Salish Cliffs Golf Club is a relative newcomer, having opened in September 2011, but that hasn’t stopped it from piling up the awards. This Gene Bates design routinely wins Top Casino Course and Top Resort Course honors, and this year it was named the Best Course in Washington and Top US Course for Off-Course Amenities by GolfAdvisor.com.
I recently had the opportunity to stay and play at Salish Cliffs Golf Club and Little Creek Casino Resort to see what all the fuss is about.
Salish Cliffs is not a course where you want to walk to the first tee cold, so, appropriately, they have excellent practice facilities. The grass range is big enough for a few foursomes, and the range balls are Titleist NXT Tours. Having top quality range balls means you get a realistic sense of how far your ball is traveling. The range is substantially downhill which allows you to prepare for all the elevation changes on the course.
The putting green is a perfect mirror of the greens you’ll see on the course. There’s also a short game area with three different greens and a bunker.
Amenities & Customer Service
The entire guest experience at Salish Cliffs is outstanding, but no element is as omnipresent as the on-cart GPS, the best I’ve ever used (carts are required because of the elevation changes and the distance between holes). The graphics are sharp and include multiple views of each hole plus a narrated flyover. You can touch the screen to get distances to any point on the hole, and the system can also be used to order food or call for assistance. Most impressive, the GPS knows and displays the exact location of every hole instead of just giving front-middle-back yardages.
Another place Salish Cliffs excels is in the clubhouse. The Titleist-stocked pro shop is well appointed with souvenirs and necessities, and the restaurant is excellent. They serve breakfast and lunch, and the menu goes beyond your basic hamburgers and hot dogs to include local fish, salads, and a quality beer selection.
Finally, the customer service at the course is great. From head pro David Kass to the genuinely enthusiastic kids who shuttle carts and clean your clubs, everyone there is committed to making your time at Salish Cliffs memorable.
Off Course – Little Creek Casino Resort
You can’t talk about Salish Cliffs without discussing the Little Creek Casino Resort. Often the golf course attached to a resort is an afterthought, or vice versa, but in this case both are absolutely top notch.
If you’re a gambler, Little Creek will keep you very busy. They have table games, a poker room, and rows of electronic gaming.
Little Creek has plenty for the non-gambler, too, highlighted by the Seven Islets Spa. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the spa, and it was wonderful. They offer a wide range of massages and other services, or you can spend the day enjoying the steam room and sauna.
No matter how you spend your days – golf, gaming, or relaxing – you’ll have built an appetite for dinner. Little Creek gives you plenty of dining options with the Creekside Buffet, Island Grille, and always-packed Squaxin Island Seafood Bar. I ate most of my meals at the Island Grille, and while I would have been happy to try the other options, I kept finding delicious new things on the Island Grille menu.
Impeccable. The greens at Salish Cliff are some of the smoothest I’ve ever seen. When I played, they were running an 11 on the stimpmeter, and they were perfectly consistent from one hole to the next.
The other aspects of the course aren’t exactly slouches either. Each of the 69 bunkers is hand-raked every day, and the tee boxes are well-maintained and flat. The bentgrass fairways are beautifully framed by lush, thick ryegrass rough.
Beauty & Scenery
Salish Cliff’s Head Pro David Kass told me, “Chambers Bay has one tree. Salish Cliffs has the rest.” This isn’t much of an exaggeration. Spread out over 320 beautiful acres, Salish Cliffs is an absolutely beautiful stretch of the Pacific Northwest.
A big part of Salish Cliffs’ appeal is the isolated feeling it delivers. There are no parallel fairways, no houses on the course, and only a few holes where you’ll see other golfers. You get totally immersed in the trees where you can enjoy the elevation changes, the views of the Kamilche Valley, and the company of your playing partners.
Course Design & Difficulty
Above all, Salish Cliffs demands quality ball striking, especially off the tee. As you can see above, the fairways are reasonably generous, but when you wander more than a few yards off of them, your ball is as good as lost. The combination of tall grass, thick rough, and dense trees make searching for a lost ball an exercise in futility. Bring plenty of ammo – even Salish’s pros lose some balls out there!
As I mentioned earlier, the greens are unbelievably smooth and fairly quick. They’re average sized, and they offer a few substantial ridges and segmentation, but nothing that’s unplayable. Generally speaking, if you’re on the green, you’ll have a makeable putt.
My favorite thing about Salish Cliffs is the cleverness of the design. After a roller coaster start (tight par 5, driveable par 4, long par 3, seen above), the course gets more subtle. It doesn’t give you difficulty with a million bunkers – it has 69 bunkers that are all in play (with devilish “fingers” that are damn near unplayable). It doesn’t give you variety with 90 degree doglegs in alternating directions – it has subtle elevation and slopes that require you to adapt to every imaginable lie. There are forced carries and water, but neither is the defining feature of the course, nor are they forced upon players using the forward tees. In short, Salish Cliffs is one of the smartest designs I’ve seen and a course you can play over and over without being bored.
One final tip: don’t let you ego pick your tees. The white tees, at 6300 yards, are plenty long for the 10 handicap who drives it around 250 yards. If you play too far back, the forced carries off the tee and the subtle elevation changes will make for a very long round.
If you’re looking to get away, whether with your spouse or a group of golfing buddies, you can’t go wrong selecting Salish Cliffs and Little Creek Casino Resort. The golf is world-class, and the resort provides for every desire you could have. The only problem you’ll have is not wanting to leave.
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