An area known for incredible seafood, grunge music, some of the world's best coffee and the setting great 90s sitcom "Frasier" can only really be described one way: eclectic.
And with golf adding to the list of somewhat contrasting things to enjoy about the greater Seattle/Tacoma area, it's clear that this is a place worth visiting if you haven't made the rounds (pun intended) in the Pacific Northwest.
Indeed, that sort of study of contrasts extends to the area golf scene, as the premier layouts tend to have distinct looks. Chambers Bay, 2015 U.S. Open site, is open and zigzags up and down a hill on a former gravel pit toward the spectacular body of water for which it is named. Just 40 minutes west is another headliner of a course: Salish Cliffs Golf Club, part of the Little Creek Casino Resort.
I had the opportunity to visit both these courses recently. I'll prepare my thoughts on big, bold, (mostly) wide-open Chambers Bay in due time, but here's what you need to know about sylvan Salish Cliffs:
The High Notes
It ticks all the boxes. The Gene Bates-designed course is beautiful and fun to play, with enough variety and intrigue to inspire multiple plays during a stay. Superintendent Anton Diaz and his staff have the course dialed in maintenance-wise - the fairways are clipped perfectly for making confident contact and the greens are just right in terms of firmness and speed. The bright white sand in the jagged-edged bunkers provides great contrast, too.
Plenty of places to gamble. Salish Cliffs Golf Club establishes its cheeky personality immediately, by giving players a legitimate chance to start eagle-eagle. The opener is a shortish, downhill par five, and the brilliant second hole is my favorite on the course: a slightly uphill short par four where going for the green - requiring an aggressive line over bunkers and along a hazard's edge - is darn near irresistible. Hopefully you'll get off to a good start, because the third hole brings the pain in the form of a downhill par three that measures as long as 291 yards (!) from the tips.
When in doubt, play it forward. The Pacific Northwest climate is such that Salish Cliffs can play a bit soft at times, making it a wise decision to move up a set of tees if you find yourself debating between sets. A good rule of thumb is to pick the tees that will give you a reasonable chance of reaching the first green in two and the second green with your tee shot. This will set a fun tone for the remainder of the round, which will send you off with one more great eagle opportunity on the par-5 18th.
Stay out of the sand. The bunkering at Salish Cliffs is distinctive. Not only is it eye-catching, it can be a round-wrecker if you're not careful. That's because if you hit your ball into one of the little jagged protuberances that make the bunkers so different, you may have little choice but to play out sideways. That said, Gene Bates and his crew did well to resist the urge to make these hazards overly deep, so some sort of productive escape is usually possible.
The cliffs aren't on the golf course. The name of the course refers to a Squaxin Island tribal legend, where a warrior who also was known for singing a spirit song courted a beautiful young woman who was promised to another. They walked along the cliffs on Squaxin Island, the woman jumped off, turned into a red-tailed hawk and flew away. The name of the course honors the tale.
Little Creek Casino impresses. Right next door to Salish Cliffs is the associated Little Creek Casino Resort. Its two towers comprise just under 200 rooms and suites. I stayed on the fifth floor of Tower 2, whose rooms are fresh off a comprehensive renovation and feel brand-new. Those rooms, by the way, are huge, with massive bathrooms highlighted by big showers with an interesting pebbled floor. Trying the local seafood is a must - especially the Dungeness Crab and local oysters - and a pre- or post-round massage at the on-site Seven Inlets Spa is both possible and recommended. All in all, the resort is richly deserving of its Platinum distinction on our "Best Golf & Casino Resorts" list.
Championship tees (7,269 yards; Men: 76.0 Rating/146 Slope)
Tournament (6,766; M: 73.4/139)
Players (6,312; M: 71.3/135)
Masters (5,848 ; M: 69.1/129 W: 74.6/139)
Forward (5,313; W: 71.5/129)
Ski Symbol Rating: Black Diamond
Green fees: $79-$109