Idaho Isn't Just for Potatoes Anymore

By: David Wood


Move over potatoes, golf is well on the way to surpassing what Idaho is famous for. Eight courses are members of the Idaho Golf Trail including the golfing heaven of Circling Raven and the immaculate Coeur d'Alene Resort - with its famed island green - providing the "don't miss" northern end of the loop. Now, southern Idaho sports two first-rate courses as well - Osprey Meadows at the Tamarack Resort near Donnelly and Whitetail Club and Resort in McCall - which both demand a visit from the discerning traveling golfer. Osprey Meadows all by itself is worth immediately hopping on the next plane, train, bus, or automobile to Idaho with golf clubs in tow as the Robert Trent Jones Jr./Bruce Charlton layout is flat-out as good as it gets.

Osprey Meadows

Proving that nature and a high-caliber golf course can coexist in harmony, a fox was happily trotting back home with a dead hare in its mouth no more than 10 feet from me on the tricky 381-yard par-4 seventh hole at Osprey Meadows - an exceptional links at the Tamarack Resort in southern Idaho. Just about to attempt my approach shot to the slightly uphill green poised in front of an amphitheater of pines, the jauntily motoring fox gave me a nonchalant look that implied, "Good luck, pal. You're gonna need it." He was right. My second, a 7-iron, landed in one of Mr. Jones's evil bunkers lurking just right of the putting surface - which in true Jonesian fashion craftily sloped away from the hazard. A bogey ensued. It wasn't my first that day, and nor would it be my last as Osprey Meadows demands your complete golfing attention for any hopes of getting within the same zip code as your handicap. More often than not, you're going to end up like that poor hare. Osprey Meadows is a full-on "survival of the fittest" test of golf in a mesmerizing locale.

At the pinnacle of the golf course architecture food chain, Jones and his design team are given the very best parcels of land to ply their expertise. Few courses are more scenic as the protected wetlands on the low ground, complete with graceful cranes and ospreys holding court, give way to thick groves of ponderosas, aspens, firs, and spruces as the forest-lined fairways wind up and away from nearby Lake Cascade - which is tranquilly in view from several holes. This is big majestic land needing big majestic golf. That it has.

Already named by Golf Digest in 2006 as the "Best Public Course $75 and Over," two-year-old Osprey Meadows is going to be racking up awards like Tom Hanks wins Oscars - often. The mark of a fine course is how many holes you remember. Many come immediately to mind. The strategic 540-yard par-5 opening hole with the wetlands paralleling the entire right side and a tiered green well protected by a huge bunker right and a mini, but fiery, one short left. The beguiling fourth - a double-fairway par-5 of 608 yards with two forced carries, wetlands, bunkers, and an insidious tree mocking any attempt at playing the hole in regulation. The par-3 sixth at 226-yards from the tips - the best hole on the course - with its oblong green completely surrounded by verdant wetlands requiring a heroic strike to reach the promised dry land. The wonderful, but stout, par-4 445-yard 14th played up and over a ridge with two hard smacks needed to get near the diabolically slanted putting surface.

The great holes go on and on. I could rave about all of them except the finisher - a par-5 with its three landing areas and the uncommon golfing occurrence of hitting a driver, then a little half-wedge to a miniscule island for your second, and followed by a full-throttle fairway wood third to the green perched uphill in front of the picturesque resort. It's an all-or-nothing hole, with nothing the winner more often than not. But why nitpick about one hole when so many cry out for admiration.

As you recall your round at the 19th hole with a drink on the veranda of the comfy resort and gaze out over this glorious panorama of golf and Nature's wonder, just be glad you weren't that poor hare.

Osprey Meadows - Tamarack, Idaho, 7,319 yards, par 72, $119, 877/747-5676 - www.tamarackidaho.com �����

Whitetail Club and Resort

While not nearly as demanding golfwise as Osprey Meadows, Whitetail Club and Resort offers a serenely soothing locale that is as well-groomed as an Eagle Scout. Not a blade of grass is out of place. The Andy North-designed course, with its checkerboard moved fairways and raised rolling greens, sparkles under the gaze of the 10,000-foot peaks of the Salmon Mountain Range.

Whitetail is the perfect place to tune up your game before trying to tackle Osprey Meadows as its numerous doglegs require a well-placed tee shot for an easier approach into the greens. This is a course where "playing shots" is a must for the hope of a good score, but golfers of all abilities can have a fun afternoon - the true mark of a well-planned track.

With the sturdy lodge-style clubhouse holding the nexus of the high ground, the layout wanders in a circular fashion through groves of towering pines, sweeping meadows, trout ponds, and bunkers with sand so white it almost hurts your eyes. Throw in flowering native plants and bushes and giant boulders placed throughout and you've got a visual golfing feast. Most every hole is postcard quality.

My favorites were the seventh - a tough, dogleg left par-4 of 435 yards - with trouble lurking everywhere. Tall pines protect the entire right flank while any drive pulled or pushed left finds unplayable marsh land. The approach plays to a two-tiered green with a diabolical bunker loitering left like a school bully wanting your milk money. North did a superb job of protecting par on this one, but what else would you expect from a two-time U.S. Open winner.

The eighth is a gambler's paradise as the hidden green can be driven with a 300-yard blast from the back tee. If you don't want to take part in a "drive of chance," the practical route is a lay-up of 200 yards short of the fairway bunkers left and then a full wedge into the oval green - there is more than one way to beat the golfing odds. The par-4 10th stands out as well as its 442 yards plays longer than the card indicates and is only negotiated well by playing the acute dogleg-left with two mighty blows to the raised green. It's a robust start to a new nine where the holes turn out to be one pleasant surprise after another.

Water comes into play on each of the final four incoming holes, but with a bit of sensible play you and the golf ball of your choice can stay dry. Just be forewarned of the meandering creek that bubbles along the entire right side of the bestial 18th - a par-4 of 468 yards. Afterwards, stick around and enjoy lunch in the high-ceilinged Ponderosa-style clubhouse. Why be in a hurry to leave this neck of the lovely woods - especially with the wonderful Tamarack Resort just up the road a piece? With all due respect to movie critic Roger Ebert, Osprey Meadows and The Whitetail Club and Resort both get a big "thumbs up" from me.

Whitetail Club and Resort, McCall, Idaho, 7,149 yards, par 72, $100-$195, 800/657-6464, www.whitetailclub.com ����

David Wood - writer, corporate speaker, and humorist - is the author of the soon-to-be published book "Around the World in Eighty Rounds." With several appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman," Wood combines humor with his love for golf and adventurous travel. For comments or inquiries on having him speak to your group, contact David at David@DavidWoodSpeaking.com. His website address is www.DavidWoodSpeaking.com.

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