Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, WA
Tee Time: May 19, 2013, 9:44, 63 F, light rain
Designer: John F. Harbottle III (1996)
Playing Partners: Mike Harvey, CJ Phelan, Pat Spomer
Tees: Tourney, Par 72 (71.3 rating/129 slope/6,479 yards)
Course Handicap: 13 (11.6 index)
Stats: 88 (45-43); 29 putts; 7/14 fairways; 4/18 greens; 0 penalty strokes; 1 eagle
I’m not sure if anyone’s been watching that new North America series on the Discovery Channel, but playing the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club feels like a round of golf in an episode of that nature documentary. It’s just you surrounded by acres upon acres of thick forests packed with Douglas Fir trees as far as the eye can see. A few miles up the road from Bremerton, Washington, is where you’ll find the large clubhouse and excellent warmup areas before playing one of Gold Mountain’s two golf courses, the other being the Cascade Course. Each hole feels isolated in a wilderness manner. Unless that group ahead of you is still on the green, you’ll never see another human or manmade structure for the entire round, making it feel like 18 holes on your own private golf course. There are elevation changes on nearly every hole and accuracy is important from the tee. It’s hard to really lose a golf ball here but get behind some of those evergreen trees and it can be just as bad. Our group had two shots that flew as far backward off a trunk as it had flown forward. The whole scene was made even more amazing somehow by the cloudy skies that dropped a bit of precipitation. It seemed like an Alaskan seaplane could roar over the ridge at any moment. Off in the distance, row after row of towering Douglas Firs rose up into the stirring clouds along the many ridges and mountains surrounding the golf course. I personally can’t think of any better setting than a thriving evergreen forest. Oh, and even the golf here is pretty good.
The Olympic Course begins with a mean par 4, 419 yards of tight fairway to a tricky little green. Things only get mildly easier from there. The par-4 2nd snakes around a large fairway bunker and then back to the right around a pair of deep green-side bunkers. Fortunately, the hole is short, at 335 yards, and can be navigated safely if you really want to. But then it’s back to length at the uphill, 405-yard 3rd. The best angle is from the right side, but there is more rough than fairway over there so it can be tough. The most extreme uphill elevation change on the course is the hike to the green at #5, a short 336 yards but rises over fifty feet from the fairway to the green. Again, the trees on the left push the best line for this hole to the right, but that means hitting an approach over a nasty bunker. I don’t think there is anything tougher than a short, downhill par 3, which is exactly what the 137-yard 5th is. Just unfold a chair and watch how many players come up short thinking that anything more than a half-wedge will fly off into oblivion. Even with the pin in the front, no one matched that distance and 75% of our foursome missed the green short. At least if you bogey that there’s a chance to get one back at the 6th. The first par 5 is also effectively the shortest. Sure it’s 10 yards longer than the 14th at 479 yards, but the big drop down to the green plays much shorter. The coolest atmosphere at Gold Mountain waits at the tee of the 434-yard 7th. Just take a look out to the green and it’ll hit you. The entire last 3/4 of the hole is perfectly surrounded by large, stately-looking trees. It is nature’s equivalent of a stadium hole only instead of thousands of drunk fans shouting, cheering and booing like at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th, you get hundreds of ancient, motionless trees silently judging you with every stroke. The front nine closes out with a long, tough par 5 that requires both length and distance control. Hit a big drive to get started, but anything that lays up too far (you can’t reach in two…) will leave a really awkward downhill lie to a green surrounded by sand and water.
On the opposite side of the golf course begins the back nine, an uphill 352-yard par 4 with a wide fairway that is surprisingly difficult to hit. The least dangerous par 5 at the Olympic Course waits next. It’s the best opportunity to take two healthy rips at the ball without worrying too much about losing a Pro-V1 or getting caught in jail. The beautiful par-3 12th is long, but downhill. A huge bunker waits on the left to swallow any misses and the green has it’s lower tier in the back, making for a tough putting surface. What was said about the 11th cannot be said about the par-5 14th. Here, any monkey business with the first or second shots will be O.B. Just ask the nameless member of our group who lost balls to the left and to the right en route to a crippling 9 on the hole. But keep shots on the short grass and good scores are possible. Just ask the nameless member of our group who made a 4. Get over the ridge at the short par-4 15th and come to the most scenic portion of the golf course, with a serene lake that oozes charm and “Augusta-ness” (I made that word up). I’m serious, too. The 15th and 16th surround the lake in such a theatrical way it just feels like the 15th and 16th at the home of the Masters, except playable to the public. Play consertively to keep the water out of play from the tee and just a short wedge in will remain. The 16th is a short 157 yards, but with nearly all of it carried over the lake, it is a gut check. Anything long will also find trouble, either being kicked right into some trees or going left for a downhill sand shot. One final challenge remains at the long, downhill then uphill 17th. You can rip one off the tee, but anything less than perfect makes this green hard to hit in regulation. The deep bunkers to the front of the green are unpleasant, as is the lone fir waiting to deflect any risky tee shots into the forest.
The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain Golf Club is a must play. It is a stern test for any golfer, yet accessible enough to be enjoyed by lesser talents. And that is a good thing, because the more people who can enjoy this atmosphere the better. To date, and this is 11 states into my journey (crazy to think I’m still only 22% done), this is the only golf course I can think of that offers this kind of experience. There’s just too much to love about this place. The forest, the clubhouse, the staff, the receptive greens, the thick rough. Everything really. Except for the birds…
I do have one warning about this amazing track nestled into Bremerton. The crows here are tenacious. Before the round even started one gluttonous crow made off with Pat’s egg sandwich, eating twice its body weight in sausage and egg before flying away somehow. And then at the turn, yet another crow (or possibly the same one…) strutted into our vacated golf cart as we putted at the 10th. It reached into one cubby and pulled out a wrapper, littering the golf course as it threw the empty container to the ground in disgust. Then this thief, or cunning opportunist, depending on whose side you are on, hopped over to the other cubby, grabbed an open bag of trail mix and hopped down to the ground next to the cart. He spilled the contents of the package all over the ground, pecked around a bit, grabbed ONE PEANUT and flew off. And they call humans a wasteful species…
#18, Par 4, 271 yards, 16-handicap, My Score: 2
So here at the Gold Mountain Golf Club you are deep into the wilderness. Further into the woods, some sporting enthusiasts like to go shooting. Throughout our round, gunfire was heard intermittently. It actually added a bit to the experience; it felt like listening to some Revolutionary War battle being played out just out of sight in the forest beyond. Some time near the end of the round, the complex echoed as someone fired off a .50-cal round. An amazing sound and example of American firepower. Yet even with all that gunpowder and spent rounds, the most explosive shot came out on the golf course. Off of my TaylorMade R580XD of course. A majestic 240-carry over water and sand traps, through falling rain, cutting the dogleg right completely and landing softly on the green only to inch towards the pin, coming to rest just 18 inches from the cup. Now that was a prime showing of American firepower. So you’ll understand if I may be a bit biased in picking my favorite hole.
The 18th is still a great finishing hole even if I had dunked my tee shot into the lake. There is a risky line to carry 3 deep sand traps and go for the green, but a lake waits to the right and those sand traps are at awkward distances. Even bailing out to the left with a layup is no guarantee for par. A shot deep into the fairway is best in order to keep the sand out of play on the approach, anything shorter will force a carry. I love the risk-reward offered here. There’s a chance for an aggressive 2, a safe 4, or a disastrous 7+, all depending on where the ball goes from the tee box. Apparently someone during the Public Links tournament a couple years back made a hole-in-one here. I guess I could’ve made a little better of a swing then…
Layout: B+; the elevation changes bring lots of thought into play as suddenly 170 yards isn’t 170 yards anymore. Distance control is paramount here, as is good putting. Find too many bunkers and those sand-saves will be few and far between.
Amenities: A-; great driving range and putting green, as well as a full restaurant, massive pro shop and gas golf carts.
Staff: A; once again, Washington golf shows its hospitality. It does add to a course when there is a nice and knowledgeable starter at the first tee.
Difficulty: B-; get into too much trouble with trees and your round can go south in a hurry. Otherwise, the receptive greens make approach shots fun to stick and can lead to some very good birdie chances, but navigating the rough and sand surrounding those greens is not an easy task.
Scenery: A; I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves. Ok, I will add that the pictures don’t even do this place justice, and I would consider myself a decent photographer. Pure, untouched forest stretches for miles surrounding this course and gives off an amazing experience just looking at it.
Value: A; $80 to roam a forest comparable to any national park? And great golf to go with? It’d be a bargain at twice the rate. Hear that Arizona and your $150 rates to wander the desert?
Overall GPA: 3.62 (A-); play here, and then come back and play the Cascade Course. Any excuse to come out here is a good one. Probably time to start looking for flights back to Seattle…