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

Putting through the Palouse: Trio of nine-hole golf courses in Whitman County makes for a memorable day trip

When it comes to desirable golf road trips, a three-course, 27-hole stretch between St. John, Colfax and Tekoa may not be the thing that comes to mind – but it should be on every area golfer’s to-do list.

Although the trio of tracks can’t be described as golf’s toughest test, visitors of all experience levels can enjoy the courses and see a part of the state often associated with growing wheat and lentils, not fairways and greens.

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Coming from Spokane, the day starts with a “choose your own adventure” decision on the way to the St. John Golf & Country Club – take the two-turn route through Steptoe and then into St. John, or turn off at Plaza and hope the GPS is set early before cell service is lost no more than five minutes off I-195.

With the latter choice, tight and winding roads lead you through towns like Malden and Pine City as scenery changes from evergreen trees to farmland several times before descending down a large hill into St. John.

The fairway and green of the third hole is the first thing you’ll see going this route, followed by the first two holes and finally a hand-cut metal sign that leads to the parking lot.

A metal sign sits at the entrance of the St. John Golf & Country Club. (Madison McCord / The Spokesman-Review)
A metal sign sits at the entrance of the St. John Golf & Country Club. (Madison McCord / The Spokesman-Review)

After finding a safe and out-of-the-way place to park, it’s off to the clubhouse, where you’re greeted by a volunteer course host who takes your $18, hands you a scorecard and points you to the opening tee box.

As far as the difficulty of the three courses goes, St. John ranks as the most scorable – but that doesn’t mean it’s clear of danger.

The tee shot on the 267-yard, par-4 first opens up to an airstrip-wide fairway, but perfectly placed in line with the green is the course’s signature behemoth, 80-foot-tall tree, patiently waiting to eat up the straightest of shots.

Challenges also await players on the 485-yard, par-5 third hole, which snakes to the right and then sharply to the left, making it a tough hole to reach in two without a pair of perfect shots. The right side of the fairway is also lined with a creek, the only water on the course.

After the opening three holes, you realize that there’s no more than a few feet of elevation gain or loss on the entire course, making it an ideal walking track.

Along with being flat, the remaining holes are also relatively straight, with well-maintained fairways and friendly rough. The trick down the stretch is sinking anything with the flatstick. Putts on almost every green have a tricky read, but roll very true.

The closing three holes are a series of par 4s running beside each other. They’re arguably the three most scorable holes on the course, especially the short 280-yard ninth.

After adding up the scorecard and quick “thank you” to the course host, it’s back onto I-195 – this time going through Steptoe before completing the 40-minute drive to Colfax.

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The location of the Colfax Golf Club couldn’t be better for those wanting to avoid the 25-miles-per-hour limit through the middle of town – a speed limit etched into the minds of most anyone who has spent time in Pullman.

If hunger is calling after the stop in St. John, head into town to the Top Notch Cafe for an early lunch, but beware – they close up shop at 2 p.m. and are closed Sunday.

With a full stomach, it’s a straight shot to the clubhouse, which is the biggest of the three.

After paying the $16 and getting the go-ahead from the club pro, it’s a short walk across one of several small bridges that gap the creek running through the course and onto the first tee.

Unlike St. John, where the difficult holes are up front, the first three holes at Colfax are made for low scores. The trickiest of the trio is the 298-yard, par-4 second, which doglegs left. Along the left fence line – which is out of bounds – are the high school baseball and softball fields at McDonald Park.

The third hole offers the best view on the course, as the tee box is situated alongside the Palouse River. It’s a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the view, forgetting about the Pro V1 which is now in the outfield after the previous hole.

The Palouse River runs alongside the third tee box at the Colfax Golf Club. (Madison McCord / The Spokesman-Review)
The Palouse River runs alongside the third tee box at the Colfax Golf Club. (Madison McCord / The Spokesman-Review)

The third is also a very short, 240-yard par 4, mixing natural beauty with an easy decision to go for the green off the tee.

Other holes that will test even the more seasoned golfer include the lengthy 205-yard, par-3 fourth and 538-yard, par-5 seventh – the longest hole on any of the three courses.

The course is tight off the tee, with evergreen trees attracting any wayward drive or approach. The greens are small but true, with sand surrounding several of the complexes. At 3,010 yards from the men’s tees, Colfax is no course to take for granted. Otherwise, your score can balloon quickly.

Back in the car, with dignity possibly left on the course, it’s another 40-minute haul to Tekoa.

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After getting up the hill outside Colfax, it’s just a few miles back to Steptoe and the turnoff toward Oakesdale.

For those wanting a little more exercise than walking the links, you’ll drive right past the entrance to Steptoe Butte State Park – but with one more course to go, it might be best saved for another day.

Highway 27 will drop you right into Tekoa, just minutes from the Tekoa Golf Club.

The clubhouse is small, with another sign-up and pay slot on the outside for your $12 – a common theme with all three courses, as the clubhouse hours can vary quite a bit. Safest bet? Bring plenty of cash.

A brightly colored cart barn sits next to the clubhouse along with the course’s set of local rules, painted on a piece of plywood. Small-town golf at its finest.

The opening hole is a short 286-yard, par-4 with a steep dip between tee box and green – and that’s what makes Tekoa so much different from the previous two courses. On the first two holes, there is more elevation change than St. John and Colfax combined – or at least your legs will think there is.

The 268-yard, par-4 second is the course’s signature hole. The fairway sits some 40 yards left of the tee box, which aims players directly toward the green. Big hitters can get their drive close, but there is risk – you have to carry a wheat field.

Once on the second green it’s clear you’re golfing in the Palouse, as the view of the putting surface is surrounded by crops.

The par-5 third once again will test the leg strength of golfers and brakes of golf carts. Another steep downhill is followed by an equally steep climb back up. Big drives will nestle into the bowl, leaving a completely blind approach shot.

Other holes of note are the par-4 seventh, which has OB all down the right toward another blind green, and the 108-yard, par-3 eighth, which right or long will take your ball out of play and onto the highway.

Done for the day, likely with dead legs and fewer golf balls than you started with, it’s time for the last leg of the trip. If famished, swing into C&D’s Bar & Grill for a beverage and the Cal’s Chicken Fried Chicken Burger – plenty big enough for leftovers the next day.

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When all is said and done, the three-plus hours of driving and nearly 150 miles makes for some fun golf, plenty of screensaver-worthy photos and an appreciation for the work and care put into small-town golf courses.