Heading to Chambers Bay for the U.S. Open? Salish Cliffs will double your fun.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club opened in 2011 to rousing applause as Seattle native Fred Couples cut the ribbon and teed off on freshly manicured bent grass just steps from Little Creek Casino Resort.
A half-decade later, not much has changed.
The Gene Bates design still looks as good as new thanks to some of the finest conditioning you’ll see on a public course, establishing it as the youngest course ever to crack the Top 10 of Golfweek’s “Best Casino Courses.”
Nestled inside the type of sky-scraping timbers that are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest, the course—located just outside Olympia and about 80 miles from Seattle—provides a level of seclusion you wouldn’t expect with the flashing lights and slot machine sounds of an award-winning casino next door. The intimacy allows golfers to appreciate the uniqueness of each hole and strategize their approach. This isn’t a course for ripping drives, but for engineering and executing shots down a chute of evergreens or through the wind.
Pictured: Salish Cliffs #15
The opening stretch of holes welcomes you to the party with a downhill par-5, a drivable, uphill par-4 and a long, sharp-dropping par-3 in that order. Just as a seasoned gambler inside the resort would weigh risk and reward scenarios, a smart player will be able to navigate these first three tees with a strong score, building confidence for what comes later.
The biggest challenge actually comes on holes 14-16. Each par-4 is different, but this stretch encapsulates Bates’ naturalistic design and the course’s 600 feet of elevation change. As Head PGA Golf Professional David Kass says, “Those three can make or break your round. If you score well there, chances are you played a solid overall game that day.”
But even if you don’t score well, you’ll enjoy your day at Salish Cliffs. Dotting the course are totem poles and other nods to the Squaxin Island Tribe that owns and operates the course, which is of a piece with its surrounding wetlands, Douglas firs and the beauty of Kamilche Valley. It’s Northwest golf at its finest, but just one of many remarkable amenities at the resort.
Pictured: Slaish Cliffs #18, photo credit Brian Oar
Pictured: Salish Cliffs Clubhouse
Also owned and operated by the tribe, Little Creek Casino Resort greets guests with stunning pieces of artwork and artifacts in its lobby. Its 200 lodging options range from well-appointed standard rooms to ultra-luxurious spa and presidential suites. There’s even a new RV park.
Once your day of golf is complete, an array of relaxation and entertainment options awaits. Maybe your muscles could use a treatment at the resort’s aqua-themed Seven Inlets Spa. Or try a Eucalyptus Steam Room retreat or back and shoulder massage.
You’ll find a different type of relaxation at the Skookum Spirit Cigar & Wine Bar—a refined space reserved for two pleasures on par with the outstanding golf. An expert tobacconist will point you to one of about a hundred premium cigars. Or unwind with a fine single malt or locally produced wine.
Voted by the state’s residents as the “Best Casino in Western Washington,” Little Creek boasts Vegasstyle slots, table games and a high-stakes poker room—many of which are found on a smoke-free floor, one of the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. The spacious Skookum Creek Event Center regularly hosts music and comedy acts and has become the region’s boxing mecca, hosting fight nights for both Showtime and ESPN.
Don’t expect the typical heat lamp-lit buffets. The resort’s prime location near the South Puget Sound and famous fish markets of Seattle gains them access to some of the freshest catch you’ll find. Hit the Squaxin Island Seafood Bar for the resort’s famous seafood chowder and other mouth-watering fare.
Chambers Bay is just 45 minutes around the southern tip of Puget Sound from Salish Cliffs, but nearly the complete opposite in terms of design. Where Little Creek’s golf amenity is thick with forestry and tight around the edges, Chambers Bay cascades across wide-open space as if the breeze swept it right out of the water. It has exactly one tree: a lone Douglas fir on the 15th hole.
Pictured: Chambers Bay, photo credit Martin Miller
That might be the only reminder that you’re still in the northwest United States. This is true links golf, more in line with what you’d find at the British Open rather than a domestic muni. Built on top of the sandy shores of a former gravel mine, Robert Trent Jones II successfully mimics the undulating style of those classic Scottish seaside courses.
Little Creek’s proximity to the event site, in conjunction with housing another one of the Northwest’s best golf courses, makes it a popular pick for the fans to set up base camp.
The resort is offering an exclusive stay-and-play package that includes deluxe accommodations, 18 holes at Salish Cliffs Golf Club and vouchers for discounted pro-shop items, meals and future reservations.
WHERE TO PLAY
Salish Cliffs Golf Club
Chambers Bay Golf Club
WHERE TO STAY
Little Creek Casino Resort
WORTH A DRIVE (AND A PUTT)
The Golf Club at Newcastle
An hour north of Chambers Bay, the 36-hole facility comes with views of Lake Washington, the Seattle skyline and the Olympic and Cascade ranges.
Gamble Sands Golf Club
David McLay Kidd’s dramatic new work along the Columbia River is a four-hour drive east of Chambers Bay in Brewster.
Wine Valley Golf Club
Ranked among Golfweek’s top 100 modern courses, this Dan Hixson layout is in Walla Walla, four hours southeast of Chambers Bay.