Courses and Travel

Great Golf in Seattle

No matter where you live, chances are there's a little piece of Seattle in your backyard in the form of a Starbucks coffee shop. Happily, the ubiquitous java joints give way to other draws in the Emerald City: microbeers, a thriving art scene and the vibe of a city with a small-town feel. Golf is also beginning to compete with pub-hopping as a tourist pastime. Six fine courses have opened in the last 15 years, including three terrific bargain gems.

Spectacular views are the norm in Seattle, with twin-peaked Mt. Rainier rising to the south, the Olympic Range to the north, and Lake Washington and Elliott Bay flanking the city. The area's cluster of great, affordable courses (all under $60) lies across Elliott Bay, west of the city in an area locals call the "Peninsula," less than an hour's drive around the Sound (Take the Bremerton ferry from Pier 52 for exceptional views).

First stop is in Bremerton at the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, which will host the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. A weeklong ticket to the tourney will cost more than the highest weekend greens fee of $50. Keep your eyes peeled on the back road to Gold Mountain, you might miss the entrance, which is hidden behind Alder trees. John Harbottle III's 7,073-yard design exhibits a split personality. The front nine is a pleasant stroll through the forest, while the back is a brutal Stairmaster workout, highlighted by the 357-yard 15th, which curls left around a lake to a tiny peninsula green. The 188-yard 16th is all-carry over the same lake.

At McCormick Woods, a 7,040-yard Jack Frei design in nearby Port Orchard, local knowledge goes a long way. The 575-yard dogleg-left ninth begs you to cut the corner off the tee. Bad idea. The smart play is to a plateau on the right to avoid a steep downhill lie in the rough for your next shot, which is over water. On the back nine, take one step off the fairway and you're in thickly forested Bigfoot territory. On the 432-yard par-4 15th, aim at the left peak of Mt. Rainier and don't try to cut the corner--there's a lake beyond it, obscured by reeds. After the round, stop by Mary Mac's in the clubhouse. Seafood is the house specialty and you won't find much better--or much else--in the area.

Brews clues
Washington wines are increasingly popular, but Seattleites still pride themselves on the old malt and hop. Brew styles to look for (ranging from light to dark) are hefeweizen, pale ale, amber ale, porter and stout. Try the Brewer's Rack at The Pyramid Alehouse on First Avenue South across from Safeco Field to sample five, five-ounce beers of your choosing for $6 ($3 at happy hour).
Trophy Lake Golf & Casting completes the Peninsula's hat trick of good, budget-friendly golf. Five minutes south of McCormick, the 7,206-yard John Fought design stretches through groves of Douglas fir and around wetlands. Weigh your options off the tee here. For example, at the 547-yard seventh, a cavernous bunker splits the fairway in two. Go right to find an 80-yard wide section of short grass, but you'll have two full shots left to the green. The 30-yard-wide low road on the left brings the green into play--and the dense trees. After golf, Trophy stocks its lake with kamloops and steelhead trout, and rents all the gear you need for either trolling by boat or fly fishing from the shore.

Back to the Seattle mainland, 20 minutes southeast of the city is the Golf Club at Newcastle. Opened in 1999, it's the priciest public course in the state with a $150 greens fee (cart included). You do get your money's worth, with an oak-paneled locker and restrooms with heated seats for those frigid mornings.

Newcastle features two 18s: Coal Creek, the better of the two, and the much easier China Creek, 6,632 yards of beautiful vistas of the Seattle skyline but less memorable holes. Architect Bob Cupp teamed up with local boy Fred Couples to design Coal Creek, a 7,024-yarder that plays like a links course despite its elevation. Uneven lies and gusting wind make it feel much longer, and while the fairways are generous, the thick fescue is punishing. On the 391-yard third, the city lies below you. The temptation is to go straight at the hole but Columbia Tower, Seattle's tallest building at 954 feet, is the smart line off the tee.

If you like target golf, you'll love Washington National Golf Club, home to the University of Washington golf team. Fought, best known for designing Pumpkin Ridge near Portland, stretched 7,304 yards of resort-style golf through the suburbs west of nearby Tacoma. Wild tee shots are forgiven, but the charity stops there. The 635-yard par-5 14th can easily take four shots to reach, each shot facing its own set of hazards--a 10-foot deep waste bunker winds across the fairway twice before giving way to a group of bunkers that protect the green.

Nine miles east in Covington, Ireland meets the Pacific Northwest at Druids Glen Golf Club, which you'll leave remembering the par-3s. Three of four are all-carry over water. The 206-yard 16th is the highlight; a lake horseshoes around the green to catch shots that miss the three bunkers on each side.

Solid, inexpensive golf can also be had at West Seattle Golf Course, just south of downtown. Built by H. Chandler Egan in 1939, its one of the best inner-city munis in the country and host of the annual Seattle Amateur Championship. Egan gained fame for reshaping Pebble Beach in 1928 into today's masterpiece. At West Seattle, Pacific views have been substituted by the city skyline, which dominates the course. While it will never be confused with Pebble, West Seattle does share one trait with the famed links: a weekend round here can surpass five hours. The difference is that you can show up here during the week and zip around much quicker, and it will only cost you $23. Plus, the skyline of Seattle makes a hell of a backdrop, even if it ain't Stillwater Cove. Plus, there's a Starbucks just down the street.

Where to stay

Alexis Hotel
A hip boutique hotel close to Pike Place Market. Doubles from $229; 1007 1st Avenue. 800-426-7033; alexishotel.com

Pensione Nichols
Ten rooms, four bathrooms, with two suites with views of Elliott Bay. Good for buddy trips. Rooms: $110; Suites: $195; 1923 1st Avenue.
206-441-7125

Westin seattle
The hotel's twin towers are a landmark. Try to get a bay view room. Doubles from $209; 1900 5th Avenue.
800-228-3000 or westin.com

Where to eat

Dahlia Lounge
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan put this romantic restaurant on the map in Sleepless in Seattle. If you're sneaking rounds on a family vacation, your wife will forgive you after dinner here.
206-682-4142

Ivar's Acre of Clams
A good seafood place to stuff yourself without emptying your wallet.
206-624-6852

Maximilien
Tucked away in Pike Place Market but worth the search. Every table has a bay vista, if you ever look up from your plate.
206-682-7270

Mccormick & Schmick's
From wild sturgeon to jumbo prawns, M&S has everything that used to swim.
206-623-5500

Metropolitan Grill
Every big city has a great steakhouse, and Seattle's is the Met, as locals call it. Every cut of corn-fed Nebraska beef is dry aged and grilled over mesquite charcoal. 206-624-3287

Crib Sheet

Druids Glen Golf Club
Greens fees: $36-$48; 253-638-1200
druidsglengolf.com

Gold Mountain Golf Complex (Olympic)
Greens Fees: $35-$50; 360-473-5432
goldmt.com

Golf Club at Newcastle (Coal Creek)
Greens Fees: $150; 425-793-4653
newcastlegolf.com

McCormick Woods Golf Course
Greens Fees: $45-$55; 800-323-0130
Mccormickwoodsgolf.com

Trophy Lake golf & Casting
Greens Fees: $45-$59; 360-874-8337
trophylakegolfclub.com

Washington National Golf Club
Greens Fees: $79-$94; 253-333-5000
washingtonnationalgolfclub.com

West Seattle Golf Course
Greens Fees: $23-$31; 206-935-5187
seattlegolf.com

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