around Longfellow Creek while saving the hilliest terrain, toughest holes and best cityscapes for the back. It's a plan that has stood the test of time -- unlike a certain economic upswing of the late 20th century.

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