Holiday Trip 2017, Part 2: Washington in Winter

After playing in Sacramento on Thursday, I continued up the I-5 on Friday. I actually stopped and played a very special round at Eugene Country Club that day. However, I am saving that review for last for various reasons.

Instead, we’ll skip ahead to feature the two courses I was able to play in Southern Washington while visiting my brother in Vancouver.

As expected, winter weather was definitely a factor in the Pacific Northwest and limited how often I could play on this trip. Saturday, however, turned out to be a decent day and I was able to get out for an afternoon round…

Lewis River Golf Course • Woodland, WA • 12/23/17

There were a few options I was considering playing this day, including some courses back across the river in the Portland area and a handful on the Washington side. My brother ultimately recommended Lewis River as one of the more scenic courses nearby, so I called ahead. They were open, uncrowded and the price was reasonable enough ($30, cart included).

As I left Vancouver and headed north, the skies cleared up beautifully and ended up making for picture-perfect conditions. Now “picture-perfect” refers more to the blue skies and great afternoon lighting that illuminated the course during my round. I got so many excellent pictures on this day.

I should note, however, that the temperatures never got above 40 degrees and it was quite windy, as well. It was brutally cold out there. Fortunately, there was hardly anyone on the course. I played through one other single and zipped around as quickly as I could. I probably spent more time taking pictures than hitting shots, but that’s nothing new.

Lewis River was designed by Ralph Stading, who is not an architect I am familiar with. In fact, this is the only course listed under him on GolfAdvisor, so that would explain why I’ve never heard of him. One part of the course might suggest he got some design inspiration from Ted Robinson, Sr. or maybe Pete Dye.

There aren’t any significant changes in elevation on this course. Much of it runs back and forth in a parkland style, with tall evergreens and other mature trees lining the fairways and shaping your shot angles. Many of the holes feature doglegs to emphasize positioning and shot shapes.

There wasn’t anything overly exciting about the front nine except for the par-3 7th hole. This one features a slightly elevated tee hitting across a hazard to an elevated green. It is framed very nicely with the trees and natural elements around. The 1st and 6th are also nice holes on the front nine.

Ultimately, the back nine really perks up. The holes become more and more interesting as you go. More water hazards come into play and the scenery also gets more appealing. The par-3 11th offers one of few limited views of nearby Mount St. Helens behind the green. I was actually hoping to have more mountain views out here (Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood can both be seen from the freeway as you drive up here from Vancouver on a clear day). Some of the final few holes also play along the Lewis River.

The coolest part of this course is undoubtedly the sprawling complex that is centered around the side-by-side 16th and 17th greens. The 10th green, 13th green, 14th tee and 18th tee are also nearby, so you get many glimpses of this beautiful complex throughout the back nine. The greens are surrounded by water hazards, wood-planked walls, nice landscaping and deep bunkers. It has a great look.

The 16th is a short, dogleg right par-4. After you turn the corner, you have a downhill shot over water to the well-protected green. The 17th comes back the other way over another water hazard to a similarly styled green. Both holes look great and are fun to play. Being side-by-side and basically connected by the landscaping features only adds to the appeal.

Despite the near-freezing temperatures, the course was actually in really nice shape. It was lush and green from edge to edge, so it really lit up with the sometimes perfectly clear and sometimes partly cloudy skies overhead. There were definitely some wet/soft spots throughout, but nothing too bad. It was cart-path-only. Some of these Southern Washington courses benefit from volcanic ash in the soil from the famous St. Helens eruption. This helps improve natural drainage.

The greens were just okay because they aerated fairly recently. They were very soft and quite slow, though I could tell they are generally well-maintained. I would imagine they are already great by now since the aeration should be mostly healed already. The bunkers were interesting because they had really dark sand. It looked like it was going to be super wet and compacted. It was damp, but surprisingly soft and nicer to play from than expected. I wondered if the dark color is also related to the volcanic silt/ash of the area.

In my eyes, Lewis River is the true definition of a “hidden gem.” It’s not a course many people outside of Southern Washington know about and that’s too bad. It really is an enjoyable course in a very beautiful setting. I would highly recommend it if you happen to be in the area.

Some pictures from Lewis River Golf Course (12/23/17):

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I was hoping to maybe play Sunday, as well. However, the weather had different plans. We knew even colder temperatures and maybe some rain/ice were in the forecast, but nobody expected it to snow all day and stick! My car was covered with about three inches of ice/snow by the end of the day. That obviously killed any golf plans for Sunday or Monday, but it sure was cool to experience a white Christmas this year.

On Tuesday, I left down to work my way down the coast. I was on my way to visit one of my best friends who lives in the Newport, OR area. I knew I probably wouldn’t likely be playing any golf while I was there for a few days with a ton of rain in the forecast, so I was hoping to get some in on the drive down.

I decided to take the scenic route, which would also help me avoid Portland morning traffic. My drive actually took me further north into Washington, where I then cut back across the Columbia River and drove across to the northern coast of Oregon. Then, I drove all the way down the 101 Highway from there, which is a slow, but very neat drive.

I was actually able to play two courses along the way, but I will just feature one of them in this article…

Three Rivers Golf Course • Kelso, WA • 12/26/17

Three Rivers is one of the other courses I considered playing on Saturday because it has the best reputation for good drainage during the rainy winter months of Southern Washington. After the snowstorm, though, I expected most everything throughout the area and around Portland to still be covered with ice.

I was going to take this driving route either way because I knew my best way to avoid icy conditions was to take the coast. There are also a number of short courses I haven’t played, so I figured I’d get something in along the way.

I decided to stop by Three Rivers on the way, just to take a look. I saw that they were open and there was no frost/ice on the grass. Naturally, I went ahead and played it. The pro shop guy was nice and charged me $27.50 (cart included), which was actually the twilight rate. He gave me the rate over an hour early because it would normally not start until noon. I got the sense they were happy to welcome any business this day, though it seems a fair number of people eventually showed up.

I actually jumped ahead of a threesome on the first tee and then didn’t run into anyone else after that for a very quick round.

Three Rivers was designed by Robert Muir Graves. This was obviously a familiar architectural name to me, though this course is actually much more plain than Lewis River. It’s fairly open and forgiving with just some minor changes of elevation in play. What you see is what you get throughout much of the course. The greens are medium-sized, not overly protected and don’t have too much undulation to contend with. This is a relatively simple design.

The 9th hole is probably the most interesting on the course. It’s a mid-length par-4 that doglegs slightly left and requires a demanding approach with a creek that cuts across right in front of the green.

Parts of the back nine play along the edge of the Cowlitz River, but the setting isn’t quite as pretty as Lewis River. Of course, it was overcast and dreary on this day, so any nice background scenery was obscured. Kelso-Longview is more of a mill/industrial kind of area. It’s funny that the name Three Rivers reminded me of the old stadium in Pittsburgh because this area does have kind of a Western Pennsylvania blue collar feel like a lot of mill/port towns you’ll find throughout Oregon and Washington.

The Cowlitz River is one of the Three Rivers referred to in the name, along with the Columbia and I believe the Coweeman River.

The marketing was sure true about the draining properties of this golf course. There were a few small patches of ice still sitting on a couple of the greens, which signified they got some snow and ice up here. However, there weren’t many signs of it anywhere else on the course. There were definitely some wet spots, but no cart restrictions. In addition to the volcanic ash, I am sure the primarily fescue-based turf also improves drainage. It’s commonly used throughout the Northwest because of all the rain. The greens were receptive and rolling smooth at medium speeds. I was not in any bunkers here, but they looked pretty wet and compacted from what I observed.

Though not the most exciting or scenic course in the region, Three Rivers is certainly a good option for a bad weather (or post bad weather in this case) round because it drains so well. If you want to get out in the winter and tee it up at a reasonable price, you could do a lot worse than Three Rivers.

Some pictures from Three Rivers Golf Course (12/26/17):

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