Built on the site of an old sawmill, the course at the Coeur d’Alene resort is most famous for the floating green on the par three 14th hole where the distance from tee to putting surface is changed every day by computer control. The green extends to around 15,000 square feet so some might argue there’s no real excuse for missing the target. Golfers complete the hole by boarding an electric powered shuttle boat and when they return, they’re presented with a personalised certificate to mark the completion of this rather unique hole.
Actually, the 14th isn’t the only quirky golfing aspect to the layout here as there are three par threes played in four holes very early in the round (between the 3rd and 6th) due to the constraints of shoe horning a full 18-hole course into the property.
Architect Scott Miller – who spent most of the 1980s working for Jack Nicklaus on projects like Bear’s Paw in Florida and Castle Pines in Colorado – was the man who made a wonderful job of squeezing the fairways into such a tight parcel of land between the I-90 highway and the northern shores of the Coeur d’Alene Lake.
Highlight holes other than the 14th include the 148-yard 5th, where sand virtually surrounds the three-tiered green, and the downhill 169-yard 6th, which plays to a back-to-front sloping green that’s framed by tall, slender pine trees.
On the back nine, the toughest hole on the inward half is encountered at the 538-yard 11th, where Fernan Creek runs along the left of the hole before cutting diagonally across the fairway in front of another multi-tiered putting surface.Visiting golfers should note that the green fee includes a wooden boat ride from The Coeur d’Alene resort, unlimited use of an over-the-water driving range, the hire of a golf cart, an engraved bag tag and the services of a forecaddie… all that, and the chance to sign for “3” at the floating 14th.
I like to think of golf as a bit of a lifestyle. It's not just about the greens, nor the fairways, nor the tee boxes. Nor is it about the balls nor the clubs nor the clothes. It's a mixture of all these things and sometimes it's about more. It's about the sum of all the parts of the experience, from when you arrive until you leave. While it is possible to have one of your greatest games of golf at a club where the members treat you like a leper, the whole package makes a huge difference to most courses and what can be a great round could be a great day if the experience around the golf was a little better.
This kind of appreciation is what makes the Coeur d'Alene Resort Course so special. Is it a fun golf course? Yes. Does it have some memorable moments that will stay with you forever? Yes. Does it have something different and interesting? Yes. All of things on their own make it worth playing, but the real pleasure is the entire package. Playing it just feels special and this is because the people who built it created an experience designed around making the whole package great. Here's why…
Whether staying at the resort hotel or just playing as a visitor it's best to check in via the hotel reception. They will then take you down to the marina where a mahogany, hand built, motor launch takes you around the lake to the course itself. You don't take your clubs with you. They are left at reception or with the valet. You just enjoy the ride across the lake.
When you get there the clubs that you last saw at the hotel have been driven around to the course, where they are washed and installed on your buggy (or carts as they call them in the US). The buggys are themselves pretty special, having been hand built for the course. They have fridges and alloy wheels and heated seats!
You're met at the jetty by your caddy who shows you around. First stop is the driving range where piles of floating, monogrammed balls are available for you to hit into the lake. I pocketed a couple for my collection and to be honest I think it's half expected.
Then your caddy takes you up to a masseuse who gives you a back, head and shoulder massage before you start. By the time you get to the first tee you've got a smile on your face so big it takes a pretty shoddy drive to get rid of it.
The first few holes aren't spectacular, but they are fine golf holes. To be honest, I'm always a bit jumpy on the opening couple of holes anyway so I prefer to ease in slowly. There's nothing more guaranteed to ruin your day than an opening hole which is a par 3 over a lake in front of the clubhouse. On CDA though, you know the best is coming.
By the 3rd you hit a corner of the course overlooking the lake and it's a hell of a view. Too many people to mention have called it one of the prettiest lakes in the US and standing there on the tee box for the 3rd hole, looking out over the azure water on a beautiful sunny day, confirms the assertion. This is the picture postcard stuff of daydreams. If Rockwell had painted the classic American landscape, this would be it.
On the 4th you come across one of the course's little quirks. Hitting the ball out of bounds gives you a free drop 3/4 of the way up the fairway! The reason is some very expensive juniper bushes they don't want you tramping about in. There are more over the back of the green with another drop zone pretty much on the green curtain, so my playing partner and I decided the best way to play the hole was to turn 90 degrees to the fairway and belt it into the trees. That's you up to the drop zone. Then do the same again from there and you're on the green in 2. Sadly we didn't have the nerve to go with our guile and opted for the regular par 4 layout, which I bogeyed.
I know, it's a silly local rule that people will hate but the truth is that CDA was designed to let golfers leave having played a memorable course which doesn't penalise them. How often do you fail to hit your handicap at a new course? How often do you fail to hit anywhere near it at a well known course? A single digit golfer will go to a PGA Tour course and be lucky to hit in the mid 90's. Duane Hagadone, who built CDA, specifically asked the architects to make it spectacular but not difficult. It's the antithesis of most new courses but I actually quite liked it. I didn't go home in a grump because I hit 103 and my wife didn't have to suffer me moping around for the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself.
There is a section where the course heads inland to what is in effect a large field and gets a bit back and forth, though they do make an effort to make each hole seem a little special, but the real fun starts on the 11th as you get back toward the lake again, culminating at the 14th, the famous floating green.
For those that don't know, this is the only floating green in the world. It was built on a giant barge and is anchored to the lake bed on cables that allow it to be moved at the start of each day, so the yardage is different. On most days they keep it in the 140 - 165 yard area but for competitions they can move it out to over 200 yards. It was 160 when I played.
It's an intimidating hole as there is a lot of water near the target area, but the green is actually pretty big. They also have another course quirk - you're allowed a mulligan should your first attempt end up wet. If you go in again you have to go to the drop zone on the island to play your 3rd shot. Unlike many water bound greens there isn't actually a bridge or spit of land connecting it to the mainland. Here you have to take a small boat.
You apparently get a certificate if you par the hole but alas I hit a 4 with some dodgy putting. The big problem with the floating green is that from that point the rest of the course feels like a bit of an anti-climax, though the remaining 4 holes are perfectly fine.
The course is kept in pristine condition, despite the harsh winters they get in Idaho. In fact, they have to close for 5-6 months of the year to account for the snow, which may be the reason it looks and feels so perfect. Overall the course is very good, so I have given it an 'Eagle'. I wouldn't say that it was the most completely spectacular course I've ever played, but what it lacks in overall design pizazz it makes up for with individual flashes of theatre and a golfing experience that makes you want more.
If we were to include the overall experience in the judgement I would give it top marks. The staff are amazing, from the receptionists, to the caddy's, to the groundsmen, who you see shuffling about like ants keeping it watered and pristine. They really sat down and thought about the whole package and playing Coeur d'Alene isn't just about playing the floating green. It's about being looked after and spoilt.
One little perk they give you is a bag tag to say that you've played it, boasting full colour images of the course on both sides. Sometimes, when I'm playing in England in the cold, wet winter and the sky feels like it's about to land on my head I look at that tag. The lovely sunny, azure blue and verdant green just cheers me up. You can't get better than a golf course memory that cheers you up months later.