PULLMAN, Wash. - Judging by the first tee shot at Palouse Ridge Golf Club, you might be thinking you're in for a number of blind shots. But while there are indeed a few of them on the course, the experience at Palouse Ridge is actually quite the opposite.
For the most part, once you get past the second hole, it's clear sailing with views as far as the eye can see. Heck, from several points on the course, you can even watch planes land below at the Pullman Airport, a nice sideshow to the golf experience.
The Palouse, by the way, is a major wheat-producing region in the northwestern United States that includes eastern Washington and northern. At times, especially in the fall, you'll think this golf course is carved out of those amber waves of grain, especially when the high grass off the fairways turns golden, producing a stark contrast between fairways and native area.
If nothing else, Palouse Ridge Golf Club is a feast for the visual senses, leaving you spanning the hills, wondering where the best angles are to land your tee shots or approaches, allowing you to free-wheel a shot, which this course encourages.
But back at the first tee, General Manager Bruce Perisho might tell you to hit driver down the left side of the opening par 4 and to trust it. From there it will work its way toward the Bryan Clock Tower on the Washington State University campus, which splits the middle of the fairway.
He'll tell you to favor the right side of the fairway on the second hole - "but not too far right" - because the fairway slopes to the left, and you can catch the speed slot down the to the bottom. Once you get to your ball, it all becomes clear.
And on the first par 5, the fifth, you're advised that the fairway really does continue to 300-plus yards, though you can't see it.
Follow his advice, which also includes playing short of the green on several occasions and using the slopes to your advantage, and you'll do fine.
Palouse Ridge is a different kind of golf experience
With nary a tree on the golf course, many of the holes at Palouse Ridge truly do have a links feel to them, and Golf Course Architect John Harbottle III knew how to capture them.
Harbottle was born into golf. His parents were good players, and early in his design career, he traveled the British Isles to study the greats.
At Palouse Ridge Golf Club, the influence is obvious. This isn't target golf; it's thinking man's golf, but not in the sense of laying up on every hole but figuring out how to use the terrain to your advantage.
Firm and fast, the golf course doesn't play nearly as long as its advertised yardage (7,308 from the tips, 6,723 from one up and a par 72). Harbottle gives players many different ways to play holes and true to British links-style fashion, you can often putt or chip from off the green, depending on what your comfort level is with each.
You also won't find much water on the course, although it comes into play a couple of times, most notably the par-5 17th. A downhill 527-yard hole, it's easily reachable in two if you can get a drive down to the bottom of the hill.
The approach over water looks more intimidating than it really is. Truth is that you can hit a shorter club left of the green and get the kick to the putting surface. In fact, shots that carry all the way to green over the water are often run through these firm greens.
Palouse Ridge Golf Club: The verdict
The latest college golf course to open is also one of the best college courses in the country. It's right up there with Tom Doak's Rawls Course at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, but surpasses it because of the natural scenery.
Every hole at Palouse Ridge Golf Club is fun and memorable. Most golfers will enjoy bombing it off the elevated tees, but players who have been across the pond will have an extra appreciation for what Harbottle tried to do here.
The golf course also has an excellent range and practice facilities with lessons available from the professional staff. And the restaurant in the clubhouse is a great place to unwind whether you're playing golf or not.
When the weather is beautiful in the summer and fall, being able to enjoy a couple of brews or cocktails on the back deck overlooking the golf course is a special experience.
Getting to and staying at Palouse Ridge Golf Club
As PAC-10 sports fans will acknowledge, Pullman is in the middle of nowhere. If you're flying in, your best bet is Spokane then driving 78 miles south.
Currently, there are stay-and-play-packages offered at the Holiday Inn and University Inn in Pullman. Call Palouse Ridge for more information.