Updated: March 3, 2010

The Inland Empire features some of the top courses in the Pacific Northwest
Golfers from around the Northwest have long known about the high quality of golf in and around Spokane. Not only are the courses superb but the prices are also below any of the other metropolitan areas in the Northwest. With the addition of courses like Circling Raven, StoneRidge and Priest Lake, the reputation is growing in national awareness. The centerpiece, of course, is the world-class Coeur d’Alene resort that has gained national and international attention and is ranked one of best resorts in the world by Golf Digest.

The City of Spokane owns four popular courses in Indian Canyon, The Creek at Qualchan, Downriver and Esmeralda. They are all popular and for less than $30, all are affordable. Anyplace else, these courses would be over $50. Spokane County, the other municipal course owner, has Hangman Valley, Meadowwood and Liberty Lake that are excellent courses that can be played for under $35. Here’s a quick look at the Spokane courses and what you face when you tee it up in the Inland Empire:

• Indian Canyon: At 6,255 yards might appear, on paper at least, to be an easy course, but with tight fairways, major elevation changes and bunker-guarded greens, it’s anything but easy. Indian Canyon continues to be one of the top courses in the Northwest.

• Creek at Qualchan: This course will get your attention right out of the gate with it’s elevation changes, tight dog-legs and greens that can be protected by water, numerous bunkers or are sculpted into the sides of steep hills.

• Esmeralda: A popular course for the locals, it plays to 6,250 yards. Over 65,000 rounds are played each year at the course they call “Essie.”

• Downriver: One of the most popular in-town courses. Downriver’s fairways are dwarfed by century-old pine trees that makes standing amongst them seem almost surreal.

• Hangman Valley: Course got its name from the infamous 1858 Battle of Steptoe when U.S. Soldiers captured Native Americans and hanged 13 chiefs. The course opened in 1969 and features some great par-5 holes. Like so many of the other courses in the area, elevation changes and tall trees play a significant part in this challenging course.

• Meadowwood: Designed by the legendary golf architect Robert Muir Graves, who made his mark in golf course design by producing difficult, but fair, courses. This is one of the top challenges in the area and was awarded four stars by Golf Digest magazine. It is one of our favorite courses too.

• Liberty Lake: The course received a face-lift a few years ago but is now getting a major rebuild. Liberty Lake was closed last September and won’t re-open until May 2010. During that time the course will undergo a major redesign including new ponds, new tees, 30 new bunkers. A new set of tees will be added to each hole and some trees will be removed. There will also be a new irrigation system in place when it re-opens. The course is owned by Spokane County

• Wandermere: The course opened the first 9 holes in 1931 and boasts one of the largest memberships in the region. The original design has stood the test of time with only a few updates.

• Sundance: Located away from the downtown Spokane area, Sundance is a perfect place for beginners. It measures 5,900 yards and presents a flat terrain.

• Fairways at West Terrace: Located in Cheney, winds are usually the biggest challenge at this course, which measures 6,390 yards. A goal post is located in the middle of the driving range, providing an interesting target when practicing.

• Valley View: Executive-length golf course near Meadowwood and Liberty Lake golf course. A relatively flat course that measures just over 2,000 yards with multiple tees.

• Painted Hills: Bought by the McElhinny family in 2006, the Painted Hills Golf Course was built in 1989 originally as a nine-hole championship golf course. Since then Chester Creek Par 3 has been added to the property.

• Pineacres: One of the most popular places for golfers in the Spokane area to practice. The course is short, at 970 yards and is a par 27.

• Manito Country Club: Manito is one of the oldest courses in the Pacific Northwest, having opened for play in 1917. The course has hosted some of the biggest events in the Pacific Northwest and hosted the 1945 PGA Championship.

North of Spokane are 3 solid courses well worth the drive
If you have played all the courses you want in the Spokane area, take a look to the north and you will see a trio to try.

Chewelah Golf Course, Deer Park Golf Course and Dominion Meadows in Colville are all located north of Spokane and all are good alternatives when you are heading north of Spokane in search of even more golf to play.

• Chewelah, which sits an hour north of Spokane, opened a second nine holes eight years ago. Spokane architect Keith Hellstrom designed the first 18 holes while the new nine was penned by Jim Kraus. In addition, a new clubhouse was built and opened in 2002. Not bad for a town which has just 2,000 residents and needed volunteer labor and materials to get the original nine holes opened more than 25 years ago. The course was owned by the U.S. Department of Natural Resources before being sold to club members in 1995. There’s plenty to like, including the narrow, tree-lined fairways and well-conditioned greens.

• Deer Park is one of the newest courses in the area, having opened for play in 1996. Located less than a half-hour north of Spokane, Deer Park features a new RV park near the golf course. The course plays to nearly 6,700 yards and with the terrain being relatively flat, golfers enjoy the option to walk. The course was designed by Hellstrom, who made sure that sand and water came into play. The RV resort has been upgraded to resort quality and director of golf Craig Schuh says that people enjoy the chance to park their RV within a short walk to the first tee. The summer months do brisk business at Deer Park, as golfers arrive by the RV-load.

• Dominion Meadows used to be called Colville Elks and opened in 1950. Nine holes have been recently added. The old nine plays through trees while the new nine offers a more links-style setting. The course plays to 6,743 yards from the back tees and offers plenty of sand, water and wetlands along the way. The course is owned by the Elks Club and part of its charter calls for the course to always remain open to public golfers as long as it is around.

Flathead Valley is Montana’s golf superstar
With 9 golf courses located within a quick drive of each other, the Flathead Valley area of Western Montana is a golfer’s paradise. Here’s a sneak preview of what to look for when taking a trip to the Flathead Valley area. And to top it off, Golf Digest likes the Flathead Valley area so much that it named the area as on of the top 50 golf destinations in the country.

The choices – lots of them
With 9 golf courses open to the public within an hour of each other in the Flathead Valley – you are left with plenty of alternatives. From Whitefish to Bigfork to Polson, there are courses scattered throughout the area.

And if having an abundance of courses isn’t enough, there are also a couple of courses with extra holes to try – Whitefish Lake Golf Club has a pair of 18-hole golf courses and Eagle Bend in Bigfork has 27 holes, including nine holes designed by Jack Nicklaus. Buffalo Hill in downtown Kalispell has 27 holes.

One number does it all
The Flathead Valley golf courses have combined their resources for marketing purposes and developed a number for golf and lodging reservations: 1-800-392-9795. One call truly does it all.

Some top golf holes
With so many courses located so close to each other, of course you are going to find some terrific golf holes. Let’s start with Meadow Lake Golf Resort in Columbia Falls. There is a monster par-5, measuring 611 yards and Polson Country Club has a 608-yard par-5. If you like to tee it up from the tips, you won’t be disappointed with either of the courses.

At Whitefish Lake Golf Club, the newer south course offers a couple of memorable holes, including the par-5 sixth hole, a short but tight hole with water and trees and there are a couple of stellar par-3 holes. The Big Mountain Golf Club (formerly called Northern Pines), designed by former U.S. Open champ Andy North, has the look of a links and Northwest course. The finishing holes are dramatic, including the par-3 16th hole, which has water hazards and other challenges.

Eagle Bend in Bigfork has 27 holes to choose from, including nine designed by Jack Nicklaus. There is the Lakes Nine, which has water coming into play on virtually every hole. The par-3 sixth hole is one of the toughest par-3s around, playing over 200 yards with sand and water.

Big Mountain’s name
Not only is Big Mountain the name of the nearby ski area in Kalispell, but it is also now the name of a golf course. The course opened as Northern Pines in 1996, but the name changed a couple of years ago when a club offering both skiing and golf was created. The course was designed by former U.S. Open champion Andy North and plays like a Scottish links layout set in Montana.

Other outdoor activities
In the winter nearby Big Mountain offers some of the best skiing in the Pacific Northwest. And all manner of water recreation is possible with Whitefish Lake and Flathead Lake close by. Flathead Lake is one of the biggest in the west, with 128 miles of shoreline.

There’s also Glacier National Park, with 1.4 million acres and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. At the west entrance of the park, the drive along a 253-mile highway has been called one of America’s most scenic drives.

Places to stay
Lodging is never a problem here, like the golf there are options available. With over 3,000 guest hotel beds ranging from economy rooms to suites to private log cabins throughout the Flathead Valley, good deals can be found near any golf course. Visitors can stay at Meadow Lake Golf Course or in downtown Kalispell and Whitefish.

Getting there is easy
Traveling to the Flathead Valley has become easier since Kalispell added a new airport called Glacier Park International with flights from airlines such as Horizon.

Amtrak also offers train service from around the country and if you are driving, Kalispell is just over 500 miles from Seattle and only 270 from Spokane.

Lots of holes to choose
With 11 golf courses within a short drive of one another, visitors can enjoy a vast variety of courses and setting. Eagle Bend in Bigfork offers 27 holes, including nine that were designed by Jack Nicklaus. Whitefish Lake Golf Club is Montana’s only 36-hole complex and both are ranked among the top five in the state and feature plenty of great golf along the way. Both the North and South Course’s have well manicured fairways that are lined by pine and birch trees.