Circling Raven Golf Club

March 17, 2008 1:53:46 PM PDT
This golf course appeals to the eyes, the ears, the nose, and the spirit. The Gene Bates, design merges terrain and environment. Circling Raven gently twists, turns, winds, climbs, and descends through rolling farmland, creeks, and native grasses. Once you leave the clubhouse no buildings distract you. Aside from some road noise from Highway 95, which runs along the 18th hole, you'll hear only the sounds of your partners, your shots, and the wildlife. Circling Raven offers what has become the rarest of golfing commodities---a course built to attract players, not home buyers.

Circling Raven looked so appealing that upon arriving at the hotel casino, we practically ripped our clubs from out carry bags, ran out with untied shoes, and teed off. We played two hours and fifty-two minutes, seeing only one other group on the course, and not for long. Although they, too, moved fast, we blew through them as if it were a video game.

Circling Raven appeals to players who can control and shape their drives. Those who tend toward the wild side might be in for a long day, so it's good that on many holes, a 3-metal will also suffice. That said, Circling Raven offers no easy bunts. Bates' design looks threatening, but leaves ample margins for errors and recoveries. If forced carries and strategic bunkering do not threaten you, then you will like this course. Refer to the GPS in your cart, use your laser rangefinder if you own one, and make decision, decision, decision, all the way around.

The course opens with a confidence builder, the 469/466/483/493/513 yard, par 5, 1st, which doglegs left, around protected wetlands. From the blue tees, challenge a bunker guarding the corner at 220 yards. Clear it with a draw, and you'll have a relatively easy, 200-215 yard shot into an unprotected green. I played this hole three times, made three birdies in light, favoring winds, and that's pretty darn special.

Circling Raven builds to its challenges. The uphill, 260/275/310/349/395 yard, par 4, 2nd, requires a fade into a fairway pinched right and left by bunkers.

The 142/163/182/186/217 yard, par 3, third, demands accuracy and distance, as you play across deep grasslands, downhill through swirling winds to a green guarded by steep slopes and bunkers. The first time, especially, this shot will take considerable nerve, but it's a mere prelude to the par 3's which follow.

The par 4, 253/268/360/380/406 yard, 4th, features upper and lower fairways split by deep, deadly bunkers. Again, your landing areas look narrower from the tee than they play in reality. Aim for the high one. Hit an easy, high fade, and you'll have little more than a mid-iron, downhill to a green that opens from the right side.

The downhill, 276/298/329/357/386 yard, par 4, 8th features one of the prettiest tee shots in creation. Accuracy matters more than distance. The fairway features a steep hill to the left. Don't go there. But, even that would be preferable to blocking a ball right, where a nature preserve gobbles errant shots.

A perfect tee ball leaves a relatively simple shot into the most picturesque of greens.

If Circling Raven's front nine woos a player, then the back consummates this love affair with its 11th, 12th, and 13th holes.

The 323/347/379/418/446 yard, par 4, 11th can be long and difficult hole, or relatively easy, depending on your courage and execution. It routes downhill, doglegging left around more bunkers guarding a corner at approximately 230 yards from the blue tees. If the wind is favorable, go ahead and blast away because, if you clear those bunkers, the sloping fairway will bump your ball to the left. I think it's a good play because if you chicken out and miss right, par will be difficult, no matter what. You can make bogey from the fairway, or bogey from the bunker, so why not make a bogey while trying to score birdie? Either way, it looks the same on a scorecard.

By the time we reached the par 5, 12th, this course had me practically genuflecting. It's like being single, going out with the guys, and unexpectedly meeting a complex, interesting, beautiful woman. The 12th plays 391/426/488/535/581 yards downhill, and then up, with a large tree bisecting the fairway. Smart players go left. That's the conservative play. But from the blue tees, a 220 yard drive carries grasslands to the right, setting up a possible second onto a wide, but not deep, elevated green with a large bunker guarding the front left. If you go for it, bring your ball in high, or else attempt a draw from the right. I laid to the right, each time, playing for the easy entry.

The par 3, 135/145/200/218/253 yard, 13th is the most intimidating hole on the course. It's another of those steep, downhill par 3's. Aside from selecting the proper club, it requires more nerve than strategy. From the blues, at 218 yards, I used my 22 degree Rescue Draw, which flies roughly 207 yards at flat sea level. Good swings possibly result in pars. Bad swings definitely produce big numbers. The 13th is as simple as that.

As a destination, Circling Raven would be perfect for single-minded and adventurous golfers on a budget. In 2007, fees range from $65 in spring, to a high of $90 on weekends during peak season. Replays run from $35 to $55, and the casino offers stay/play packages at the Coeur D'Alene Casino Resort Hotel ranging from $189 to $215.

I found thOSE hotel accommodations to be quite nice. Mine included a living room, a bedroom, two televisions sets, and two bathrooms, with nice amenities, including shower caps. Can't say I used them, but they make my wife happy, and in terms of 'thinking of you' gifts, they offer a good way of getting off cheap.

As with most casinos, you will find a reasonable and filling buffet deep in the Aripa Room. It includes a prime rib that inspires gluttony, along with a symphony of other tasty options for people with better willpower.

In summary, the casino and course are place to golf your brains out, eat your brains out, sleep like a rock, and then repeat those experiences the next day. Circling Raven Golf Course will never bore you, thrill you often, and if casino gambling entertains you, then all the better.

Worley, Idaho
4708/5389/6108/6578/7189 yards
67.2/126; 70.9/136; 69.4/130; 71.7/139; 74.8/140