Review for Wine Valley

Reviewer Score:


Of the courses I played in Washington, I would rate Wine Valley the highest. I admit to having a bias towards links-like courses. I place Wine Valley above Chambers Bay because Wine Valley is more natural, but perfectly routed over the 800 acres of rolling land. It does not suffer from the three bad holes at Chambers Bay (7-9) and its pedestrian opening. It also does not have the over-the-top use of sand that one finds at Chambers Bay. With regards to a comparison to Gamble Sands, quite frankly Gamble Sands is the far superior course on visual appeal course but suffers from a lack of strategy and decision-making. Gamble Sands plays too easily; in many cases devoid of challenge. The greens at Gamble Sands are inconsistent with some outstanding ones and some that are boring. Wine Valley does not have a boring green nor a boring hole even if the surrounding vistas are not interesting nor the change in terrain not as dramatic.

For the courses in Washington that I played, I consider Wine Valley and Sahalle North/South to be the only championship courses. Aldarra and Tumble Creek are very good courses to play and one should do everything they can to play them, but the land they are detract from them being championship courses even if they mix fun and difficulty very well.

Wine Valley hit every box for me. It is located on compelling and interesting land. There are wide/long views across the fairways of the surrounding countryside which is essentially one of the wine capitols of Washington as there are over 130 wineries nearby. I liked the routing that moves in all directions on both nines despite returning to the clubhouse. It reminded me of Muirfield and Saunton East where the routing ensures one often does not play more than twice in the same direction. One interesting feature of the course is that the back nine plays around a very large tract of land that sits as almost a perfect square between the tenth, fourteenth –eighteenth holes. It made me wonder why this land was not used. Perhaps it will be used later for a par 3.

I also liked that very little earth was moved to create the course. This course primarily sits naturally on the land.

The greens are fabulous with a lot of internal movement, multiple pin locations, nothing overly silly, well bunkered and with good contouring near the greens. Near every green is short grass given one a very good chance to recover. Some of the short grass near the greens make it difficult to distinguish the beginning of the greens. As one who often uses a putter from as much as 50 yards from the green I found this to be a good characteristic to the course.

The course can play “fast” due to roll-out. There is a good mixture of length as well as direction of holes and the overall routing moving every which way. It is very much a walking course unlike Aldarra and Tumble Creek where a cart is normally preferred.

The bunkering is varied, sometimes more traditional and sometimes of the blowout variety. The bunkers vary both in depth, length and shape. The deeper bunkers are often steep faced. They use a different form of dirt-like sand here due to the winds in order to keep the cost of maintenance down as well as to ensure there is adequate sand in the bunkers. I found this type of sand did not play very differently from other more granular sands.

There is nothing that is repetitive at Wine Valley.

Over such a bit piece of land, Dan Hixon, the architect could have routed the course in many directions. When I finished the round, I thought he had gotten it right and I could not imagine a better routing. I played as a single as the second tee time of the day, starting about 20 minutes behind a threesome in a cart. I went through them after the front nine. But playing as a single allowed me to putt from multiple directions on the greens first to the pin location on the day and then moving around the green to “imaginary” pins. All of the greens are well shaped and sized. The greens reminded me of those at Wild Horse, another fine public golf course that is links-like in Nebraska. The greens at Wine Valley might even be superior although it’s a close call. But of the greens I played in Washington, I felt Wine Valley’s to be the best.

The fairways are generous, a trait of modern designers. If one wants to critique Wine Valley, it is that the line one takes off the tee is fairly evident. I do not recall a blind shot on the course, and there are few semi-blind shots only as a result of getting well out of position. The course does not have a green that is elevated well above you even if some sit on higher ground.

The course is long enough, playing to 7600 yards from the Gold tees par 72 rated 76.4/133. I played the Black tees at 6760 yards rated 72.6/127. There are three sets of lesser tees and well as combination tees creating a total of seven rated yardages.

1. Par 4 – 470/405. The opening hole plays slightly downhill to a fairway going out to the left before coming back right to the green. There is a large and long blowout bunker down the right side but with ample room to play away from it. Bigger hitters can fly the bunker but have to be careful they do not hit it so far they go into a bunker about 410/340 yards up the fairway placed on the left turn that is deep. The green is angled to the right with flanking bunkers on the side. It is a much longer green than it appears with short grass surrounding it. This is probably one of the flatter greens on the course yet it still had sufficient slope and movement.

2. Par 4 – 410/360. You turn back nearly the opposite way and play uphill. The edge of the long bunker on the right of the first hole comes into play on the right of this hole but there is ample room to play away from it. Two additional bunkers come in from the right about 100 yards from the green. There is a left central bunker. The fairway has rolls to it. The ground is higher to the left and rear of the green. I hit a poor second shot but nearly chipped in to a back left pin. There is a central interior swale with the front right of the green being lower. This is a fun hole.

3. Par 5 – 575/535. The first par 5 has essentially three central bunkers but with adequate room to either side. This hole reverses direction again. However, those choosing the left side of the fairway bring a long pond into play as well as the third central bunker (more left than central). The play on this hole is to stay right even if the green sits on the left side of the hole nearer the water. Another bunker is in play down the right side for one’s second shot. There is a final small fairway bunker 10 yards short of the green. The only greenside bunker is a deep one on the back left corner. The green is slightly raised on the left side with a mound and a central depression. It rises to the back half. There is ample short grass all around this green.

4. Par 4 – 390/350. This hole reverses direction similar to the second. It plays uphill again with an early bunker on the right shared with the previous hole. The fairway features several rolls. A deep sliver central bunker is about 100 yards from the hole. One of the largest bunkers is on the left side beginning about 60 yards from the green blocking the entirety of the left/front of the green due to the green being angled to the left. This bunker sits about five feet below the level of the putting surface. Behind the green is a slope acting as a backstop. The green has a higher left side and slopes to the front. I found this hole to be the second most fun on the front nine.

5. Par 4 – 515/460. One reverses direction again playing a different direction to the opening holes. This hole plays downhill so one can get a favorable rollout. A long thin waste area goes down the entire left side crossing diagonally across the fairway left to right beginning about 120 yards from the green on the left. This waste bunker continues down the entirety of the right side of the green. I admit to never having seen this before; a waste bunker going the entire length of a golf hole, especially one of this length.

6. Par 3 – 210/180. This is a very nice par 3 playing to a green placed on the other side of a pond with a rise between the pond and green. There is also a somewhat thin bunker on the left and a rear bunker that is hidden. The miss to the green is on the left side where short grass is available. The green has several smaller shelves and swales in it. I liked the hole.

7. Par 5 – 625/535. I liked the ending to this hole which plays as a dogleg left. There is a large blowout bunker on the left side built into a rise. The right side of the fairway has an earlier bunker placed inside the wide fairway. The green is partially hidden behind a mound on the right side which is fronted by another large blowout bunker. The left side and rear of the green has a rise that can bring a ball onto the green unless one hits their approach shot too hard and finds the large bunker on the back right on the higher ground. Stopping a ball to a near cup on the green is very difficult. Finally there is a very small bunker on the middle front. The green has a back left swale and tilts going each way. If coming into the green from the right side of the fairway one will have a semi-blind shot as half of the green will not be visible. It is a compelling approach shot.

8. Par 3 – 255/200. This hole plays from an elevated tee to an elevated tee with a right side bunker becoming a middle bunker due to the green being angled to the right. While this hole is visually unexciting from the tee, the inner movement of the green as well as the elevation and angle make it a good hole.

9. Par 4 – 480/430. Seven and eight are the two holes playing in the same direction on the front nine. The ninth goes in the same direction as the fourth heading back to the clubhouse. The fairway rises a bit to a turn to the left. There is a long bunker on the left side of a fairway with plenty of ripples in it. The defense of the hole is further enhanced by a pond on the right side that begins about 50 yards from the green continuing down the right side. This is another well shaped green, almost peanut-like angled to the right. There is a right bunker and two bunkers at the rear, although one seems to be more grass. The right side of the green is difficult to stay on due to the shallowness of it. There is an early depression on the front of the green. Off the green is a lot of short grass to the left of the green but the recovery shot has to successfully a lot of undulations on the green. It is a fine finishing hole to the outward nine.

10. Par 5 – 610/580. I really liked the visual look and design of this longer par 5 playing in front of the clubhouse from an elevated tee with the land falling away, then rising, then falling away finally ending at a green on higher ground. There are a lot of rolls in the fairway which runs parallel to the third hole. The tee shot needs to avoid the large blowout bunker on the right side which longer hitters will carry and shorter hitters can play to the left. The next fairway bunker is on the right and cuts into the fairway about 35 yards from the green. The green is angled slightly left with a large and deep bunker on the left front. The green is above you with a vertical spine.

11. Par 3 – 180/155. This green complex features a central front and rear bunker with fall-offs to each side. This green is smaller than what came before. This is a nice short hole from the Black tees.

12. Par 4 – 435/405. The direction of the hole changes again in an entirely new direction playing straight. Like the fifth hole, a long sinewy bunker runs the length of the hole, this time on the left side. The fairway falls from the tee then rises with another central bunker about 70 yards from the green. There is a large, deep bunker on the left middle of the green which for the first time is somewhat flat.

13. Par 4 – 505/435. Thirteen moves in the exact opposite direction of the twelfth hole and bends to the right with a deep bunker on the left corner and a long, thin bunker on the right side. The green has a double bunker on the right side followed by a large bunker. The hole plays fairly level to the green. This is the rare green that does not have much short grass around it.

14. Par 3 – 175/135. This is a fun short par 3 playing to a green angled to the left with a large, deep bunker cutting diagonally in front of it continuing down the left side. There is a small crescent shaped bunker on the right side and a large bunker behind the green. The green is higher on the back and left side with a bit of a bowl on the right front. From the tee this is a visually strong hole as the green and green complex sit well below the tee.

15. Par 5 – 515/470. This is the best hole on the golf course due to a fabulous green complex. The green has a lot of rolls and movement in it with various rises and valleys. There is a long bunker down the left side with a smaller one on the right. Another center-line bunker is used about 60 yards from the green. The more difficult bunkers are the large, deep bunker on the left front of the green and the two small ones on the front right. The green is very thin at the front which is where my cup was located. The green widens at the rear but the slant of the green makes any putt from the back of the green down to a front pin both fast as well as moving to the left. It is a very clever green if the pin is in the front section while the back half of the green also features a lot of movement.

16. Par 3 – 195/175. This hole plays across a valley to a raised green with a fronting bunker on the right. There is a lot of short grass on the left side of the raised green with a substantial false front. The green has a bowl in the front center. This is another very good par 3.

17. Par 4 – 470/400. One of the better par 4’s comes next playing uphill from the tee. A long and deep fairway bunker comes in from the right with a smaller thin one on the left side. The fairway pinches together at these bunkers. This is another very good green with two bunkers on the front corners and one on the right side. The green is elevated with another central depression at the front that first one has to clear and then not go too long into the green. The green has a back to front slope. This might be the best green on the course.

18. Par 5 – 585/550. From an elevated tee one looks down a rolling fairway. You are now finishing going around the square of grass. The hole plays straight although the long bunker on the left and the smaller one on the right tighten the fairway. Longer hitters can carry these bunkers. Near the green is a bunker placed inside the fairway about 40 yards short. The green is very long and sits on a bit of a plateau with two bunkers on the left and one below the green’s surface on the right. The green is higher to the back and long. This is a fine finishing hole.

Wine Valley is wonderful offering a links-like experience with views across the fairways. The routing has the course essentially always moving in a different direction. The bunkering is varied and well placed. The holes vary in length. But as good as the routing and bunkering are, the star of the course are the greens which are varied, challenging, and always interesting yet fair.

I played Gamble Sands the next day and I would play here more often.

Date: August 01, 2021

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