The Indian Canyon Golf Course is set on the side of a deep gorge, overlooking the city of Spokane. Laid out by H Chandler Egan in 1930, this heavily forested, hilly track has hosted three national amateur public links championships down the years.
Owned and operated by the City of Spokane municipal authorities, the course weaves its way through a forest of towering pine trees on the western outskirts of the city. It’s not long at 6,255 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 71, with two of the three par fives on the score card appearing on the opening two holes.
Not only is the course relatively short in overall length, it’s also lacking in width with narrow, sloping fairways requiring an ability to shape the ball towards small, old-school greens. There are no water hazards to distract here but it can be a tough walk due to the scale and frequency of the elevation changes.
Played the course in early June before the heat of summer. A fun course with many elevations.
My first visit to Indian Canyon came in 1984 as a competitor in the USGA Men's Public Links Championship. I was amazed at how the course was routed on a very hilly piece of property with 240 feet of elevation change.
The course had its development during The Great Depression and was a WPA project under President FDR and has always been owned and operated by the City of Spokane. The design is the handiwork of Chandler Egan -- the man who played a major role with Pebble Beach during its earliest days and was a prolific championship player in his heyday.
Indian Canyon is listed as a par-71 but frankly should be played by low handicaps as a par-69 with the 2nd and 18th holes as more challenging par-4s.
Egan's brilliance is not over playing his involvement -- rather letting the land set the tone. The shotmaking challenges are not especially difficult but placement is always central in order to max out your score.
The first two holes are quite demanding when played as par-4s but you do have an opportunity to rebound with holes 3 and 4. At the uphill par-4 5th it will take an extra club or two to get near the elevated target. The short par-4 7th is quite fun to play. Trees occupy the center position and players on the 287-yard par-4 hole have to decide whether to play to the right or left. Getting onto the green is possible but only with the highest degree of skill. The long par-3 8th that follows is a brilliant counterpoint at 224 yards. You hit through a chute of tress to a quality greensite that accepts only the finest of plays. The uphill par-4 9th plays much longer than the 341 yards listed. Again, proper club selection dictates the approach shot.
The inward half starts with another plunge downhill at the par-4 10th. What makes the back nine quite appealing is how Egan routed the holes so that land movement is always an issue. You rarely get a straight uphill or downhill hole. Often the holes are slotted so that shaping one's play off the tees can pay major dividends. Erratic driving can have dire consequences as balls can easily bound into flanking trees.
The uphill par-4 14th is a tremendous hole. Turning left in the drive zone the requirements are not cluttered unnecessarily -- it's execute or pay the price. The green is not very large so the approach must be hit from the fairway to reap the best results. The 15th also climbs uphill and again turns left in the drive zone.
The final trio is a good mixture. The 16th moves downhill for 441 yards but the drive is severely tested with a wall of trees tenaciously guarding the right and the slightest pull to the left can easily scamper into trouble.
The penultimate hole is listed at 267 yards and many players would think it should be easy prey for a fast birdie. Quite the contrary -- once again the terrain has a major role in what one does execution wise. Unless you turn the ball to the left you can easily be scrambling to walk away with a par.
The closing hole is listed at 449 yards but the uphill nature on both the tee shot and approach is extremely challenging. The hole is listed as a par-5 for regular play but when I first played the course in competition the change to a par-4 really altered the mindset of many players -- myself included. The key starts with the drive -- turning the ball left helps immensely. The approach is then played to an elusive uphill target and the key is being cognizant of the terrain and selecting the necessary club to get as deep into the green as possible.
Indian Canyon is a fun layout because while strong players may believe they can overpower the course, yet that can only happen with proper placements. Shorter hitters can find solace in that length is not the most needed item to score well.
Washington State has clearly added to the quality of public course offerings in the last 25-30 years with the likes of Gamble Sands, Chambers Bay and Palouse Ridge, to name just three. I've been back to Indian Canyon a few times since my initial visit back in 1984 and have always relished playing a legitimate municipal course of this caliber. It would be interesting to see an updating of the course but still keeping the character which Egan provided. The fees charged are quite affordable and for those who wish to walk it's doable even with the elevation change. For those visiting Spokane it's worthwhile to check out and enjoy.
M. James Ward