'Best Places to Golf - Northwest' by Jeff Wallach

By: Jeff Shelley

Jeff Wallach writes in the Introduction of his new book, "Best Places to Golf - Northwest":

"You're holding in your hands a different kind of golf book. It's not a compendium of such lifeless statistics as yardages and slope ratings for every course in the Northwest . . . It doesn't cover every last good course in this vast, rugged territory . . ."

So you can't call it a guidebook, Jeff. With just under 100 courses, it's not inclusive enough. This effort by the Portland-based travel writer is, essentially, a promotional piece for a select group of high-end resorts and daily-fee facilities. Wallach admits as much when, in the Acknowledgments, he pays tribute to the "public relations warriors, marketing magicians, Visitors and Conventions Bureau demigods, resort and hotel staff members" who helped him with the book.

A glorified brochure with pretty pictures, overwrought prose, and a narcotizing treatment of mostly expensive golf courses and their plush amenities, this book is, appropriately, the latest offering from Sasquatch. The Seattle publisher is noted for its yuppified "Best of . . ." guides, a focus certainly not blurred here.

The formula may work for well-heeled tourists. But I'm not sure this book will do much for average golfers who once or twice a year leave home and venture to out-of-town tracks.

Apparently, Wallach's assignment from Sasquatch was to select a few dozen courses and use "orgiastic" (his word) verbiage to plug them. But defining a compendium of any "best" list requires decent knowledge of the subject. We at Cybergolf are willing to bet that Wallach never visited the estimated 1,100 courses within his book's purview - an expanded Northwest that includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Southern British Columbia, Western Montana and greater Salt Lake City (!).

There's also some disturbing, over-the-top hyperbole in these pages. Such effusiveness leads us to believe that Wallach didn't pay for his overnight accommodations in "researching" this 228-page ode to comfiness - a no-no for most evenhanded travel scribes.

Further widening the credibility gap is poor research, much of which is inadequately atoned for by Wallach's frequent verbal embellishments. The author rightfully extols the Arnold Palmer-designed Running Y Ranch. But he fails to mention that John Thronson, the superintendent at the affiliated Eagle Crest Resort, was ultimately responsible for designing and building this layout. Undaunted by such frivolous details, Wallach coos, "Tees and rough edges [at Running Y] are perky fescues, and the Bentgrass fairways undulate pleasantly. The course is really a sampler of golfing delicacies: The first four holes tease along the edge of Klamath Lake and marshes aflap [sic] with birds and waterfowl . . ."

Such saccharine treacle makes one want to snuggle in a toasty blankie by the warming fire in an artfully-decorated villa. Or disgorge an expensive lunch.

Wallach's inclusions are almost as egregious as his omissions. A venue that gets two-and-a-half pages, Desert Canyon Golf Resort in North-central Washington, is one of the poorest designed courses in the state. Yet it, along with a soggy and short (but well-heeled) layout, the Dolce Skamania Lodge course near Stevenson, are the only two selections in an eight-page Columbia River chapter.

The Sun Valley and McCall section also has a mere two courses - Sun Valley Resort Golf Course (a merited mention) and The Whitetail Club in McCall (an essentially private club with playing privileges accorded guests willing to pay exorbitant green fees and $225 to $1,000 a night for lodging). Of the latter facility, Wallach swoons: "Whitetail's golf course is as ruggedly handsome as the lodge is buttery fine." Ignored is McCall Golf Course, a stellar 27-hole muni with a short season, tremendous views, considerable heritage, and an engrossing appeal within the local community.

Other Idaho errors: Wallach says of the Coeur d'Alene Resort, ". . . the Scott Miller design plays a mere 6,309 yards soaking wet, with a lightweight slope of 121" (what's this guy's handicap anyway?). He fails to note that that course received nearly 500 yards and over $5 million worth of upgrades before reopening in July 2003 (nearly a year before the book was published) at a macho 6,804 yardage from the tips.

Up north in the Idaho Panhandle, Wallach includes the tough Hidden Lakes Golf Resort in Sandpoint, but blows off three entertaining and worthy courses: Avondale in Hayden Lake, Coeur d'Alene's muni, and a renovated Stoneridge CC in Blanchard. In a lame attempt to compensate for his short-shrifting of golf in this beautiful area, Wallach could be writing about Anyplace America:

"Given all the wonders and attractions of the Inland Northwest - including more than a half-dozen super golf venues (most at ludicrously low prices) - you'll no doubt wonder why the area is still virtually unknown in much of the country. Please - keep your voice down and your questions to yourself!"

The book's value is in the photos, taken by some of golf's best shutterbugs - Rob Perry, Rick Shafer, Mike Houska, and Mike Klemme. These images of Northwest golf give an intoxicating glimpse of the game out in this underrated neck of the woods. Too bad the course descriptions don't match the quality of the images.

Scorecard: Let's see, we've got 228 pages of perky prose and predictable picks, i.e., golf courses too expensive for most of us but with a market in the high-ticket gift shops that sell guidebooks to the uninitiated. For pampered yuppies, Wallach's "Best Places . . ." fills the bill. Just bring your Visa. For us ruffians who actually enjoy exploring out-of-the-way golf courses (and wherever the hell else that leads to), don't bother. There are better choices. Grade: Double-bogey - a "snowman" without the photos.