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Monday, August 10, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Loop courses maturing nicely

Following is a look at each of the four golf courses that make up the North Loop of the Idaho Golf Trail: Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Club; Circling Raven Golf Club; StoneRidge Golf Club; and Hidden Lakes Golf Resort.

Coeur d’Alene Resort GC

Still the most acclaimed course in the region, this scenic and magnificently maintained all-bent grass layout unwinds along a north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene and offers a truly unforgettable golf experience.

The user-friendly, par-71 course, designed by Scott Miller, opened to fantastic reviews in 1991 and has been honored repeatedly by some of the nation’s most respected golf publications. It features five sets of tees and can be played from 4,448 to 6,735 yards, depending on one’s preference.

In giving the course a five-star rating and naming it one the 75 best golf resorts in the country, Golf Digest referred to the Coeur d’Alene as “… what every resort should be. It’s not just upscale, it’s posh. You aren’t just pampered, you’re spoiled. It’s not just an escape, it’s an experience.”

Of course, such an experience comes at a cost – which in the case of The Resort course can be quite steep. Greens fees climb as high as $250 during the peak season, but include a forecaddie, unlimited range balls and a cushy ride in a custom-designed golf cart that features heated seats, a tilt steering wheel, a beverage cooler and a ball and club washer among its many amenities.

Golf packages that include a room at the lakeside resort can dramatically enhance the value, however, and, according to head professional Bob Nuttleman, are much more popular with golfers than straight greens fees.

“Our golf packages are the best value,” Nuttleman said, noting that resort guests are shuttled to and from the course in a hand-crafted Honduran Mahogany water taxi. “Our goal is to have our guests take in the entire resort experience.”

Still, the golf can be quite memorable, as well.

The course, which features views of the lake from every hole, is not exceptionally difficult, although the 479-yard second and 482-yard finishing hole rank among the toughest par-4s in the region.

Most of the fairways are wide, receptive and generously mounded, and the greens are not particularly tough to putt. But who wants to torture themselves on a venue as gorgeous as this?

Golfers are treated, instead, to a world-class layout that is extremely playable.

And while the world-renown 14th, which features a floating green affixed to underwater cables that can be moved daily and played anywhere from 95 to 203 yards, gets the lion’s share of publicity, there are plenty of other terrific holes.

Among the best are the 538-yard, par-5 11th, which plays alongside and then over Fernan Creek to a three-tiered green, and the par-3 12th, which features a green protected to the left and rear by the creek, and can play as long as 249 yards – usually into a quartering wind of the lake.

Another gem of a hole is the short, 296-yard par-4 17th, which can be reached – with great risk – from the tee box. To get there, however, golfers must cut the left side of a gentle dogleg, carry a stand of tall pine trees and avoid the massive sand trap that guards the entire left side of the putting surface.

Often praised as one of the best-conditioned courses in the world, the Coeur d’Alene Resort layout lives up to its considerable billing and seems to fit comfortably into the North Loop of the Idaho Golf Trail.

The resort accommodations are strictly first class, and took another step up earlier this summer when the suites and guest rooms in the 18-story Lake Tower were remodeled. Included in the makeover, which coincides with the resort’s ongoing 20th anniversary celebration, was the completion of a lavish, two-story spa, which features 21 rooms, eight manicure/pedicure stations and a designer hair salon.

Circling Raven Golf Club

The newest of the North Loop’s four courses, this Gene Bates-designed gem has quickly emerged as one the most popular golf destinations in the Pacific Northwest.

Featuring five sets of tee boxes, the par-72 layout that opened just three years ago adjacent to the Coeur d’Alene Casino and Resort Hotel in Worley, has been honored as one of the nation’s best new courses by Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine, The Golf Insider and Golfweek Magazine.

The course, which can play from 4,708 to 7,198 yards, has a links-style feel and meanders serenely through a scenic blend of rolling prairie, woodlands and wetlands. The wetlands impact play on 13 holes, many of which require forced carries off the tee.

The bent grass greens are smooth, fast and fair, and the bluegrass fairways snake through mature and eclectic stands of trees that include Birch, Ponderosa Pines, Cottonwoods and Aspens.

The course is named after an 18th century tribal chief and features a 6,500 square-foot clubhouse, bathrooms with lockers and showers and a 25-acre practice facility with separate areas to work on wedge and sand shots.

Greens fees vary according to the time of year and peak at $85 during mid-summer. Riding carts, each equipped with a Global Positioning Satellite system, are included, along with unlimited range balls and complete access to the practice facility.

From the back tees, Circling Raven is all the golf course any golfer could want.

The front nine opens with a relatively simple par-5 that doglegs left around a wetlands area, but quickly grabs one’s attention with a run of long and demanding holes that include two par-3 that stretch over 210 yards.

Among the most interesting holes on the front is the 406-yard par-4 4th, which features a forced carry off the tee to a two-level fairway that is bisected by a series of sprawling, well-positioned bunkers. Playing to the upper level of the fairway makes the hole a bit longer, but provides the best angle into the green and takes the wetlands hazard on the left out of play.

The 9th hole is another monster par-4 that plays to 474 yards and also doglegs gently to the left around wetlands.

The back nine opens with a short, but fun, par-4 that may tempt some long hitters to go for the green off the tee. At a mere 336 yards, it offers one of the best birdie chances on the course, but is still capable of biting even the best of the more aggressive players.

Perhaps the most memorable hole on the course is the devilish par-3 13th that measures 253 yards from the tips and plays downhill and across an impassible expanse of wetlands to an angled green tucked into a beautiful backdrop of towering pines.

And the course finishes in a worthy fashion with a 435-yard par-4 that features a narrow fairway protected by out of bounds stakes on the left and a creek – hidden by trees – on the right.

The course was named by Golf Digest as one of the Top Ten Best New Courses in the country the year after it opened, and provides bargain stay-and-play packages that include lodging at the 202-room hotel that adjoins the nearby casino.

StoneRidge Golf Club

This little-publicized resort-style course, located just east of the tiny town of Blanchard, opened in 1971 and remains one of the best-kept secrets in the region.

Originally designed by Jim Kraus, the par-71 layout underwent a nearly $3 million makeover in 2001 and now stretches between 5,225 and 6,684, depending on which of the three sets of tee boxes golfers select.

Several new holes were constructed during the massive makeover, which was overseen by architect Frank Burandt and included major improvements to the clubhouse and restaurant, as well as the golf course.

As the newest member of the North Loop, StoneRidge seems to fit all of the Idaho Golf Trail’s criteria. Along with a top-notch golf experience, the resort also offers a variety of lodging options that range from studio apartments to three-bedroom condominiums that can be rented nightly, weekly, monthly or for the entire golf season.

Greens fees, which include a cart and range balls, peak at a mere $43 on weekends during the summer, making StoneRidge a runaway winner as the North Loop’s best bargain.

The course, which hosts an average of just under 25,000 rounds a year, is uncrowded, easily assessable and playable for golfers of all skill levels. It unwinds over rolling terrain and is scenically tucked near the base of Mount Spokane.

Like most all of the other North Loop courses, it opens with a leisurely test – a 355-yard par-4 – and then quickly grows fangs. Each hole is named, with their imaginative handles ranging from “Waterin’ Hole” to “HooDoo View,” and each offers its own unique test of golf.

The most notorious is the par-3 8th, or “Descention” which plays 248 yards off an extremely elevated to a small, tilted green that is protected on the left by a ball-gobbling pond.

Another gem is the 453-yard par-4 16th that was constructed during Burandt’s 2001 makeover. The long, demanding hole features a wide, inviting fairway that plays to another small green protected on the right by a pair of sand traps, one of which resembles the deep pot bunkers so popular in Ireland.

The 16th serves as a fitting introduction to a delightful trio of finishing holes that include the 201-yard, par-3 17th and the signature 522-yard, par-5 18th that doglegs left and up a gradual incline to a plateau green that was mercifully redesigned during the makeover. The hole gives golfers a chance to bomb away off the tee, but requires discretion on the risk-reward second shot that must carry a creek and find the pinched landing area just short of the putting surface.

StoneRidge also offers a 19th hole, named “The Gambler,” which is a short, but narrow, 236-yard par-4 that is designed to help decide carryover bets.

Hidden Lakes Golf Resort

A recent change of ownership and a planned massive makeover that is expected to cost upward of $10 million has closed this Sandpoint-area course for at least the next 12 months.

From all indications, the new owners are doing things right. Big-name professionals from Nicklaus Design have been entrusted with the redesign and all of the existing 18 holes will be bulldozed.

According to former owner Dick Villelli, seven of the new holes will be built across Highway 200, opening up more area for the 11 holes that will eventually occupy the terrain on which the existing course lies.

Once complete – in the late summer of 2007, if all goes as planned – a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course is expected to emerge and provide the region with yet another North Loop course that will rival the best in the Pacific Northwest.

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