Seattle's best: Chambers Bay and Salish Cliffs Golf Club make great 1-2 combo

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?

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Related Links

Chambers Bay is being lauded as having more in common with a British Open course than a typical U.S. Open track. But is it really a "links golf course?" Brandon Tucker takes a look at both sides of the argument.
5 Min Read
With the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay closing in fast, now's the perfect time to execute a golf trip to the Emerald City. Since Seattle isn't known as an A-list golf destination in the Pacific Northwest -- Oregon steals much of its thunder -- a three-day getaway with greens fees costing less than $200 remains an attainable goal.
2 Min Read
The opening of Chambers Bay in 2007 and the announcement that it would host the 2015 U.S. Open put the Seattle area on the golf tourism map. There's no better place to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Northwest's mountains and evergreen forests than from an elevated tee box or green. With that in mind, Jason Scott Deegan offers up a top 10 list of the best public golf courses within an hour's drive of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
5 Min Read
Tour players are speaking out about 2015 U.S. Open host Chambers Bay. Here's how the critically-acclaimed course has rated so far on Golf Advisor.
4 Min Read
More from the author
6 Min Read
May 28, 2019
PORT ARANSAS, Texas — Golf is being redefined at Palmilla Beach Resort and Golf Community on the Texas coast.
9 Min Read
May 24, 2019
University programs, both large and small, continue to invest in their golf facilities
5 Min Read
May 21, 2019
New owner Escalante Golf has made considerable investment since 2017.
8 Min Read
May 20, 2019
Not all Texas country clubs have had the steadfast history of Fort Worth's Colonial. But while some of these sites have been lost, others are now public and affordable.
5 Min Read
May 3, 2019
Debate rages on whether a golf course property be based on current or highest use
7 Min Read
April 25, 2019
How four facilities got their stride back, and what struggling courses can learn from it
6 Min Read
September 6, 2022
Portmarnock Hotel, Galgorm Castle, Rosapenna and Slieve Russell pair well with spellbinding links like The Island and St. Patrick's Links.
5 Min Read
September 12, 2022
Silverado is primed to host the 2022 Fortinet Championship this week.
5 Min Read
September 25, 2022
The USGA knocked it out of the park with a new event, unique championship venues in 2022.
9 Min Read
September 18, 2022
The PGA Tour stalwart and 2017 PGA Championship venue gets its first taste of international match-play intrigue.
Load More
Now Reading
Seattle's best: Chambers Bay and Salish Cliffs Golf Club make great 1-2 combo