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Amazing layout in Pullman takes a sizeable bite out of small golf market

The par 3 16th hole is one of many spectacular holes at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman. In 2009, both Golf Digest and Golfweek ranked Palouse Ridge No. 2 among the “Best New Courses” open to public. (Christopher Anderson)
The par 3 16th hole is one of many spectacular holes at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman. In 2009, both Golf Digest and Golfweek ranked Palouse Ridge No. 2 among the “Best New Courses” open to public. (Christopher Anderson)

When Washington State University’s Palouse Ridge Golf Club shoved its way onto the national stage in late autumn of 2008, Inland Northwest golfers were understandably thrilled. Here was another magnificently designed high-end layout, capable of offering golfers of all skill levels another unique and memorable golfing experience.

Those trying to scratch out a profit on the other courses within a 40-minute drive of Pullman, however, were understandably less jazzed.

“I know that golf course is something they’ve wanted over there for years, and it turned out great,” said Doug Tyler, the director of golf at the University of Idaho Golf Course, located just seven miles east of the WSU campus in Moscow. “I just wish we had another 50,000 people to support it – and the rest of our courses.”

According to Tyler, studies have shown that a local population base of 40,000 is needed to adequate support an 18-hole golf course. And with the combined populations of Pullman, Moscow, Colfax and Troy totaling only about 50,000, the two 18-hole courses and two nine-hole courses (Colfax Golf Club and Moscow Elks) in the area are constantly looking for new ways to earn a bigger share of golf’s entertainment dollar.

“It’s been kind of tough,” Tyler admitted, noting the steady decline in the number of rounds being played at the U of I course since Palouse Ridge opened to a swell of well-deserved national acclaim. “We maybe need to do some regional marketing, where we work together on some golf packages that will bring more people into our local area to play.”

Built as a destination course that serves as the home track for WSU men’s and women’s golf teams, Palouse Ridge has struggled in its infancy to reach its annual goal of 20,000 rounds.

“When we attend golf shows, we’re always hearing people say, ‘Man, we’ve got to get over there and play Palouse Ridge and make a trip out of it,’ and that could really be a huge niche for us,” said Palouse Ridge’s general manager Tyler Jones. “Now, it’s just a matter of getting people to come.”

As an enticement to golfers, greens fees have been lowered considerably since the course opened, and some great values are now available – especially to those who live within a 40-mile radius of Pullman and can play on weekdays during peak season for a fee of $45, cart included.

Another 35 miles or so to the south of Pullman in the Lewis and Clark Valley, a couple of other challenging and affordable 18-hole public courses are also looking at new ways to attract more play in the wake of Palouse Ridge’s emergence into the market.

Rod Carlson, the director of golf at Quail Ridge Golf Course in Clarkston, does not think the new WSU course has had any major negative impact on his, and suggested it might even help increase play on early fall football weekends when Palouse Ridge hosts its popular pre-game shotgun-start golf outings for boosters.

“When they have something big like that going on, it’ll sometimes chase a few more golfers who can’t get in our way,” Carlson explained, adding that Quail Ridge put up big football weekend numbers after WSU’s old nine-hole course was shut down to start construction on the school’s showcase layout.

Steve Milholland, the director of golf operations at Bryden Canyon Golf Course in Lewiston, said the negative impact Palouse Ridge has had on his course is minimal.

“It hasn’t helped, that’s for sure,” Milholland said. “In fact, it has probably hindered us some, because our numbers are down, but only a little.”

The big winners, it would seem then, are the golfers, who can take advantage of the ramped up golf course competition by booking tee times at any of the four public courses mentioned above, with little concern about cost or availability.

A friend and I did exactly that during a recent two-day swing through the Palouse and Clarkston-Moscow area, where we played Palouse Ridge and the University of Idaho golf courses on a steamy, Wednesday afternoon before overnighting in Lewiston and playing Bryden Canyon and Quail Ridge on Thursday.

We were amazed at how green all four courses were in the middle of a late July heat wave that saw temperatures hit triple digits both days. And we were impressed with the overall quality of the entire experience.

None of the courses were crowded, and we played each round – with a cart – in well under four hours, giving us plenty of time to eat lunch between stops and find a nice place to dine in Lewiston on Wednesday evening.

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