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Raves for Palouse Golf Trail

On the eastern end is the University of Idaho Golf Course in Moscow. The facility is well-named because it describes the course, which is what it is, and what it is, is pretty good.

On the other end, a mere eight miles west on Highway 270, is Palouse Ridge Golf Club at Washington State University, one of the top handful of courses in the state of Washington in its third year of operation.

Most golfers have heard of Palouse Ridge. Fewer know about U of I. Tee times are plentiful in the summer, when most of the student body (nearly 12,000) leaves town.

Which is a two-edged sword for Doug Tyler, U of I director of golf, who would naturally like to book more rounds but understands the ability to get a tee time is a selling point.

“One of the great things about it is, it’s accessible, especially in summer,” Tyler said. “It’s like having your own private golf course.”

The course has held its own in the economic downturn, Tyler said. It’s affordable (which can’t truly be said of its counterpart at Palouse Ridge), with a top fee for the general public of $28, with lower rates for twilight and other off-peak times.

What hurt more than the economy this year was wet weather, which suppressed play well into the peak season.

“In June, we were basically underwater, which was unusual,” he said. “We’re really semi-arid here. If you can’t get out and play in May and June, there’s a certain momentum you lose.”

U of I is not overly long (6,602 yards from the back tees), but shotmakers get a decent challenge.

“You never really have the same swing twice,” Tyler said, “because it’s always a little bit different. You don’t need to be able to hit it a mile to produce a good score, but it requires some finesse.”

The toughest hole is No. 4, a 556-yard par-5 with not one, but two, water towers. The hole plays into the normal wind pattern (left to right), and it’s out-of-bounds all the way up the right, so if you have a little fade, it turns into a slice and see you later.

But for Tyler’s money, the wicked, 232-yard uphill par-3 at No. 17 is the game-changer. Like No. 4, it’s OB right. And if you’re too far left of the green, you encounter a sharp dropoff back down to the 16th fairway.

Again, if it’s windy, and it can be, you can blow yourself right out of a good score.

“It can really be a bruiser of a hole,” Tyler said. “There have been many, many tournaments where the guy was leading going into 17, and he was nowhere to be seen after that.”

Affordable, challenging and distinctively scenic. All that, and you can get on. U of I is a worthy choice, especially as the other half of a two-fer with Palouse Ridge.

The western half of the Palouse swing is a built environment, to be sure, but Palouse Ridge flows nearly seamlessly among the swells and hillocks of the singular topography the university made home.

For designer John Harbottle III, the biggest challenge in creating Palouse Ridge was also its biggest asset: the textures of the landscape, its undulations and elevation changes, the tapestry of colors, especially this time of year.

“It just made it easy to create a lot of different character within the holes,” said Harbottle, of Tacoma, best known in Western Washington as designer of the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton.

“Variety is the key to great architecture.”

Harbottle’s mandate from WSU was to craft a championship golf course that was good for the general public as well as students and staff at the university. His clients wanted a top golf-teaching facility, and they wanted a working classroom for the university’s turfgrass management program.

Finally, the university wanted a course capable of hosting a championship of the United States Golf Association. The USGA has not come calling yet, but Palouse Ridge will be home to the women’s Pacific-10 Conference championships in 2012 and the men’s in 2014.

The national golf press has noticed Palouse Ridge. Golf Digest named it the No. 2 new public course for 2009, and Golfweek ranked it No. 2 among new courses.

The most recent acknowledgment is Golfweek’s nod to Palouse Ridge as the No. 3 university course in the nation.

“That’s really fun from my standpoint,” Harbottle said, “to be thought of among courses like Yale (No. 1), Ohio State (No. 9), Stanford (No. 5).”

U of I’s Tyler said he did some research and found that a mere 2 percent of U.S. universities have their own golf courses.

Which raises the question: What would be the percentage of regions in the U.S. with two campus golf courses, separated by less than 10 miles over a state border, with this kind of quality? Pretty near zero.

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