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Circling Raven Golf Club combines Idaho wilderness with posh resort

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

WORLEY, Idaho -- If you enjoy peaceful, nearly wilderness golf, Circling Raven Golf Club at Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort is the place.

Circling Raven Golf Club - hole 8
Circling Raven G.C. sits on 620 acres of northwest Idaho wilderness.
Circling Raven Golf Club - hole 8Circling Raven Golf Club - hole 3Circling Raven Golf Club - hole 7Circling Raven Golf Club - hole 2Circling Raven Golf Club - hole 13

Just steps from the ultra-modern resort, the golf course is on 620 acres and serves as a portal to the era of open land that the Coeur d'Alene Indians once enjoyed.

It will be difficult to tear yourself away from the well stocked pro shop that was named Pacific Northwest PGA Resort Merchandiser for four years running. But once you're able, head to the club's extensive practice facility. Hone your short game at a row of stations pointing toward flags from 20 to 100 yards out. Past that is the traditional driving range, but with a hint of what's to come. You hit uphill.

At the first tee, take a glance back at the clubhouse. It will be the last time you're going to see civilization for a while. That's the beauty of this place -- the beauty of this place.

To enjoy your round, make sure you choose the right tees. There are five, from 7,189 yards down to 4,708 yards. This is no time to stand on pride. Due to many uphill climbs off the tee, long carries and wind, this course plays longer than it appears. Step down a tee if you're uncertain -- you won't regret it.

The golf course is named after the chief and medicine man that helped establish the Coeur d'Alene tribe in the 1700s.

Accolades for Circling Raven Golf Club

The Gene Bates design opened in 2003 and has been bombarded with accolades ever since: Golf Magazine called it one of the 10 best new public courses in the country, Native American Casino Magazine put it as No. 1 for tribal courses among hundreds, and it appears every year on Golf Week's best resort courses list. It earned status as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary its first year.

It's been under the care of the same crew since it opened: Superintendent Brian Woster, Head Professional Tony Cuchessi and Assistant Mark Nelson. Director of Golf Tom Davidson followed just a couple years later. Once you see the course and the sophistication and warmth of the Coeur d'Alene Casino Resort, you'll understand why they haven't left. They really, really like it there.

Protecting the environment has been central to the course and the resort.

"We feel strongly about such things in Indian country and we've been careful to find talented people who care achieve those goals," said David LaSarte, resort CEO and tribal member. "This is our homeland. We don't forget that."

Circling Raven G.C. blends golf with a wilderness trek as you traverse 7.2 miles of cart path during your round through wetlands, trees and open spaces.

It starts with a par 5 that bends left through wetlands. The second hole climbs right around a large bunker to an elevated tee. The third is a fall to a par 3 with an enormous bunker on the left. The greens are sloped but aren't fun-house rides. Green size varies, so try to zero in on the pin. The GPS on the carts really helps with that.

Bates also has a little fun with you. Some of the par 3s are crazy long, such as No. 13, which runs 200 yards from the middle tees. Davidson giggles with glee when golfers complain about the length. You have to shoot down to a green guarded left by trees, front by wetlands and right by a bunker. Any questions? Oh, it plays into the wind, too.

Circling Raven's 154-yard, par-3 seventh also plays longer than it appears, leaving a lot of balls plugged into the preceding wetland.

More fun for Bates includes the eighth hole, which requires a bit of a carry to the uphill fairway that then drops to the green, so your second shot might be blind. On holes Nos. 4 and 12, you must choose between two fairways.

Bates also puts things in your way, such as a bunker in the middle of the ninth fairway and a tree off the 12th tee. A ravine in front of the No. 10 tee is paired with a smattering of trees that leave just a little window to the perpendicular fairway.

On No. 11, he slopes the fairway sharply from right to left into bunkers, then wetlands, then more bunkers at the green.

Open water makes its only appearance on No. 17, a surprisingly flat par 5 with a pond in front of the tee and bunkers alternating their way up the fairway. A large bunker with a dab of turf in the middle of it waits on the right side of the green.

Circling Raven Golf Club: The verdict

A wilderness golf course is an unexpected surprise for a resort. Circling Raven Golf Club is so remote that Davidson said the GPS serves as safety equipment as well as a golfer's aide. Pro shop staff members monitor carts' progress and location to make sure everyone's okay. You won't forget the peacefulness and beauty of the course, especially getting to the 12th tee, a ridge-top ride that provides jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains. You know you're in the Pacific Northwest and sometimes remember you're on a golf course. Not only is the scenery beautiful, but also the creative and challenging course is kept in immaculate condition.

Circling Raven Golf Club: Stay and play

Circling Raven put a bargain-basement price on high-end accommodations in the resort's brand new wing and top-tier golf. For more information, see www.cdacasino.com.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

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