SHELTON, Wash. -- Two Seattle-area golf courses, two excellent choices, and they couldn't be more different. But if you make a trip to Seattle to play golf, Chambers Bay and Salish Cliffs should be the first two on your list.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club, which opened in 2011, is owned by Squaxin Island Indian Tribe. It's next to a casino resort, has a wonderful clubhouse and isn't walkable. Chambers Bay, which opened in 2007, has already hosted a U.S. Amateur, is the site of next year's U.S. Open, doesn't have a clubhouse and is only walkable.
Both are must-plays for anyone making a golf trip to the Seattle area. They make a great 1-2 punch. Here's a look at both venues and why you should play them.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club: What you need to know
For most folks, unless you're already in the Pacific time zone, a plane trip to Seattle is a long one, so I'd recommend not playing either one of these courses the first day. Instead, take a travel day to Seattle, then drive about an hour or so south of the airport to Shelton and stay at the Little Creek Casino and Hotel, which is right next to Salish Cliffs Golf Club.
Little Creek is only about 40 minutes or so south of Chambers Bay, too. If you're planning a trip to the U.S. Open in 2015, Little Creek Casino would be a good choice for accommodations, plus you could bring your sticks and play Salish Cliffs while you're there.
Ranked as the 10th-best casino course in the country by Golfweek and no. 2 public course in Washington behind Chambers Bay, Salish Cliffs is a Gene Bates design carved out of a Pacific Northwest forest with stunning views of the Kamilche Valley. An amenity to the resort, which is owned by the Squaxin Island Tribe, the course can play as long as 7,269 yards from the championship tees, but has four more sets of tees for all levels of players. It also has more than 600 feet of elevation change, which translates into panoramic views from several tees.
Another unique aspect of this mostly bentgrass course is the double green on nine and 18. The ninth is a tricky par 4, where players must be careful to avoid the water off the tee and keep the ball right of the hazard on the approach. The 18th is a terrific risk-reward par 5. Hit a good drive, and you've got a pretty scary shot over the lake with anything from a 7-iron to a fairway wood if you want to try to get there in two.
Bottom line is that Salish Cliffs is a beautiful and well-thought-out golf course with outstanding practice facilities. And it's a course you'll want to play more than once, which means your best bet is staying overnight at Little Creek before heading back up to University Place, where Chambers Bay is located.
Accommodations are more than comfortable, plus there's gaming, excellent dining (which is also available at the Salish Cliffs clubhouse), a small but excellent spa and the new Skookum Spirit Cigar & Wine Lounge, which has a humidor stocked with more than 70 different premium cigar brands.
Chambers Bay: What you need to know
Since Chambers Bay is fairly close to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it makes sense to play it on your getaway day if you can get a late flight. Better yet, though, since there are no locker room facilities at Chambers Bay, you might want to get a hotel by the airport for that night and fly out the next morning.
Built on an old gravel pit hundreds of feet deep in sand, Chambers Bay will be the third municipal course to host the U.S. Open (Bethpage Black on Long Island, N.Y., was the first, followed by Torrey Pines in 2008). This Robert Trent Jones II gem, which has undergone several changes since it first opened, is also the first U.S. links course to host the event. There are no cart paths and lots of hills to climb. A caddie, which costs around $100 with tip, is certainly recommended for first timers and anyone who would have difficulty carrying their bag and dragging a pull cart up and down the sandy terrain. Green fees for out-of-state guests, by the way, are $239, $165 for Washington residents and $115 for Pierce County residents.
Ranked no. 25 among public courses in the United States by Golf Digest, Chambers Bay is unlike anything most Americans have or will ever play. It has undergone some changes in recent years since the 2010 U.S. Amateur won by Peter Uihlein. The course's fescue greens are periodically reseeded, and every once in a while a temporary green is used to ensure the health of the greens, which undergo heavy traffic throughout the year.
In true links style, fairways and greens are difficult to distinguish from each other, which means you can putt from off the green (often recommended) and land the ball short of the hole and expect it to bounce up on the green.
You can also expect good breaks and bad breaks, balls coming back to your feet on approach shots left short, and drives that run forever if you find the speed slots in the fairways. Miss the fairways, and you could have impossible lies in tall fescue -- if you find your ball -- in stances that you rarely experience.
There's one tree on the course, Lone Fir, for which the par-3 15th is named. It sits behind the green and in front of the busy railroad tracks separating the course from the bay on Puget Sound.
Chambers Bay is a long course -- it could be set up to nearly 8,000 yards -- so it takes a while to get around. Don't expect to play it in less than five hours, even if you're not being held up by the group in front of you. The difficulty (75.6/139 from the tournament tees) combined with the hike make for a long but enjoyable day.
A caddie will prove valuable in all aspects, especially green reading, which can be tough. But more importantly, they will tell you where not to miss, which can result in balls finishing in areas that were even more difficult than the original shot.
Since the round will be fairly long, I recommend making a day of it at Chambers Bay, especially since there's no clubhouse. Upon arrival, you and your clubs are shuttled down to the course. But first you should have brunch or lunch at the Chambers Bay Grill, which overlooks the course and the bay. The food is excellent, but there's often a wait. And because the kitchen is fairly small, service isn't particularly fast. But that's okay. After all, what's the hurry?