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First Peek | Salish Cliffs

The Squaxin Tribe at last has a course and it was well worth the wait

By: Tony Dear

Appeared in Winter 2012 LINKS

Five years after construction began, four years after construction stopped, three years after it started again, and one year after the final cubic yards of earth were nudged in place, the golf course at Salish Cliffs is finally open.

The stop-and-start process can be blamed on, what else, the faltering economy. Having begun a $54 million expansion program before the recession hit, Olympia, Washington’s Squaxin Island Tribe, which owns the course and the adjacent Little Creek Casino Resort, decided to put its golf plans on hold.

“Halting work made perfect sense,” says course architect Gene Bates. “The tribe had a couple of very important infrastructure items that needed to be completed at the resort, but the golf course could wait. I knew they were committed to the project, so I had no doubt we would finish it eventually.”

Located 10 miles north of Olympia, Salish Cliffs is set on a heavily wooded 320-acre escarpment with a total elevation change of 600 feet. Bates knew that navigating the site would be problematic but from the moment he first visited it, he saw the possibilities. 

“It was basically a deep, dark forest on the side of a mountain,” he says. “But I knew if we opened it up, the views over the Kamilche Valley would be fantastic.

And being a resort course with carts [GPS-enabled, included in the $89 green fee along with unlimited range balls for one hour before your tee time] I could disguise the steepest rises by positioning them between the greens and tees.”

The result is sensational. On terrain like this, you might expect a lot of awkward sidehill lies and narrow, tree-lined holes that quickly grow monotonous. Instead Bates has found and created enough interest and variety to keep you royally entertained from first to last.

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