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Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman, Washington deserves lofty spot as nation's third-best college course

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

PULLMAN, Wash. -- The John Harbottle III-designed Palouse Ridge Golf Club popped up in the nomenclature in 2009, and no one's stopped talking about it since.

Palouse Ridge Golf Club - hole 10
Palouse Ridge Golf Club will test any golfer's game.
Palouse Ridge Golf Club - hole 10Palouse Ridge Golf Club - hole 18Palouse Ridge Golf Club - hole 3

Harbottle's work replaced a decades-old, nine-hole layout at Washington State University with a stunning championship course that tests students of the game at every turn, slope and drop-off.

Set atop the Palouse topsoil deposit dredged up by bygone glaciers, the 7,308-yard course is nearly as much about up and down as length -- and not up and down for par. Up 40 feet here, down 30 feet there.

The success of the golf course is attested by its selection to host the Pac-12 championships in 2012 (women) and 2014 (men). Golf Week listed Palouse Ridge at No. 3 for college courses, behind Yale and Williams College. The length, creativity and decision-making the course requires demands the best from the best.

Golf Digest and Golf Week both pegged it in the second slot in 2009 for the best new courses, and it's already designated as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

"With this course, we really went from worst to first," said Tyler Jones, the course's general manager.

The fact that it's a course at a 17,000-student, land-grant college means all members of the grounds crew are agronomy students and most of the staff at Banyan's, the ridge-top restaurant in the clubhouse, are hospitality students. Grizzly bear researchers overlook the eighth tee from their laboratory.

Once on the course, you'll have a bit of guesswork because steep hills often cut off your view of the green. But the course also offers an array of thrills with hugely elevated greens that test one's ability to calculate gravity's effect on length.

It also rewards creative use of the terrain to bounce your ball in the desired direction.

"This is a course that sometimes the best route to the green is to hit away from it," said Tom Davidson, a PGA pro playing the course during a recent rainstorm. He watched a playing partner bank a shot off a hill to dribble the ball toward the pin.

Palouse Ridge Golf Club starts with a par 4 with a deep fairway-paved gully about 90 yards from the green that is protected on the left with one of Harbottle's trademark shaggy-side bunkers, with clumps of grass drooping into the bunker from the top.

One can see the advantage of strategy on the second hole. If you put your drive too close to the green, you're going to face a rough downhill lie. The third hole rewards a carefully placed drive to set up a shot to the green that's relatively safe.

The first par 5 arrives at No. 5, which has an interrupted fairway that snakes around wetlands. The par-3 sixth requires placement in order to get length. Use the slope on the right side to roll toward the pin.

The intimidation factor on the seventh hole is the steep greenside bunker. It's the last in a string of sand on the right, so stay left from tee to green.

The back nine starts in equally dramatic fashion, with the tee at the highest point on the course. It goes down to a fairway that turns right, bumping over large swales along the way. The green is fiercely guarded on the right with a deep bunker and steep hills on the left.

The back puts its par 3s close together, Nos. 11 and 13. A sharply sloped fairway makes the par-4 12th visually distorted because the landing area is larger than it appears. The 15th hole is one of the best on the back, a par 4 in which the middle of the fairway far below you is littered with bunkers. It's a challenge to predict what effect distance, gravity and wind will have on your shot at the drivable green.

But in many respects, the course saved all of its sophistication for the last two holes, a pair of par 5s. The 17th has a fairway interrupted by a ravine to an offset green tucked next to a pond. The 18th arches uphill, curving left around a recessed wetland. A bunker right can capture slices and a smattering of bunkers from 80 yards in can punish fatigue-induced errors for your last approach shot. This hole will make or break many tournament rounds.

Palouse Ridge Golf Club: The verdict

Palouse Ridge combines gorgeous views with a dramatic, challenging layout with steep elevation changes and quick greens. Don't get too greedy with how much course you want to play or you'll regret it. From the 7,308-yard tips, the slope is 75.9 and the rating is 140. The difficulty quotient remains high even as you move forward through four more tee sets. For example, the forward tees are 5,106 yards and carry a 69.4 slope and a 125 rating. Palouse Ridge will test anyone's game.

Palouse Ridge Golf Club stay-and-play options

The university partnered with Best Western to set up a matrix of five courses. One can choose any number of courses in any combination. The courses: Palouse Ridge, Circling Raven, Lewiston Golf Club, the University of Idaho course and Quail Ridge Golf Course. See www.uinnmoscow.com/golf-packages for more information.

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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