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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Building the region’s ‘Dream 18’ golf course

It measures 7,055 yards, but that’s not the tough part. It’s roughly a 460-mile road trip, an odyssey that crisscrosses the Washington-Idaho border 10 times if you reside in Spokane County.

Even if you can manage the road miles, you’re going to need a ton of cooperation from 14 area golf pros to grant the ultimate “playing through” status.

But it’s still fun to dream.

The boss, noted divotologist Ralph “Suitcaser” Walter, suggested an intriguing idea for this year’s S-R golf section: The Dream 18.

Did he mean the best 18 holes? Toughest 18? Hardest? Most fun? Most unique? Most loved/hated? Prettiest? Best designed?

Turns out Ralph’s concept was to consider all of the above, with one GIANT caveat: The Dream 18 in numerical order, beginning with a nifty No. 1 in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene region, give or take a half-hour’s drive north or south of the I-90 corridor, and ending with a fine finishing hole.

We decided it would involve 18-hole courses that offer at least some public play, so no Gozzer Ranch, Black Rock, Manito, etc. We determined that a key guideline for judging a hole was simply thinking to yourself, “That’s a great hole” when you pick your ball out of the cup.

Twenty-two courses were considered and each had at least one hole nomination. By my count, there were a whopping 139 candidates. Some holes had as few as five nominations; several reached double digits.

Added up, it’s a testament to the outstanding holes and courses that make golf an absolute treat in our region.

I’d played or walked every course on our list but hadn’t visited several in more than a decade. To tackle the project properly, I knew I needed help with everything from nominations to making final calls on the holes.

So I dragged a quality foursome into the mix: StoneRidge pro Tim Morton, Qualchan pro Mark Gardner, Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke and former Manito head pro Steve Prugh.

Still, it became apparent this wasn’t going to be a simple task.

Picking holes in numerical order presented an obvious challenge. No. 14, the Coeur d’Alene Resort’s Floating Green, was the closest thing to a gimme. We picked the area’s most famous hole, knowing it eliminated strong par 4s at Kalispel, Indian Canyon, the Links and Prairie Falls.

It got exponentially harder coupling numerical order with my stipulation of a “traditional 18,” meaning four par 3s, two on each side, and the same with the four par 5s (or possibly a par 6 with No. 9 at the Links under consideration). Uh, my bad!

Any golfer in Eastern Washington and North Idaho will tell you there are dozens of great par 3s. Try boiling that figure down to four. Try choosing, for instance, No. 8, which is stacked with splendid par 3s at StoneRidge, Indian Canyon, Esmeralda, Avondale, Downriver and the Links.

“My back side is like a par-3 course,” said Gardner, rattling off six or seven holes from memory in a matter of seconds. “There’s so many good ones.”

“We could almost go (par) 38-34,” Nelke said.

Then plug in the top par 5s from another lengthy list of nominees. The relief of settling on four holes on the front nine was met with wistful glances at worthy holes left on the outside.

We gathered one morning at Qualchan to finalize the Dream 18 minus Morton, who was busy overseeing the Idaho 4A state tournament at StoneRidge. He previously emailed his selections.

We tried to do our homework.

“I did it twice,” Prugh said. “It took about 45 minutes each time. I didn’t look at my first list, I gave myself four or five days and did my second one and it was completely different.”

Welcome to our world.

Each of us understood that no matter what we settled on, it was going to prompt a swift rebuke from a buddy, colleague or readers once this article was printed. I considered starting a pool on which pro or pal I would hear from first.

If we met again tomorrow, there’s no doubt we would make a few revisions. I second-guessed myself on the drive home from our meeting all the way up to typing this sentence. Everybody has a different take on what hole constitutes their golf nirvana.

As you can imagine, it took flexibility, several rewrites and plenty of give-and-take trying to piece it all together. We’d lean strongly toward a certain hole, only to reconsider when it meant another jewel wasn’t going to make the final cut.

The pros’ knowledge of holes on every course is impressive to hear firsthand. They were fair-minded, to the point that several times they backed holes that eventually replaced prime candidates at their own courses.

The longest deliberations were probably over two front-side par 5s, No. 8 and No. 9. On the back, it took some time to whittle down the par 3s and choose from nine potential No. 16s, 10 possible No. 17s and 11 prospective No. 18s.

I wince that holes like No. 8 at Indian Canyon, No. 11 at Avondale, No. 12 at Qualchan and No. 18 at Deer Park aren’t on the Dream 18, but would argue that a second-team Dream 18 or honorable mention would still form one hell of a course.

The end goal was to have fun with it and highlight special holes that we can all play. A tip of the cap to the pros: We mixed in a lot of laughs while discussing the best holes Spokane has to offer.

As we reached the finish line after nearly an hour, Nelke looked over and made a request: “Please emphasize how tough this was.”

Nods, all around.

Now, where’s the mute button on my phone? Just in case I can’t find it, here’s Ralph’s email …

Hole-by-hole breakdown with pros’ tips

Holes 1-5 of the "Dream 18"
Holes 1-5 of the “Dream 18”

No. 1 Avondale

This 387-yard par 4 requires an accurate drive to avoid being blocked by scattered trees to the left and right sides of the fairway. Approach shots must carry a pond and bunkers, and it’s wise to keep your approach below the cup on this speedy green for the best opportunity at birdie.

Avondale pro Dan Porter’s tip: This hole calls for a good drive, the longer the better. Note the pin location on this two-tiered green. Pick the wrong iron on your approach shot and you could spend your day at the beach, as the bunkers are quite difficult to get out of.

No. 2 Liberty Lake

One of several quality par 4s at Liberty Lake, this 414-yard hole begins with a slightly uphill tee shot to a fairway compressed by a lengthy, 50-yard bunker on the right and high rough on the left. A bunker gobbles up approaches left of the green.

Liberty Lake pro Kit DeAndre’s tip: A strong par 4 that requires a good drive left of the fairway bunker for a mid- to long-iron approach into a wavy, tiered green. Par is a great score here.

No. 3 Kalispel

The yardage is a bit misleading. This par 5 measures 474 to 493 yards, but it plays longer with a steady climb from tee to green. To get home in two requires two well-struck shots, the latter navigating around a large tree that stands guard in front of the green.

Kalispel pro Nick McCaslin’s tip: This gradual, uphill par 5 starts from a tee box which is surrounded by the Little Spokane River with the beautiful Rattlesnake Ridge behind. The green is guarded by an iconic large pine tree in front and a large bunker on the front right. A good tee shot will leave players with the decision to go for the green in two. Try and keep your ball below the hole, as players face a fast, sloping green from back to front with subtle breaks throughout.

No. 4 Qualchan

The first par 3 on the Dream 18 is 200 yards – 223 if played from the tips – so your first order of business is trying to hit the long green with a hybrid or low- to mid-iron. Two bunkers await shots off line to the right.

Qualchan pro Mark Gardner’s tip: No. 4 is the longest par 3 at Qualchan. The green is long and has a big mound on the left side. The green is guarded by a bunker on the front right side and back right side. Accuracy and distance are a premium on this tough par 3. The best approach would be from the front left of the green, so the ball can work to the right once in hits the green. Look for the putts to break toward the middle channel. Par is definitely your friend on No. 4 at The Q!

No. 5 Hangman Valley

The longest hole on the Dream 18, but it actually plays shorter than its listed 611 yards because it’s mostly downhill. The optimum drive from the elevated tee box splits the bunkers left and right of the fairway. It’s possible to reach the green in two, but the vast majority of players use their first two shots to set up the easiest third shot onto the green.

Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke’s tip: The tee shot is crucial to attack this par 5. It’s much easier to play from the fairway and length is a big plus. Aim at either bunker and curve the ball away from that target. The second shot is usually a long fairway wood or hybrid playing slightly left of center, as the ball will kick slightly right. Some very long players can reach the green in two, but conditions have to be favorable. Approach shot plays a club shorter to a large green with plenty of trouble long. From 100 yards in, the fairway slopes downhill, making that shot a challenge. Not as severely sloping as some other greens, it is easier to approach from below the hole.

Holes 6-9 of the "Dream 18"
Holes 6-9 of the “Dream 18”

No. 6 Kalispel

Kalispel’s second entry on the front side is a par 4 requiring a strong drive. There’s trouble and/or OB left and trees stationed right of the fairway. A successful tee shot provides an opportunity at birdie on one of the course’s flatter green complexes.

Kalispel pro Nick McCaslin’s tip: This hole features OB left with overhanging willow trees and more trees to the right, making the tee shot one of Kalispel’s most difficult driving holes. Try and look past the trouble and focus on a target right-center of the fairway, which slopes from right to left, and your ball will finish in the center of the fairway. A good tee ball leaves players with a mid- to short-iron second shot to a well bunkered and fairly flat putting surface. Two good shots here could be rewarded with a three.

No. 7 Esmeralda

Ezzy’s entry is the longest par 4 on the Dream 18, spanning 440 yards and 455 from the blues if you’re feeling frisky. Length off the tee helps position players for their second shot to a large green. Penciling a ‘4’ onto your scorecard will be an achievement on Esmeralda’s No. 1 handicap hole.

Steve Prugh’s pro tip: The seventh hole at Esmeralda is a beautiful, medium-to-long par 4. The hole plays into the prevailing wind and doglegs to the left. To play the hole correctly, the tee shot must be down the middle or favoring the right side. If the tee shot hugs the left side, it will be cut off by maple trees that have grown large over the years. The green, while being fairly large and fairly simple, is a green you want to putt uphill on.

No. 8 StoneRidge

This 195-yarder ranks is one of the tougher par 3s around. It begins from an elevated tee box, which makes judging the correct distance a priority. The tee shot requires accuracy with a pond left of the green and a bunker right. Par is to be celebrated on this scenic, challenging hole.

Steve Prugh’s pro tip: StoneRidge No. 8 is a wonderful, challenging par 3. Water left, prevailing wind pushing the ball to the left and no bargain to chip from if you play safe to the right. Since this par 3 is long, you should always aim at the middle of the green or slightly to the right, as a ‘3’ is a great score. Make a ‘3’, pat yourself on the back and quietly walk to the ninth tee.

No. 9 Circling Raven

The front nine’s closing hole is one of the best in the region. The hole spans 437 yards with wetlands along the left side and out of bounds for drives wide right. A quality tee shot avoids a sand trap off the right edge of the fairway but still leaves a mid-iron approach to a green protected on the front left by a bunker.

Circling Raven pro Tom Davidson’s tip: Perhaps the most demanding tee shot at Circling Raven. Even a good tee shot will leave you with a significant distance on the approach of this highly challenging par 4. Despite your inclination, aim at the American flag in the far distance. Favor the center to right-center off the tee, avoiding the wetland on the left that spans the entire length of the hole. The large, deep, front bunker is a difficult up-and-down, so favor the right half of the green on the approach. Distance to the flag can vary as much as three clubs to this large and undulating green.

Holes 10-13 of the "Dream 18"
Holes 10-13 of the “Dream 18”

No. 10 Indian Canyon

A great golf hole with an unmatched view of Spokane from the tee box. No. 10 is nearly 440 yards, but the drop in elevation shortens the actual yardage. Tee shots left usually end up in prison, so finding the fairway takes on added importance. Two good swings leave one last test: the back-to-front sloped green.

Indian Canyon pro Doug Phares’ tip: The view from No. 10 at Indian Canyon is probably as picturesque as any hole in Spokane, or anywhere for that matter. Like any good golf hole, it offers options as to how to play it. Players can choose accuracy and hit a tee shot in the 200-to-220-yard range, which will leave an approach of about 180 yards with a level lie. This approach will play at least one club shorter, as the green is well below the fairway. The most common strategy is to let it fly with a driver to try and get as close to the green as possible. While this can pay off with a flip wedge into the green and a good chance for birdie, any miss right or left will definitely make par difficult to achieve.

No. 11 Coeur d’Alene Resort

The first of the Dream 18’s two back-nine par 5s is a quality hole and scenic to boot. No. 11 has similarities to Augusta’s famed 13th hole, particularly with the creek that runs the left side and cuts across the front of the green. There is little margin for error off the tee, with the creek left and trees to the right. It’s the classic risk-reward scenario for players trying to reach the putting surface in two.

Coeur d’Alene Resort pro Andy Mackimmie’s tip: Reminiscent of the famed Amen Corner 13th hole at Augusta National, the 11th hole at The Coeur d’Alene Resort sets up for a draw off the tee, aiming down the tree-lined right side of the fairway. The fairway slopes slightly from right to left down to Fernan Creek, which tracks down the left side of the hole. Big hitters have a chance to go for the green in two; however, the risks are numerous. The approach shot is all carry as the creek cuts in front and around the right side of the green. The safe play is a mid-iron or hybrid shot to a wide approach area, leaving 90 to 130 yards from the green. A small bunker protects the back side of this three-tier green, with a bailout hillside sloping toward the green on the left.

No. 12 Downriver

Downriver’s par 3s are challenging, and this one is the longest of the Dream 18’s four par 3s. At 217 yards, the green is framed by OB to the right and a fall-off slope to the left.

Steve Prugh’s pro tip: This long, iconic par 3 requires a very good long iron, hybrid, fairway wood or even a driver. The green is not bunkered, but don’t let that fool you. Out of bounds is just right of the green, but any shot that misses the green left can run a long way, making for a challenging up-and-down. For most of us, playing the ball slightly short of the green to leave an easier chip and one putt is the best bet to make par.

No. 13 Hangman Valley

This straightaway par 4 has everything you want in a challenging par 4. There’s length (423 yards from the whites, 442 from the tips) and a slightly elevated green bordered by bunkers.

Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke’s tip: A good tee shot with length in the right-center puts you in position to play this hole. The green slopes severely back to front, and the left greenside bunker is a tough up-and-down. The rear of the green has less slope, and the front third of the green is best approached from below. Just short of the green is not a bad play. It’s easy to putt off the green if you’re above the hole. Par is a very good score.

Holes 14-18 of the "Dream 18"
Holes 14-18 of the “Dream 18”

No. 14 Coeur d’Alene Resort

The shortest hole on the Dream 18 is the region’s most famous, thanks to the floating green. The 147-yard par 3 – it can stretch out to 220 yards – to the island green on Lake Coeur d’Alene is stunning visually, and players let out a sigh of relief when their ball touches down on land.

Coeur d’Alene Resort pro Andy Mackimmie’s tip: The world-famous floating island green has grown into an icon for destination golfers worldwide. At 15,000 square feet, the island offers a more generous landing area than the initial, deceivingly distant, appearance from the tee would suggest. The real key to playing the hole is to avoid being mentally consumed with the challenge. Easier said than done. Club selection is critical. Playing one club more than what would be played for the exact pin yardage is recommended, due to prevailing breezes coming directly towards the tee. A high percentage of errant shots are short, and almost never long. If the pin location is on the left, play for the middle of the green; there’s no room for error left of the green. Take a deep breath, go through a pre-shot routine and take a smooth swing. Avoiding the quick swing or over-swing will help keep the ball dry.

No. 15 Prairie Falls

This par 4 tucked into the northwest corner of the course measures just under 400 yards. The key is a good drive, which means avoiding the bunker right of the landing area and native grasses left of the fairway. The undulating green sits inside a surrounding bowl. (Note: Prairie Falls recently flipped sides, with No. 15 becoming No. 6.)

Prairie Falls pro Bill Bomar’s tip: This is a good driving hole, so it’s important to find the fairway. A good drive carries to a second tier of the fairway, which makes the approach shorter and much easier. The second shot to a big green needs to stay away from a left-side bunker that makes for a difficult sand save.

No. 16 MeadowWood

Long, tough and uphill at the end, No. 16 at MeadowWood is a handful, even for the longest hitters. The yardage (569 from the white tees) is only part of the challenge. Two nice shots still leave an uphill approach over the front bunker to a green with three distinct sections.

MeadowWood pro Bob Scott’s tip: This is one of the better par 5s in the Spokane area. Place your drive down the middle and it gives you a chance to clear the fairway bunker at the dogleg and leave you a short iron to the green. If you have to go to the right of the bunker, it will leave you a shot of 150-175 yards to an elevated green that’s hard to keep on the putting surface. A three-tiered green makes this hole just that much tougher.

No. 17 Liberty Lake

There’s a reason this is Liberty Lake’s second-toughest hole by handicap. The tee shot must scale a hill and have some heat on it to reach the ideal spot in the fairway. The hole bends gently left and approaches, often from the 165-200 range, are aimed at a slightly angled, back-to-front sloped green. Misses right often settle in a gaping bunker.

Liberty Lake pro Kit DeAndre’s tip: A difficult, uphill par 4. A tee shot to the top of the hill leaves you with a mid- to long-iron shot to a bunker-protected green.

No. 18 Twin Lakes

The Dream 18 closes in style with yet another long, demanding par 4. The tee shot encounters multiple obstacles, with a tree in the fairway, a pond to the right and a mound on the left that can kick balls OB.

Twin Lakes pro Kathy Brown’s tip: This is a great finishing hole. Shorter hitters will want to hit it up the right side to avoid the large tree in the middle of the fairway, being mindful of the water on the right. If you are a longer hitter, taking it over the tree should put you in the center of the fairway and leave you a shorter shot into the green.