Palouse Ridge Golf Club

Washington State University Campus, USA

by

Todd Lupkes, CGCS
December 2010

John Harbottle’s first course in the eastern part of his home state has garnered international acclaim. Pictured here, the Tenth sits along a ridge with views into the Palouse. Angling down the right side reduces the length of this 626-yard par 5.

Set in the college town of Pullman, Washington, Palouse Ridge has contour that heaves like a turbulent sea. This seems appropriate; the course terrain reflects the regional character seen in the surrounding hills and distant mountain range. Washington State University desired to have a course that could test the best collegiate golfers in the nation, yet be versatile enough to serve as an economic development tool. Since its debut in September 2008, the golf course proved to be a fitting test for the 2009 State Amateur Championship and a great venue for the university’s students, faculty and alumni, as well as players from around the world. In addition to the course, is a state of the art practice facility that accommodates physical education classes, the golf teams and the general public with large tee areas and practice holes on each end.

The university’s search committee interviewed dozens of nationally-renown architects before deciding on John Harbottle, who understudied the legendary Pete Dye and is known for his hand-on method of work. Harbottle gives credit for the success of Palouse Ridge to the site itself:  â€œThe terrain has bold elevation changes and panoramic views. When the landscape moldings are big, you are able to create dramatic holes and experience the thrill of nature.” At first, Harbottle felt the 315-acre parcel at the east end of the WSU campus might even be too severe for great golf.  But, after several days walking the Palouse site, it became apparent you could fit the holes to the land in a natural way that created exciting contour for golf.   Harbottle spent the better part of two years overseeing the refinement of the design and the construction of the course.

The university’s mandate that the golf course fit the environment and be a distinct component of the education and research facility has resulted in one of the finest venues that a college could ask for. The golf course is in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program and was designed to function as a sustainable part of an ecosystem that includes wetlands and riparian corridors tucked among the hills. The course routing preserved the last significant area of prairie sagebrush on campus and defies a standard placement of holes, deferring instead to the dictates of the land. It is a site-specific design with five par 5’s and five par 3’s, including back-to-back par 5’s at holes 9 – 10, as well as 17 – 18. However, there is still an overall balance to the dogleg directions, variety of lengths and types of shot making required.

Both the terrain and the wind have a big impact on the day-to-day course strategy. The wind routinely blows from 10 to 15 mph. Prevailing breezes blow from the southwest, but the wind constantly shifts and swirls—the course never plays the same two days in a row. Players need to adapt to these elements. Throughout the course, you must play the terrain and the wind to your advantage, or suffer the consequences. There are significant slopes that create diagonal lines with heroic carries, as well as more conservative routes that feed the ball toward the proper position.

Forty-nine bunkers are placed at dogleg corners and around the greens. These huge, ragged-edge features fit the scale of the site.   Their fescue brows have a whisker appearance that blends with the hillside grasses.

Bunkers are few, but well placed and designed to challenge the golfer that dares to play near them.

The greens are angled and sloped in various ways to accept a player’s shot, approaching from the proper position. Some reward an aerial approach, but most require a ground game. These varied green sites are set in natural bowls, benched into hillsides and a few seem suspended on the horizon with no backdrop. The infinity-edge greens distort depth perception. Chipping areas compliment severe hazards and provide options to the player. The majority of green contours are relatively subtle.The university requested the green contours be modest. A request granted by Harbottle, who rationalized that the contours around the holes were so bold, that it would be prudent to keep the relatively small greens subtle.

Notable Holes:

First Hole, 463 Yards – Palouse’s First allows you to start off with a fairly wide fairway. Fairway contours pitch from left to right. The fairway crests, just beyond the main landing area, where the slope will give your shot a boost. Players may try position their tee-shot on the plateau in view from the tee, or try for a kick off down slope just beyond. The hitch is, the longer you hit the ball the stronger the side slope pitches and the more you will need to play the contour to stay in position for the approach. The elevated green is slightly angled and sloped to receive a shot coming in from the right side of the fairway. The green is pitched slightly forward and from left to right. Although right of center fairway is the best angle of approach for the green, this position also brings a grassy hollow and fir tree more into play. A lone bunker guards the left side. Players may try to play the terrain near the bunker and feed the shot toward the hole from left to right, or play into the contour to hold a shot. A chipping area, or bailout is located just right of the green and allow a chip back into the contour of the green.

The elevated green of the First at Palouse Ridge, Pullman, WA sits on the Washington State University Campus. This is Harbottle’s first course in Eastern Washington and his most highly acclaimed layout to date.

Third Hole – 484 Yards The third is a long par four. Its fairway lies far below the elevated tee, guarded by a bunker on the right and the native grassland to the left. The longer you hit the ball, the tighter the fairway becomes.

The long par 4, Third is routed along the last stand of native sage on Campus. The fairway sweeps down from the tee, then back up to the green.

The safest play is to position the tee shot just short of the fairway bunker and let the natural slope of the land feed your ball into the fairway center.However, this will leave a longer shot into the green. From the tee shot landing area, the fairway sweeps back uphill to the green. Two deep bunkers are cut into the green on a right to left diagonal. The long, thin green is contoured to receive an aerial approach over the bunkers from the left. Another way to play the approach is play away from the hazards and use the right to left pitch of the slope right of the green to run your ball up onto the putting surface. The latter is an especially good approach to the front pin location. Precise shot making is required either way. The green contour appears subtle because of the steeper terrain surrounding it, but the breaks are deceptively quick.

Fifth Hole, 589 Yards The first of five par 5s has plenty of options for play. Against the wind, this hole can be very tough. Downwind, the green may be reached in two. The fairway sweeps downhill on a right to left pitch. A very steep grassy slope on the left lies diagonal to the line of flight. Friendlier contours on the right direct the ball toward the fairway. A natural wetland runs down the left off the tee, then crosses the fairway and runs down the right side next to and well past the green. From the tee shot lading area, the second half of the fairway runs along the wetland on the right, diagonally to your line of flight. A decision must be made on just how much of the hazard to try and carry. Carrying the largest margin may put you on the green in two when the wind is right.The green is wide, but not very deep and is set next to a wetland on the right.

The par 5, fifth (in the foreground) gives little margin for error on the approach shot.

It offers a little margin for error in direction, but not in length. Two bunkers front it left and right, with a narrow grass approach between them. A chipping area lies behind the green to offer a little advantage for well-hit shots that carry through the green. The green itself is designed to hold a full shot.However, the closer you play to the green and the more you play away from the wetland hazard, the more awkward your approach becomes. A devilish ridge fronts the green on the left and green surface contours are not pitched to receive an approach from the left. The play is either a soft lob, or correctly played pitch and run into the ridge. The green is bisected by another ridge, or break in the contour pitch, so it too, needs to be negotiated when approaching the right side pin positions.

Tenth Hole, 626 Yards – The tenth fairway sits diagonal to the line of flight off its elevated tee. It was created on a hillside, so steep, native slopes up to the left and down to the right frame its length. Two deep, whiskered bunkers front the fairway on the right. Carrying these hazards leads to the shortest route to the green. Flirting with them and straying too far right inevitably results in an awkward stance in deep grass. Just past the main landing area, the fairway heaves like an ocean wave, creating a dungeon for players that go for too much length off the tee. Players that reach the dungeon will be closer to the green, but left with sloping lies for a blind second. The second shot landing area has a bunker to its left protects the best angle of approach to the green. A bailout chipping area, or extended fairway wraps

The 636 yard tenth with an elevated teeing area provides a multitude of options after the tee shot.

around the green on the left. The long, skinny green is a small plateau, running slightly left to right and only a lone bunker on the right lies between the green and the steep native slope. Approaching this green is especially challenging. At the front edge of the bunker, begins a ridge that creates the plateau green effect. This ridge runs along the green front and left side, terminating into a hillock that can actually feed you ball up onto the green. Bump and runs or aerial approach shots must negotiate this ridge in some fashion to reach the green. This is another green with deceptively quick slope that appears subtle, but breaks a lot.

Fifteenth Hole, 369 Yards – This is a short, drive and pitch, par-four. Downwind, it is potentially drivable by aggressive players. Wetland grasses make a natural hazard angling across the line of play. Two bunkers split the middle of landing zone. Laying-up short of these hazards will leave a full shot into the green. Gambling with the hazards can put you on the putting surface or left with a little pitch to the pin.

Set like a peninsula out into the native grasses, the green is wide, but not very deep. A small fairway feeds between two bunkers on the direct line form the tee.Another wider, banked fairway flows into the green on the right.   Tee shots and approaches can play the banked contour to run the ball onto the putting surface.

A diagonal carry waits from the tee on the short par 4 Fifteenth. Contours on the right facilitate the running approach.

Green contours are canted toward the tee and left side fairway approach.The farther you play to the right and away from the trouble, the less receptive the green contour will be to the approach and the more the ground game must come into play. Although the slope is not pitched to hole a shot from the far right, the green angle does prove a length for the running approach.

Sixteenth Hole, 138 Yards – The petite par-three 16th, which measures a scant 138 yards from the Crimson tees is a throw back to old style design. Over 300 acres of land for 18 holes, yet Harbottle felt it was important to create the short one-shot hole and overall variety to the lengths. It’s only a wedge or a 9-iron, but the shot is played to a tiny, exposed, well-defended green. It calls for control and finesse. It’s a tough green to hit when the wind is swirling.

Sixteen has a postage stamp sized putting surface as a target for the short approach. The Seventeenth can play as a short par- 5 or a long par-4.

The Eighteenth has a split level green with a backstop long left. You can play your shot past the green and have the ball nestle down onto the back tier.


The End