Caddie and Comedian at Coeur d'Alene

By: Tony Dear


Steve Carey is a funny guy. You may not think so as he scurries about like a headless chicken 40 yards ahead of you calculating the exact yardage - and I mean exact - for your approach shot and then diligently checks the line of your putt in a manner so professional you'd think he was taking time out from the PGA Tour.

But away from the Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course where he loops for well-heeled guests six days a week, Carey can bring the house down.

On April 1, the 27-year-old will return for his fifth straight summer at the resort along with the 120 or so other caddies employed there. For most, the winter will have been spent at college, caddying in Las Vegas and Palm Springs, or remaining in Idaho to work the ski season at Silver Mountain, Tamarack or Sun Valley.

Carey, however, will return with a reputation as one of the Pacific Northwest's best up-and-coming stand-up comics. He performs two or three times a week in a variety of clubs, bars "and bowling alleys" throughout the region. He's finished somewhere in the middle of the pack at the prestigious International Comedy Competition in Seattle. "I did pretty well, but there were comedians from L.A. and New York," he says. "The Idaho guy doesn't have quite so much material, you know?"

Carey is careful not to mix one business with another and rarely do you get a glimpse of his darker side. "I don't really experiment on the guests," he says. "It's their day. They've paid a lot of money to play here so I focus on them. You've got to read the situation though. Sometimes, it's clear the guest only wants to talk golf. But occasionally you get someone who likes to know all about the comedy. I had a couple this year who badgered me to give them some jokes and at the end of the round I gave them about two minutes of my routine."

Thankfully, that routine includes none of what he sees on the golf course, which is just as well as some of the shots he saw me hit recently would have made a crowd of Benedictine monks howl with laughter. "I don't use anything that happens at Coeur d'Alene," he assures me. "It's clean humor, I try not to offend anybody. But I suppose I do make fun of senior citizens now and again. I talk about the Champions Tour and what it would be like if there were senior football, or senior NASCAR - every car would have its left blinker going the whole the race."

Whichever Steve Carey you want - stand-up or shut-up, he dutifully obliges. And it's like that everywhere else at billionaire publisher Duane Hagadone's lakeside haven, which Condé Nast Traveler once rated the best resort on the U.S. mainland and has received the AAA Four-Diamond Award and Mobil Four-Star Award every year since it opened in 1986.

Make no bones, Coeur d'Alene is top shelf. All 338 guest rooms justify the luxury tag, but the 500-square-foot premier rooms above the seventh floor of the 18-story Lake Tower, designed by local architect RG Nelson, are a little bit special. Not surprisingly, they go for a budget-busting $429 in the middle of summer.

The food's not bad either. Beverly's, which overlooks the lake, scores well with those looking for a "dining experience" and not just a place to fill their stomachs. A regular on The Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNa) list, it gained entry into National Restaurant News' Fine-Dining Hall of Fame in 2001. As you'd expect, Jim Barrett, the chef de cuisine, uses plenty of local Northwest ingredients in his creations. Perhaps the Idaho Rainbow Trout and Prawn Napoleon with Lemon-Shallot Beurre Blanc Sauce is probably the best known, having appeared on a 2004 edition of "The Best Of" on the Food Network.

The trout is certainly a must. But you'll also want someone at your table to order the crab-stuffed lobster just so you know what a $75 entree tastes like. If the seafood on offer doesn't do it for you, the elk, Australian lamb chops, prime beef tenderloin or Muscovy duck should meet the cravings of a true, bloodthirsty carnivore.

Brownie Cake and three different soufflés appear on the dessert menu. But you're surely not going to leave Beverly's without sampling the Beignets, crisp French pastries with Kahlua chocolate ganache, huckleberry Grand Marnier and Amaretto crème anglaise. It matters not a jot that you need a semester's French to know what's in it. All that's important here is that these Beignets appear to have been baked in God's own kitchen. To wash it all down you'll be needing one, maybe two, of the thousand or more bottles of wine that pass the time away in a cellar that for 10 consecutive years has received Wine Spectator's Grand Award. "Comprehensive" doesn't quite do the cellar justice.

Elsewhere, the lobby-level Dockside restaurant is perfect for a spot of breakfast or a lunchtime burger, while Tito Macaroni's is the place to go if the kids are in tow. Across from the hotel, but also Hagadone-owned, is Bonsai Bistro. Formerly a bank and later a Dakotah Direct call center, the once drab little building on Sherman Avenue was transformed in 2004 into a Pan-Asian restaurant with a Japanese theme complete with koi pond and cute little bridges that must be crossed to get to some of the tables (don't overdo the Saki or you'll never make it back). The resort also owns the Beachouse Restaurant on Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive and The Cedar's, which is often described as a Coeur d'Alene landmark, despite the fact it floats on the lake.

In addition to fancy rooms and more dining choices than is reasonable for a resort of this size, there is, of course, a spa. And, true to Hagadone's penchant for quality, this is definitely no glorified massage parlor. Spa-maker, Tag Galyean, the man who built the spas at Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania, Casa Palmera at Pebble Beach and the Broadmoor in Colorado among others, has been working at Coeur d'Alene for a year turning a 5,000-square-foot complex into a 15,000-square-footer on three levels. And not only is the spa tripling in size, two SilverTAG showers, each with 18 heads controlled by a touch-screen computer (and costing $100,000 each), are going in, as are four flow-through tubs that produce water several times cleaner than what you'd find in your average bottle of Evian. Apparently the soaking experience is enhanced by warm water (100-104 degrees) that flows over the shoulders then drains over the foot edge of the tub. The recommended bath length is seven minutes, followed by a cooling down time.

A couples' room overlooking the lake is also planned and Lakewood Aesthetics, a local non-surgical body rejuvenation company, will be setting up shop. It'll be offering Botox, Restylane and Hylaform injections for sagging faces and lips, and laser hair removal for local Yetis.

The $8 million projects will be complete by June of 2006. But if you desperately need that $190 caviar facial (I thought you were supposed to eat the stuff) before then, the spa is still open for business on the 17th floor of the Lake Tower. "We should actually be returning to our normal space in a couple of months," says spa director, Berni Campbell. "By then construction should be complete and decorating the interior will begin. Everything is on course for the June '06 re-opening."

Good food, exquisite rooms and a spa that Woody Allen could relax in are all well and good. But for many the resort's highlight will always be its sporty and spectacular golf course, which enjoys $1.3 million of pampering a year, a greenstaff of 35 and the most anticipated hole this side of Augusta National and the TPC at Sawgrass.

The golfer might never forget the thrill of seeing his tee shot land on the floating green at the par-3 14th. But equally memorable are those forecaddies, salt-of-the-Earth guys like Steve Carey, who'd do whatever's necessary short of coughing on your opponent's backswing to ensure you have a good time.

If golf is your primary concern when visiting this part of the country, your trip will be sadly lacking if you limit yourself to the Coeur d'Alene resort course alone. Thirty miles south on U.S. 95 is Circling Raven, a two-and-a-half-year-old Gene Bates design which, since it opened in August 2003, has attracted considerable praise - not one word of which is unwarranted.

Owned by the Coeur d'Alene tribe whose headquarters are in nearby Plummer, Circling Raven is spread out over 620 of the tribe's 345,000 acres and is named for an ancient tribal leader whose path was said to be guided not by a GPS in-car street pilot, but a raven. The course is part of a resort that started life in 1993 as a 30,000-square-foot, $2.8 million bingo hall.

"Since then, six expansions have occurred increasing the total gaming space to 100,000 square feet and the number of machines to over 2,000," says resort CEO and tribal member Dave Matheson. "The original 97-room hotel, part of the fourth expansion, was given an additional 105 rooms as part of the sixth in 2003. That extension saw another two wings added and the opening of two 1,800-square-foot Presidential Suites."

Not only are these suites huge, they are absurdly well-appointed with tubs the size of the kids' pool at your local swimming baths. If the President isn't in the area the day you're in town and you really want to impress the guys-romance the wife-indulge yourself, save $29 on what you'll pay for a Coeur d'Alene Resort's Premier room and get an extra 1,300 square feet. The only downside will be the view: a park lot instead of a lake.

As at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, you won't be short of places to eat at the casino. The upscale Sweetgrass Café serves lunch and dinner; the 24-hour Food Court Deli offers hot and cold sandwiches, pizza, espresso, and desserts; and the High Mountain Buffet dishes up breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Friday night seafood buffet at the High Mountain with Dungeness crab, snow crab, steamed clams, shrimp scampi, baked salmon, fried cod, scallops, beer battered shrimp and crab salad is worth $17.99 of anyone's money, especially as drinks are included in the price and you can pile as much on your plate as you want. The Twisted Earth Grill, located in the golf clubhouse, has a bar and sundeck and rustles up a BLT that would have won a barrow load of trophies by now if trophies were awarded for BLTs.

Anglers should set a day aside for some trout fishing on the Shadowy St. Joe, whose headwaters gather on the western slope of the Bitterroot Mountains then flow west to Lake Coeur d'Alene. The river, as clear as the stuff that comes out of one of those flow-thru bathtubs, teems with Cutthroat trout and draws fishermen from across the country.

And boxing fans should schedule a trip to coincide with a bout at the resort's events center. Commissioned more often than not by the Idaho State Athletic Commission or the International Boxing Association, and promoted by the casino itself, the monthly pro boxing nights turn the 1,800-seat arena into "The House of Fury." They're so well attended that they're now considered the Northwest's premier boxing showcase. Indeed, dozens of the casino's fights have been shown on satellite TV in recent years and boxers regard a spot on the bill as a very serious step on the road to Atlantic City, Vegas or Madison Square Garden.

Until the casino came along, the tribe barely survived on logging and farming. But now the entire resort operation has impacted the local economy (Kootenai and Benewah Counties in Idaho, and Spokane and Whitman Counties in Washington) to the tune of roughly $100 million. Plans are afoot for further expansion. The hotel, events center and casino are all set to grow in the not-too-distant future and a brother for the first golf course, which hosted 28,000 rounds in 2005, has also been mentioned.

"The more we add and expand, the more visitors we get," says Matheson. "That has been our experience over the last 13 years. We currently have half a million people coming through the doors each year, but there is no limit to how many the resort can pull in the future."

A million visitors is certainly not out of the question. And top-flight boxing, a few more of those roomy Presidential Suites and even more gaming space will surely help the Coeur d'Alenes reach that number. And a second golf course as good as the first? Well, that should more or less guarantee it.

How did the Coeur d'Alene tribe gets its name?

"The tribe's original name was actually Schitsu'umsh, meaning 'The Discovered People', or 'Those who are found here,' " says Dave Matheson. Although this name is frequently heard and used on the reservation, Coeur d'Alene is now standard. How the name evolved is not perfectly clear, although it could have first come from Highland Scots who visited and traded here at the turn of the 19th century. However, it's more likely the name was given to the tribe in the late 18th or early 19th century by French-Canadian traders and trappers. In French, 'coeur d'alene' means 'heart of the awl,' and it refers to the sharpness of the trading skills exhibited by tribal members in their dealings with visitors (an awl is a pointed tool most frequently used in leatherwork.) History shows the trappers referring to the tribe as 'pointed heart Indians,' an obvious response to their experience and skill at trading.

This story originally appeared in Cybergolf on March 1, 2006.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it extremely difficult for him to focus on Politics, his chosen major. After leaving Liverpool, he worked as a golf instructor at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a 'player.' He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. He is a multi-award winning journalist, and edits his own website at www.bellinghamgolfer.com.

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