By James A. Frank
When listing the best college courses, the top names are standards like Yale, Ohio State, Taconic (Williams College), and Rawls (Texas Tech), all great layouts at well-known schools. But I just played the course that’s number two on LINKS Magazine’s list of top college layouts as well Golfweek’s number four: Palouse Ridge, on the campus of Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
Never heard of it? Not a surprise since Pullman is at the far eastern end of the state, almost into Idaho, a little city with a small-town feel in the middle of farmland.
Palouse Ridge was designed by the late John Harbottle, who died in 2012 at a way-too-young 53 years old. Something of a local hero, Harbottle did most of his work—both new courses and renovations/restorations—in the west. He worked on such classics as Waverly CC and Portland GC in Portland, Los Angeles CC (North), and Stevinson Ranch (Calif.). Palouse, which he designed from scratch, is his most notable original work, hewing to the philosophy espoused on his website to “create natural looking golf courses with a links touch; timeless classics that fit the terrain as if they have always existed.”
If Palouse is any indication, Harbottle also worked very hard to make golf fun, creating challenge without undue difficulty, and, along with staying natural, emphasizing an area’s natural beauty. Slated to host next year’s Pac-12 Championship, the course plays mostly on high ground that affords wonderful views out to mountains and over acres of fields, ranches, and farms. It’s also close enough to campus—a short walk from everything—to sit amidst interesting educational facilities including a nuclear reactor and a refuge for grizzly bears. (The latter is open to the public and worth visiting; not sure, or sure I want to be, about the former.)
The holes show great variety in length, hilliness, and strategy. Given the architect’s devotion to “a links touch,” there are many times that, as my host told me, “Harbottle gives you the ground,” allowing for successful approaches that roll onto the greens. Sometimes that means favoring one side or the other, but mounding usually gives you a very clear indication of which way to go. The greens are very true, some quite large, and like everything else, well maintained.
After a round, Banyan’s, the small restaurant in the clubhouse, is one of the best in town (which is not, I promise, damning with faint praise). Throughout the school year, and especially football weekends, it is packed for dinner and rightfully so. It features a good selection of regional wines, as well.
Something else remarkable about Palouse is its price. Rounds are under $100, just $40 for seniors, $20 for juniors. Of course, the season is only about six months long. I was told things get particularly exciting during football season when the Cougars are playing in the nearby stadium and it’s possible to follow the game from on the course by listening to the public-address announcer and the crowd roars, “social media” that only a college town can offer.
One more thing that Pullman offers, definitely worth searching out, is Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe, which is on campus and part of the school of food science. The homemade ice cream is outstanding (and also inexpensive), while loyal alums and others sing the praises of Cougar Cheese. If you have enough golf shirts, a tin of Cougar Gold, the aged cheddar, is a tasty reminder of your visit. It’s also available online. The ice cream, unfortunately, is not.