Wine Valley: New in Walla Walla

Updated: March 3, 2010

Walla Walla, Washington is no stranger to new vintages. The once-sleepy hamlet in the southeastern corner of the state has become one of the premier wine destinations in the United States.

But if you were looking to pair fine public-access golf with wine touring and tasting, the pickings were slim. The uncorking of Wine Valley Golf Club this spring changed all that.

Wine Valley Golf Club, designed by Oregon native Dan Hixson blends immense scale, inspiring scenery and strategic challenges into a full-bodied golf experience. From the opening tee shot, where the golfer must choose how to negotiate the first of the course’s dramatic vertical-walled bunkers, to the rollicking descent of the final fairway, Wine Valley is a thrill ride in the great links tradition.

The course invites golfers to dig deep for creative approaches on fast, firm fairways and undulating greens.

Shaped on a rich, rolling plain of fertile soils deposited by the Missoula Floods at the end of the last Ice Age, Wine Valley offers broad fairways to accommodate shifting breezes and multiple lines of play.

“The last thing I wanted to do was to ‘tell’ the golfer how to play this course,” architect Hixson says. “For me, the fun in golf is in the uncertainty and the opportunity for different players to try different ways of getting the ball from here to there.”

Some holes, like the short par-4 fourth, tempt long-hitters with the prospect of driving the green, but a gaping bunker to the left of the green punishes those who come up short in the quest for glory. Meanwhile, a friendly angle to the target might give an advantage to the shorter, more conservative player.

“Oh yeah,” Hixson says. “That’s the kind of decision I like to hand over to the player. You’ve got a chance for a two, but it could turn into a six before you even know what happened.”

Wine Valley grew out of an evening of (fittingly) wine-fueled conversation between John Thorsnes, now a partner in the project and director of golf, and landowner Russ Byereley, whose family had long farmed the fields that have yielded one of the country’s most anticipated new courses.

“Our goal was to build a course that could be fun for everybody,” Thorsnes says. “You’re not going to lose many golf balls out here. You’re going hit plenty of fairways and have chances to run the ball up to most of the greens. But don’t think that translates to ‘hit and hope.’ You’ve got to think your way around.”

Wine Valley Golf Club ( opened this spring, stretching to 7,360 yards from the tips and playing to a par of 72.

Peak season – April 15 – October 15 – rates are $60 (Mon. – Thurs.) and $75 (weekends and holidays). Carts are available, and walking is also permitted. For more information, contact the Wine Valley golf shop at 509.525.4653.