Constructed on a rolling 560-acre property that once belonged to the Boeing family, Tom Fazio’s course at Aldarra Golf Club was his first project in Washington State.
In fact, as the designer states, “Aldarra was our first course in the Northwest, which makes it a very important golf course. If my design firm is going to ‘fly our flag’ in a particular area, the golf can’t be just good, it has to be ‘as good as it gets’”.
The Fazio fairways at Aldarra have been routed through a heavily forested, secluded landscape with significant changes in elevation that allow amazing views of Mount Si and the surrounding Cascade mountains – it’s all very understated but spectacular, nonetheless.The closing four holes have acquired the moniker of “The Gauntlet,” as in the gauntlet being thrown down to signify a challenge over the final four holes, which comprise a long par three and three demanding par fours. Depending on how badly beaten up you already feel on the 15th tee of such a tough course, will you be able to resist the challenge over the final stretch?
Aldarra Golf Club is worthy of higher recognition, and I wondered whether it was not ranked higher due to Tom Fazio already having so many courses ranked as one of the top 200 courses in the USA. Perhaps it is because not many make it to the northwest corner of the continental USA. Or perhaps some prefer more of a “core” golf course that is not as spread out across a large piece of land as it is located on a former farm. It could also be that the final four holes, known as “the gauntlet” works against the club. I actually thought there was a better stretch of four consecutive holes earlier on the course.
The course begins with perhaps the best hole on the course and ends with a difficult hole. The beginning hole is also difficult and is definitely not designed to ease one into the round. Instead, your attention is immediate drawn to the challenge from the first tee throughout the round.
The conditioning of the course is very good and while the greens were perhaps a bit slower than usual, that is because of the intense heat wave the area has been experiencing. I found them to have more than adequate speed, although less speed than is normal for the course.
As with a course designed by Mr. Fazio, the bunkering is well placed on most of the holes. I only saw a few areas where I thought a bunker could have been added or relocated to a more strategic area. The bunkers vary in shape and depth which is a good feature on this course.
The greens are sometimes large and sometimes smaller, befitting the length of the hole. There is also a good variation in greens that are flatter to the nearby ground as well as some that are raised. The greens fall naturally with the terrain with some greens above you creating an approach shot where you cannot see the bottom of the flag as well as sometimes the green is on lower ground offering a good chance to determine the type of shot to hit and where to hit it onto the green. The greens features plateaus, shelves, sectional slopes, and several substantial fall-offs. Perhaps there could be more usage of short grass nearer the greens. In general the green surrounds are not overly manufactured with mounds, but there is a good usage of mounds on some holes to act as a backstop, although from these backstops one faces a sharper downhill chip. The greens are not difficult to read for two putts and I often over-read the break although generally could determine the speed.
The routing takes prime advantage of the change in terrain moving dramatically uphill as well as falling downhill. For those who desire to only walk a course, this would be a difficult walk in spots so perhaps some raters critique it for that aspect. The higher points of the course offer some fabulous long views of the Cascade Mountains. The views can be distracting from these holes. There is a nice mixture of longer and shorter holes as well as difficult versus “easier” holes.
The course is not overly long for the longest hitters as the Aldarra tees are at 6955 yards, par 71. Yet one can see the challenge is the course ratings of 74.9/151. The slope felt a little high to me but not by much because I think the greens are not overly difficult. The Championship tees are 6610 yards rated 72.9/147 while the member tees are 6212 yards at 70.6/139. We played the championship tees.
1. Par 4 – 438/417. The opening hole sets the challenge for the round. This hole is a dogleg left angled around a pond that begins about 170-200 yards off the tee and finishes at the front left of the green. There are flanking bunkers about 200-220 yards out at the point of the turn of the fairway. The bunker on the right is the more difficult one as one needs to take on the water again while avoiding a collection of three bunkers on the right about 75 yards from the green. Bigger hitters will carry the fairway bunkers and will get a favorable roll if they do as the hole plays downhill from the tee. The green is in two sections with the left side being lower as well as fronted by the pond. To the left of the green are two deep bunkers while the back right has a couple of trees. This is one of the most challenging beginning holes I have played but yet it is still fair.
2. Par 3 – 181/168. This hole plays longer as it is uphill. There is a long sinewy bunker on the right half and a smaller one on the back right corner. The green has a small shelf on the right front that is a very difficult pin due to the size of the shelf. To the left of the shelf is a long swale that goes nearly halfway into the green. I do not know if they ever put the pin in the swale but putting from there is going to require good judgment. While this hole is not visually appealing, it is a difficult hole due to all of the movement in the green. In addition, if one goes right off the tee they will find themselves in an area of trees and high grass, likely resulting in a dropped shot or more.
3. Par 5 – 563/550. This is the third most dramatic tee shot on the course playing uphill with a forced carry to a higher plateau. There is a bunker on the right and another on the left that can be seen but also pinch the fairway to about 40% of its width. Bigger hitters will fly the bunker on the right while average hitters will play to the left of it. The fairway tilts to the right and has a bit of a fishhook to the right at the end. There is another bunker on the left for one’s second shot that should not be in play unless one hits a truly terrible shot like I did. Farther up are two additional bunkers on the left that are more problematic because one wants to aim at them but stay slightly to the right. If coming into the hole from the right side you will likely be blocked by trees if the pin is on the right of the green. There is a deep fronting bunker on the right side of the green which also has another small shelf located on the right. The left side of the green is more accessible and friendly. There is another swale on the front center of the green. This is the best par 5 on the course.
4. Par 4 – 369. The first “short” hole has scattered trees down both sides creating what looks to be a narrower driving corridor than it actually is. The green is angled to the right with a substantial swale on the right front creating a small landing space on the back right of the green. There is a deep bunker on the front left of the green and fall-offs behind it. I thought the swale cut too deeply into the green and also felt a run-off area from the swale should have been added. This is a fun hole where one thinks they will do well, but they must hit two precise shots from the tee to the green.
5. Par 4 – 445/387. The back tee here is a brute requiring a forced carry of over 220 yards teeing off through a chute of trees with heavy trees continuing down the right side. Fortunately I did not have to try this as the championship tees are more player friendly. A small bunker is placed on the left for those trying to play away from the trees on the right but I thought the bunker to be unnecessary. The green is fabulous with a substantial false front that goes nearly halfway into the green. The green is angled to the left with a fronting bunker on the left side. One simply has to get their ball onto the back half of the green. This is a very good hole.
6. Par 3 – 195/176. This hole has a cow-shaped green with a narrower opening and a bunker on either side. There is a ditch/area of wetlands about 20 yards short of the green and a large tree on the right side at the ditch. The green is tilted back to front and did not have as much interior movement as the five holes preceding it.
7. Par 5 – 524/503. There is a short forced carry to a hole that plays slightly downhill. One needs to stay inside of the tree line on the right but avoid the bunker on the left. The fairway moves a bit to the right which is the best side to approach the long, but narrow green that is well defended by three bunkers of which two are at the front corners and one on the back left. I thought a rear bunker could have been added. If one misses to the left of the green there is a substantial fall-off and it will leave a semi-blind shot. The green has a lot of almost micro-plateaus in it but overall tilts back to front. This is a very nice hole despite what one might expect from a shorter par 5.
8. Par 4 – 471/456. This is a difficult hole due to both its length and being a dogleg left with trees on the inner corner. Down the left side is taller grass. Still, the bigger hitters will try to reach the fairway by playing left of the trees. There are two bunkers on the outer corner of the turn. The hole continues downhill to the green where one needs to stay out of the bunker that is on the right about 30 yards short of the green. The more challenging bunker is on the left front as it is deep and one has to stop a ball immediately if the pin is on the left side as the green is much smaller on that side. The green is angled right to the left with fall-offs behind it. It is a very good hole more so due to a good green complex.
9. Par 3 – 152/137. Probably the weakest hole on the course and visually unexciting but more so due to what one has played before arriving here. This short hole features a bunker down the right side and another bunker on the left side opposite it. There is a substantial fall-off on the left side of the green. The green has a gradual second tier. This is another hole where I felt a rear or front bunker could have been added to increase the visual attractiveness.
10. Par 4 – 357. This might have been my favorite hole on the course playing uphill with tall grass off to the right. The fairway has a lot of width so one should be able to play away from the tall grass. There is a fairway bunker on the inner corner of the turn to the right. The green is elevated with a deep bunker on the front right. There is mounding behind the green serving as a backstop. The green has a middle spine creating a higher right side. I thought this was the best visual on the course for the second shot as well as thinking the green is really good due to its movement.
11. Par 5 – 525. This par 5 plays uphill with a short forced carry to the fairway. There is a bunker on the left that one needs to avoid. There is another bunker on the right about 75 yards up from the one on the left which seemed to be in an odd place. This is another excellent green complex as the green is elevated and angled to the left with a deep front middle bunker and a very nasty bunker in the rear middle of the green. The green has another substantial swale in the middle of the green acting as an interior “false front.” One could also argue this to be the best par 5 on the course. Due to that “false front” inside the green this is the green most likely to have a three putt or more.
12. Par 5 – 522/516. The weakest par 5 comes next but that is fine given the magnificent views of the surrounding mountains from the tee visible all the way to the green. The tee is the highest point of the course and the next three holes play downhill. This hole plays shorter than the yardage as it is downhill. There is an early bunker right. The next fairway bunkers sit on the right about 90 yards from the green and one on the left about 20 yards from the green. This green is angled to the right where two bunkers are placed at the middle right. I felt the green to be lacking in character much like the ninth.
13. Par 3 – 271/230. There is another magnificent view from both of the tees. This hole plays downhill between a chute of trees to a narrow green with two bunkers on the left side. The safe play is to land short and let one’s balls release onto the green as it seems to slope away from you. The hole is perhaps more visually appealing than it is strong from a playing perspective but it is an exciting and fun hole.
14. Par 4 – 455/411. The final downhill hole perhaps mirrors the eighth a bit too much. This is another dogleg left but this time a large bunker is placed on the inner turn instead of a large tree. The green is large and has flanking bunkers at the front corners. The green climbs to the back and this was the one of the few greens where I thought a three putt to be a high probability due to the size and slope of the green.
15. Par 3 – 234/219. The gauntlet begins here and there is a silo on the left as a remnant of the former farm. The green is a bit odd for the hole angled to the right arcing around a front middle bunker that is deep. There is a smaller bunker on the left side. The right side of the green is thin and does not really hold long shots. My understanding is that this hole was designed to be played at 150 yards teeing off next to the silo but perhaps the course is trying to increase its yardage to get over 7000 yards.
16. Par 4 – 475/427. There is another forced carry her to a hole playing slightly left off the tee. The fairway is very generous. Perhaps the longest fairway bunker is one the left side while two bunkers are placed on the right but generally out of play for average length players. The green is angled to the left with a substantial fall off on the left side. There is a bunker on the left side as well. I thought the green deserved a bit more interesting micro-contouring just off the right side of the green.
17. Par 4 – 340. The final short par 4 plays uphill off the tee. There is no reason for even the longest hitters to try to go straight at the green which is off to the right as there are three bunkers fronting the green, trees down the right side and a waste area. The green is shallow placed on a higher plateau behind those fronting bunkers. I felt the green should be widened on the right side by 3-4 yards. Nevertheless, this hole presents a bit of a puzzle and is fun to play.
18. Par 4 – 438/422. The final hole is a brute if one lacks adequate length to get far down the fairway on this dogleg right. There is a ravine that begins about 150 yards from the green and is about 35 yards wide. Shorter hitters will likely lay up while longer hitters will have a longer approach shot than they might like. Off the tee there is a long bunker on the right side as well as a sizeable fall-off down the entirety of the right side. Another bunker is placed on the left more in play for the longer hitters. The green complex is a good one with two bunkers on the front left and one at the right middle. The green has a mound down the left side and the slope goes primarily to the right. I recall a three tiered green here although not as pronounced as some tiers. It is a very difficult hole which I found hard to believe to be the sixth index.
With regard to the “mountain” courses that Mr. Fazio has designed that I have played, I would place it behind Wade Hampton and Mountaintop but ahead of Querencia. I would also certainly place in within my top ten of courses that he has designed. This is a challenging course but I found it to be fair with the possible exception of the difficult middle pin position we had on the eleventh hole featuring the interior swale. Perhaps the course is not regarded more highly because of its difficulty as well as it is not an easy walk. I enjoyed playing it even though on many holes I knew I had to lay up and try to pitch a ball close to try to salvage par. If someone wanted to say this is the best course in the state, it would certainly be in the discussion
Aldarra is arguably the best course in the state. While it may lack the tournament prestige of Chambers Bay and Sahalee it is absolutely of the same caliber. Each hole is unique and will rarely play the same way twice. The greens are slick and undulating, punishing you if you don't stick your approach in the right place. The mountain views and natural landscape are breathtaking in both summer and winter, offering the year round golfer a real treat every round. The thing that makes Aldarra the most unique is how many "fun" shots you will hit each round. You'll be challenged, frustrated but always rewarded each time you play 18. It looks like Tom Doak built a golf course that Tom Fazio designed, and I can't offer a higher compliment than that.
Aldarra is a very nice club. Fazio catered this course to true players. The greens are pure and fast. Conditioning is also top notch. The playing corridors are wide so you don't feel claustrophobic. In my opinion this is the second best private course in the state - trailing only Tumble Creek. It's definitely worth a game.