Osprey Meadows at Tamarack Resort review


You have probably indulged all kinds of distractions during the backswings of your life, from guns, to car horns, to giggling partners, jingling coins, rattling golf clubs, or snapping Velcro. So how about mooing cows munching on a fairway behind you?

Golfer seeks birdie.

Errant cows just chew.

Golfer makes bogey.

Get along little doggies. Golf courses will spend small fortunes on marketing, but few will create an experience as charming or as genuine, because before the Tamarack Resort in Donelly, Idaho, commissioned Robert Trent Jones, Jr. to build Osprey Meadows, the land served as a cattle range.

Tamarack Resort, along Cascade Lake in Idaho's Northern Rocky Mountains, remains mostly undiscovered and unspoiled by the teeming, screaming, couth-less, vacationing masses, but its renown will inevitably grow once Fairmont opens a planned, luxury flag hotel in 2011. The place is a natural wonder just four hours from San Francisco. The flight to Boise takes a little more than sixty minutes. Then, drive two and a half hours through a scenic, rural mix of mountains, rivers, and high country ranch land.

In winter, the resort offers forty-one ski runs. In summer, hiking, canoeing, fishing, and golf---the latter on eighteen holes that, in 2006, Golf Digest rated as the best new public course in America at $75 and over. So no...Osprey Meadows is not your typical golfing cow pasture of derisive lore. It's scenic. It's strategic. It's tough. And with four sets of tee boxes accommodating players with different skills, it is eminently playable at distances ranging from 5003, to 7319 yards.

You will remember the course for its five par 3's, and five par 5's. The 3's are do-die, but beautiful.

The 81/112/172/214 yard, 3rd , is a visual stunner from an elevated tee to a green tucked behind a lake. With the wind at your back, use, two, or possibly three less clubs. There is nothing complicated about this hole, except your decision of what club to use, and then, how you execute the shot.

The 8th plays 115/138/163/177 yards, across an environmental wetland to a wide, right-to-left, undulating and sloping green with mountain pines climbing behind. Three bunkers protect the front, and another the right side.

This hole plays its advertised distance, requiring what should be a simple shot, but a valley between the tee and green may mess with your depth perception and confidence. Beware a back right pin placement. Hit a high shot, if possible, because hot shots may not hold the green.

The 17th ranges from 112 to 246 yards, across another environmental area, to what is, essentially, an island green. They rated this as the number six handicap, but from the tips, or blacks (234 yards), it's the most perilous shot of your round---a matter of guts, skill, and muscle. After three trips around the course, I never scored better than double-bogey, but at least this hole sits in a beautiful setting. During a mid-September round, the early fall colors and a stunning sky soothed the pain of yet another lost ball.

I found the par 5's at Osprey Meadow to be more cerebral than difficult. Most of them offer easy pars, but difficult birdies, and plenty of heroic opportunities for risk/reward.

The 469/514/584/608 yard, par 5, 4th , presents two fairways, and two routes. Both require considerable distance across an environmental area. Your safest play would be to the left, where a broad fairway doglegs right, around bunkers to the green. Only the strongest player has a chance of reaching the green in two shots. I hit driver, a mid-iron, and then a wedge across a creek.

However, the hole provides a more direct, inner route via a smaller fairway to the right side, but you will hit your second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) across the water. I tried it twice. My drives left approaches of 210 and 180 yards, and wet outcomes after both attempts.

Figure 9-Approach shot on the 407/485/517/547 yard, par 5, 18th at Osprey Meadows. Note the small landing area for you second shot. Avoid it, if possible, by cutting your drive to the right side of the fairway. Then, hit a hybrid or fairway metal across, and possibly onto the green. This hole is not as difficult as it looks.

The 407/485/517/547 yard, par 5, 18th has received a fair amount of criticism in the past, but Osprey Meadows made efforts to soften the hole, and they have paid off. There are not many par 5's I can claim to have hit in two by accident, but this is one of them.

As designed, this is a target hole. A long drive to the left of the fairway leaves a second into a small landing area, and then to the green. But, if you intentionally cut your drive, it eliminates the need to play a second. Just bang it up the hill to this large, front-to-back sloping green. It can make an invigorating (or infuriating) finish to your round.

Whether celebrating or pining, I recommend finishing your day in Morels restaurant at the hotel. Chef Gary Kucy works wonders with unusual meats. Try the Ostrich appetizer if he offers it, that day. If you stay for dinner, the elk sirloin steak/sausage combination is lean, and exceptional.

Osprey Meadows at Tamarack Resort
5003 yards/63.6/111
5916 yards/68.2/129
6737 yards/72.2/136
7319 yards/74.9/143

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