KELLOGG – A friend recently e-mailed me a link to a virtual tour of the Galena Ridge at Silver Mountain Resort golf course that opened nine of its proposed 18 holes to the general public earlier this week.
His e-mail included a note that said, “This looks like a real ball-eater!”
This is the same friend, I might add, who once lost a ball while playing on an indoor golf simulator. So I decided to seek a second opinion – mine – on the intriguing John Thronson-designed layout.
Just a couple of days prior to last Sunday’s opening, I accepted an invitation to tour the golf course and play several of its holes.
Turns out, my friend was right. Galena Ridge has quite an appetite for golf balls.
But having to replenish my stash of refurbished Titleists seemed like a small price to pay for such a unique and memorable golf experience.
Let me be clear. A few of the holes that are open probably shouldn’t be. A couple of fairways are still a little spotty, and a green that became diseased over the winter has yet to fully recover. When I played, most of the course’s deep and menacing bunkers had yet to be filled with sand – the result of wet spring weather that kept the fairways too soggy to support heavy trucks. And there is still a lot paving left to do on the steep, winding cart paths.
None of that, however, should discourage golfers from making the drive to Galena Ridge.
In designing the nine holes currently in existence, Thronson managed to create a mountainside masterpiece that seems capable of eventually rivaling some of the best courses in the Inland Northwest.
The wide, inviting bluegrass fairways, many of which are lined by fescue, flow naturally along a rugged landscape that features wetlands, waste areas, stands of towering trees and breath-taking mountain views.
The bent grass greens are large, smooth, multitiered and extremely difficult to read because of the surrounding peaks and valleys. And each hole features four sets of tee boxes to test golfers of all skill levels.
But what makes Galena Ridge so unique are its dramatic changes in elevation.
Tucked into the hills above the small town of Kellogg, this nine-hole layout stretches to 3,617 yards and plays to a par of 35. The elevation changes are simply remarkable, with most of the holes playing downhill – some considerably.
The 506-yard, par-4 sixth, for instance, plunges 235 feet from tee box to green and provides two of the most memorable driving experiences on the planet. For openers, any tee shot that gets airborne seemingly hangs forever against a backdrop of the surrounding hills on its leisurely journey to a fairway that is bordered on the left by two fescue-lined canyons and offers few flat landing areas.
And after witnessing such a majestic drive, the next order of business involves navigating a series of hairpin turns on the steep and still-to-be paved cart path that winds down the hill.
Both of the par-3s play considerably downhill, as well, with the 175-yard fifth offering gorgeous views of the Silver Valley. And the opening hole, a shortish 347-yard par-4, is another gem that requires a well-placed tee shot over a deep canyon.
But the odds-on favorite to eventually emerge as Galena Ridge’s signature hole is the par-4 fourth, which stretches almost 500 yards along the course’s highest ridgeline and gives daring long hitters a chance to shorten the hole by cutting across the steep hillside that leads to Magnet Creek.
Trevor Gray, the course superintendent, admitted the elevation changes present some unique maintenance challenges, but aside from the lack-of-maturity issues, Galena Ridge seems to have weathered the winter quite well.
“We just couldn’t be happier about the way these first nine holes turned out,” said Silver Mountain Resort general manager Jeff Colburn, who oversees the operation of Galena Ridge. “When we first saw the land, some of us were wondering how you could ever put a golf course on it.
“But John did a terrific job.”
Thronson has already designed the other nine holes that will eventually become a part of Galena Ridge and some of the shaping of those holes has already begun. But the actual construction work, according to resort officials, could be a year or more off, depending on how soon the finance and real estate markets rebound.
A few of the existing holes will be rerouted once all 18 are finished, and plans are in the works to eventually build a clubhouse. Until then, golfers must check in and pay their greens fees at Silver Mountain Sports, next to Morning Star Lodge in Gondola Village before proceeding to the golf course to pick up their required golf cart.
The process might seem a bit convoluted, but it makes sense considering how much growing Galena Ridge still has to do.
It’s too bad golf balls aren’t more nutritious.