The Travelling Duffer: Salish Cliffs

Salish Cliffs 18th (Photo credit: Brian Oar)

“Pinot?… Pinot?… Pinot?” A raven-tressed waitress with an up-do flits between tables at the Island Grille, a seafood and chophouse in Shelton Washington, the westernmost town along Puget Sound.

My buddy Brian instinctively nudges his wine glass forward in anticipation of a refill. Instead of the dark nectar of the thin-skinned, delicate and early ripening grape immortalized in the Oscar winning movie Sideways, he is handed a square sheet of paper on which the numbers 1-80 are printed. 

While I also heard “Pinot” instead of “Keno,” we should’ve been less surprised by the inadvertent wine snub given that we’re slurping down Pacific Oysters inside the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Little Creek Casino Resort.

At first glance Little Creek appears to be a middle of the totem poll Indian Casino. Their concert calendar is filled with typical big name acts that are still truckin’ a la Cheap Trick, Los Lobos, and Wayne Newton. But Little Creek has bigger britches than its penny slot filled brethren. They’ve spruced up their amenity game markedly in the past couple years adding the Skookum Spirit Cigar & Wine Bar an elegant cocktail bar with plush leather chairs to sink into while enjoying one of over 70 featured stogie varieties in their humidor. Then there is the tranquil Seven Inlets Spa where body-detox treatments range from a pampering lomi lomi massage to a rejuvenating and exfoliating gentleman’s facial. 

The feather in their cap is Salish Cliffs a 7,269-yard bent grass golf course with scalloped bunkers and smooth rolling greens. Meandering over a 320-acre expanse, Salish Cliffs is ensconced in the Pacific Northwest’s resplendent wonderland, offering tantalizing views of the Kamilche Valley and Oyster Bay. If you look closely on No. 17, you can see the peak of Mr. Rainier peeping out from behind the treeline appearing like a puff of white smoke.

Salish has quickly cemented a top-notch reputation. The course has already been shortlisted on scads of elite golf rankings. The Gene Bates design was picked among the top ten courses in Washington State by GOLF Magazine. Salish Cliffs’ most unique accolade celebrates the course’s environmental stewardship—it is the first golf course to earn a “Salmon Safe” designation, that’s the LEED certification equivalent when it comes to freshwater fish friendliness.

The most memorable stretch is a five-hole segment starting with the par-4 14th, where a chubby finger of marshland extends almost the length of the green, acting as a sentinel ready to bury incoming shots. The hole also plays into the wind almost all the time, adding to the challenge that gets this ditty ranked one of Washington’s toughest holes to tame. Eager to give it a try, I take a mighty lash with my driver and unleash a monster hit, leaving me in excellent shape. “So let me get this straight, this is the toughest hole in Washington State?” 

“Talk to me when you finish,” cracks Jacob Lippold, the assistant pro. The pressure to deliver the goods gets to me on my second shot, and I flub the ball. But after being granted a generous mid-fairway ‘you-deserve-another-shot’ mulligan, I proceed to launch a beautiful high-arcing approach shot that touches down on the green and rolls within three feet of the pin. Take that, tough guy hole. Take that.

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