Washington's Suncadia and Semiahmoo resorts deliver thrilling, scenic golf

Hard as it is to believe with all the green space and natural beauty spread across the state of Washington, but really, only two major golf resorts exist in the Evergreen State.

Although the Resort at Port Ludlow offers a fine golf course, Suncadia Resort and Semiahmoo Resort set the standard for vacation golf in Washington. Both require just a manageable drive from Sea-Tac Airport.

The Suncadia Resort, just 80 miles from Seattle across the mountains in Cle Elum, consists of 36 stunning holes of golf -- all built in the past several years, with another golf course on the way. The 36-hole Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, a two-hour drive north of Seattle, sits just south of the Canadian border. It remains one of America's best golf retreats, ranking No. 55 among the country's top resorts by Golf Digest in 2009.

Here's a peek inside both destinations:

Suncadia Resort

Suncadia Resort sprung from endless acres of unspoiled evergreens to become a 6,400-acre, master-planned site rated as one of the top 100 golf communities by several national publications. Outside of January, Cle Elum, a former logging hotbed in central Washington, receives a steady diet of sunshine. Plans call for the creation the world's second-largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the area by 2011. How's that for a ringing endorsement of the weather?

The 2008 additions of the Lodge at Suncadia and the Glade Springs Spa, plus a separate fitness center with outdoor and indoor pools and two indoor water slides, created a full-service, four-season recreation destination.

Set on a ridge, the Lodge at Suncadia, a stirring mountain retreat of 254 suites and penthouses, delivers panoramic vistas of the surrounding countryside and the Cle Elum River. The largest suites include full kitchens, a fireplace, washer and dryer. Two restaurants, Fifty 6 Degrees and Portals, satisfy your stomach with their food and your eyes with their views.

The golf is even tastier. The 7,112-yard Prospector course at Suncadia, a sporty resort golf course with wide, slithering fairways bordered by mounding, opened in 2005. Devilish greens serve as its primary defense. The drivable, 340-yard fifth hole tempts some visitors into trying to carry the full length of a pond. The elevated tees of the dramatic, 411-yard 10th hole offer vistas in every direction.

The 412-yard, par-4 ninth and 540-yard, par-5 18th share daunting approach shots over the same pond.

"There aren't a lot of triple bogeys out here," says Brady Hatfield, the golf course's head professional. "You can usually get the ball around the green in two or three shots. It's getting in the hole that's hard."

Tom Doak's 7,080-yard Tumble Creek course clearly ranks as that superior track at Suncadia Resort, but it remains closed to the public. A tighter, tree-lined front nine gives way to fun back side. Back-to-back par 5s rule. The 14th hole romps downhill at 605 yards, followed by a shorter 515-yard hole, reachable in two if you're brave enough to carry a creek off the tee.

Suncadia Resort's Rope Rider course, designed for families and juniors, features green complexes that aren't nearly as severe as the other two tracks. Fescue grasses and a mountainous pile of coal tailings left over from a former mine frame several holes of the walkable layout. Hatfield said he prefers the Rope Rider to the Prospector. (Editor's note: The Rope Ryder is partially open for member play, but won't be open to the public until fall 2010 at the earliest, and more likely, 2011.)

"The golf is good, because we have three different experiences," Hatfield said. "We have a golf facility good enough for any tournament."

Away from the golf, the outdoor pursuits are endless. Kayaking, snow mobiles, fly fishing, horseback riding and hiking are popular. Hatfield takes his workers whitewater rafting each season for team building. Cle Elum and the tiny village of Roslyn, Wash., the setting for the 1990s TV series "Northern Exposure," are charming and worth a visit.

Suncadia Resort remains committed to keeping its beautiful surroundings intact. The planning and design guidelines require preservation of 80 percent open space, extensive use of native vegetation and miles of pedestrian and bike trails, earning Suncadia the highest three-star certification from Built Green.

Tony Brady, a member at the prestigious Sahalee Country Club in suburban Seattle, was so smitten with Suncadia Resort that he purchased a home and a membership.

"It's a special place," Brady said.

Semiamhoo Resort

The 198-room Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine thrives as a favorite seaside escape. It sits on a finger of land between Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor, the site of a historic salmon-packing cannery. In 1986, Semiahmoo was transformed into the state's largest full-service resort.

Most golfers would probably prefer to play Semiamhoo's Loomis Trail golf course over Semiamhoo Golf and Country Club although both rank among the top 10 public golf courses in Washington. Both courses are walkable delights beloved by their members. The duo rotates open dates to the public -- Semiahmoo on odd days of the month and Loomis Trail on even days.

About three miles from the resort, Semiahmoo Golf and C.C. roams through a neighborhood at times, but it includes plenty of natural scenery, like the views of the snow-capped Mount Baker on the fourth hole.

Arnold Palmer's slope-riddled greens keep golfers on the defensive. The best stretch comes near a pond on the 11th hole, a short par 4 that measures 343 yards from the members' tees. The 155-yard 12th hole plays over the same hazard to a narrow green.

The Jeff Coston Golf Academy sits on site. Coston, Semiahmoo Resort's director of instruction, formerly played on the PGA Tour and Nike Tour.

Loomis Trail, a 7,137-yard layout by Graham Cooke, features water on every hole. That claim to fame might scare some golfers, yet it probably attracts even more. Golfers gladly risk losing a few shots for the chance to conquer one of the state's toughest courses.

"People come here for the challenge," member Bill Engh said.

The greens at Loomis Trail aren't as dramatic as at Semiahmoo Golf and C.C. The problem? Getting there. The second hole, a typical target test, includes a creek that runs the entire right side, gobbling up sliced tee shots. Another pond waits around the dogleg right near the green.

Despite the risks, golfers who attack often reap rewards. A plaque on the white tee at the par-4 13th hole commemorates a double-eagle, hole-in-one by Matt Ewald of Washburn University during the 2009 NCAA Division II championships.

The 14th hole offers an intriguing option with its fairway split by a set of trees. The safe play is to hit it right. The left side demands a longer carry over the pond off the tee but rewards with a chance go for the green in two. Two monster par 4s, the 472-yard 17th and the 419-yard 18th, finish the day with approach shots over more water to the green.

After golf, relax on one of the lounge chairs overlooking the beach. Packers Lounge and Oyster Bar, among Semiahmoo Resort's four restaurants, virtually sits on the sand, making it ideal for sunset meals.

Washington golf resorts: The verdict

Semiahmoo Resort has long held the title as Washington's premier golf getaway destination. The newer Suncadia Resort challenges Semiahmoo's status. Do you prefer the mountains or the beach? Really, you can't go wrong with either option. Their sheer beauty is matched only by their many amenities, which help make guests feel good about the value.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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Washington's Suncadia and Semiahmoo resorts deliver thrilling, scenic golf