Salish Cliffs and Chambers Bay: The Perfect Golf Getaway
When I think of buddies golf destinations in the Northwest, immediately the first two that come to mind are Bandon and Bend.
The quality of the golf is spectacular, and they are both great for very different reasons.
Washington, on the other hand, had never been high on my radar until recently as a go to spot to head out of town with some friends for a few days.
But you know what?
It is now.
Recently, I had the opportunity to head up and spend three days at Little Creek Casino Resort outside Tacoma, and was treated to two spectacular options for golf on Salish Cliffs and Chambers Bay, but also a ton of stuff to keep us entertained when we weren’t on the course as well.
What is Little Creek Casino?
I’d been hearing about Salish Cliffs Golf Club for a couple of years now. It’s routinely ranked as one of the best golf courses in the state of Washington, and I’d seen a few pretty photos of the course.
But what I didn’t realize was that it was actually part of an Indian casino resort called Little Creek.
Little Creek was built in the mid-nineties by the Squaxin Island Tribe, and over the years it has expanded to include two hotel towers, numerous restaurants, the Seven Inlets Spa, and most recently, the Salish Cliffs golf course.
It had never crossed my mind to head north, but in all honesty? It’s one of the next trips I’ll be planning with my friends.
Little Creek is just over two hours from Portland, and about an hour and a half or so from Seattle. So it’s a fantastic option for stay and play from either city.
I honestly, haven’t done a ton of casino style stay and play golf, but I’ve always enjoyed the amenities and activities when I did (the biggest one that comes to mind is Turning Stone Resort in Verona, NY).
With a trip to Vegas there can often be too much emphasis on gambling, which can lead to a pretty rough flight heading home.
I found at Little Creek, gambling is great, but there is so much else going on, you don’t feel like you’re wasting your entire trip away in a casino.
Let’s talk first about the golf, and then I’ll come back and talk about my experience at the resort itself.
Golf at Chambers Bay
Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last few years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Chambers Bay. It’s a municipal golf course outside Tacoma (and about 45 minutes from Little Creek Resort) that played host to the 2015 US Open.
Despite the horrible course conditions during the tournament, and the negative things some pundits had to say, the bottom line is that Chambers Bay is flat out one of the most fun courses in the world, and a fantastic example of links golf – which is tough to come by in the United States.
On this most recent trip, I played Chambers Bay for my second time, and was thoroughly impressed (again).
My first trip was in the middle of one of the wettest December’s on record, but the blue skies and perfect weather we had this go around allowed me to appreciate the course so much more.
Chambers Bay is unique in that it was built on top of an old quarry, and they took land that was effectively a wasteland and created both a fun and scenic golf course, while also giving the general public a park and walking paths to enjoy as well.
The course itself has plenty of challenges, but isn’t overly difficult when playing from the correct tees.
So many of the holes provide risk/reward challenges as well as opportunities really rack up a high score if you don’t play smart.
The collection of par 3s are fun and unique, the fours are some of the best in the northwest, and the fives give you opportunities to go for the green in two, and with the exception of the 8th hole (which I don’t particularly care for), they’re all holes you truly look forward to playing.
Some Chambers Bay highlights for me:
The redan-esque par 3, 3rd:
The drivable par 4, 12th which can easily lead to birdie or double:
And the sweeping dogleg left 14th:
The picturesque, downhill 17th:
Chambers Bay is truly a bucket list course that most people will absolutely love, and a few will totally hate.
I’m in the camp of the former, and always enjoy coming up and playing the course. It truly is unique in the landscape of American golf.
So if you’re going to do a buddies trip in the Northwest, adding this to your itinerary is a complete no brainer.
Golf at Salish Cliffs
You honestly couldn’t pick two more different courses than Salish Cliffs and Chambers Bay – and I think that’s one of the things that makes this area such an intriguing golf destination.
Despite being very different, I’d characterize both courses has placing a huge value on fun – which if you’ve followed this site, you know is a big deal for me.
Salish Cliffs was finished in 2011 and designed by Gene Bates. It’s located just up the hill from the resort, and is a quick 2 minute complimentary shuttle ride to get there.
As you drive in the first thing you notice are the hills.
This is not a course you’d want to (or really be able to walk). Which usually is a big negative in my book, but I found the course so much fun that it really didn’t bother me – especially considering the 8 mile beating I took the day before at Chambers.
Salish Cliffs has a phenomenal practice area complete with Titleist NXT Tour balls on the range – and one of the best short game areas I’ve seen up near the first tee.
If you did nothing else aside from play a round and hang out on the short game area all day, it’d be time well spent.
What’s cool about Salish is that compared to some courses that will nickel and dime you (Green fees, balls, cart, tax etc). At Salish you pay one price and get it all – which I really appreciate in a public facility.
Within the first 3 holes you really get a feel for what this course is all about.
The first hole is a reachable par 5 featuring a dramatic downhill tee shot, with a giant tree guarding the right half of the fairway:
The second is a drivable par 4 that will punish a missed drive, or reward the person who plays smart with an iron off the tee.
And then 3 is a long downhill par 3, that forces you to be both long and accurate.
The entire course routes through giant Pacific Northwest forests, has beautiful and strategic bunkering (that’s all hand raked everyday), and has significant elevation changes which force you to hit every type of shot you could imagine.
I honestly, wasn’t sure what to expect with Salish Cliffs. I’d heard some mixed things, but I’ve gotta admit, after playing two rounds on the course I found myself really enjoying it.
We played from the whites both days, which played to about 6300 yards, with the next set going back to 6700, and tipping out at nearly 7300.
I shot an 85 both days, and one day it felt like a 78 and the other it felt like a 94. The course itself isn’t overly difficult, but if you can’t hit the ball straight, there are plenty of trees waiting to swallow up your ball.
But it’s exactly the type of course you want in either a buddies trip or a trip with your significant other. You can cruise around in carts to keep you from being totally exhausted afterwards, there are plenty of showdown holes where you can compete for long drive or closest to the pin, and you’ll find yourself time and time again saying “well, this hole is cool!”
The GPS units in the carts were hands down the nicest I’ve ever seen. They were touch screen, so you could get exact distances to any spot on the hole, and it provided distances to each day’s pin, rather than just to the center of the green.
A few other favorites from the round:
The par 4, 5th hole:
The Par 4, 16th:
The par 4, 15th:
Salish Cliffs utilizes demand based pricing, meaning the price for a tee time can vary wildly.
After a brief search in the middle August, most of the rates were in the $69-99 range depending if it’s a weekend or not, and also based on time of day.
While $100 isn’t cheap for a round of golf, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. There are also discounts for booking in advance, and if you can get it for under $75, it’s a great value.
Their stay and play deals are also really solid. For two people including a room and 2 rounds of golf, you’re looking at between $200-300 depending on if it’s a weekend or weekday – and dropping down closer to $150 in the off season, which is great.
However I have been told that it can get pretty soggy in the winter, so take that for what it’s worth.1
Food and Activities at Salish Cliffs
Once you get your round (or two) of golf in, things are just getting going.
Little Creek Resort has 190 rooms total, with some of those being suites.
I had the pleasure of really getting to dive into most of what the resort had to offer, and I left really impressed.
There are a number of different restaurants to choose from.
The most popular being the small Seafood Bar which was always packed, and received rave reviews from everyone I talked to.
I had dinner next door at the Island Grill and it was one of the best meals I’d had in recent memory.
The seafood cocktail appetizer with jumbo shrimp, crab, and lobster was phenomenal (and allowed me to see why the place next door was getting such good reviews), and the tenderloin steak I had was a perfectly cooked medium rare.
I was also happy to see a cigar and spirits lounge. It was upstairs a bit out of the way, but who doesn’t want to smoke cigars, sip some scotch and play a little cards after a golf day of golf with the boys.
The humidor had an excellent selection from affordable single digit options, up to standbys like Cohiba’s and Monte Cristos.
They also had my go to scotch of Lagavulin 16 year, so no complaints there.
While it certainly doesn’t have the ambiance or global golfing crowd of say the Bunker Bar at Bandon Dunes it’s a fantastic spot to relax at the end of the day.
Now if only they could get a little more inventive with the names of the restaurants.
Seven Inlets Spa at Little Creek
The spa was also very well done. Both the men’s and women’s locker rooms featured a dry sauna, eucalyptus steam room, and what might possibly be one of the best showers I’ve ever been in.
The meditation room had extremely comfy chairs to relax in before or after a treatment, and the prices were totally reasonable compared with many spas I’ve seen.
I got a Swedish massage that wasn’t quite as deep as expected, but still ultimately very enjoyable.
There was also an indoor pool and hot tub, that looked perfectly adequate, but I didn’t ever make the trip in there.
Little Creek Casino
If you’ve never been to an Indian Casino before, you should be prepared that it really isn’t much like Vegas.
The casinos are quite a bit smaller, you don’t get free drinks, and the emphasis is on machine games rather than table games.
That being said, I found Little Creek to be better than I expected. The Casino was broken up into two sections, the non-smoking section, and the larger smoking section.
They had a bevy of slot machines, and while limited in numbers, all of the table games you’d expect (blackjack, craps, roulette). During the course of my trip I probably spent 2-3 hours playing blackjack and craps and came away up $100 for the trip. I met a lot of interesting characters on the floor, and really enjoyed the gambling I did.
Again, unlike Vegas where you often feel like everything comes back to gambling, with the mix of 3 rounds of golf, a massage, eating and drinking, the gambling was more of a great supporting act that was a lot of fun.
And for the people who like to spend more time on the casino floor, there is plenty there to keep you entertained.
There’s also a poker room upstairs that seemed very active, even giving I saw it on a Monday night.
The only thing I would have liked to see was a craps table in the non-smoking area.
Suggest Itinerary and Final Thoughts
While Bandon and Bend are still probably the perennial favorites when it comes to Northwest golf destinations, both aren’t without their flaws. Bandon is remote and can be very expensive, while Bend isn’t overly cheap either and many of the courses are quite spread out over the region.
What I loved about Salish and Little Creek Resort is that it’s affordable, and once you’re there, you don’t really have to go anywhere.
Because of this, I think a perfect weekend away would look something like this:
- Take a Friday off work, and head to Chambers Bay for a late morning or early afternoon tee time.
- Finish up and head to the resort to check in, and spend the evening eating, drinking and hitting the tables.
- Schedule a round of golf at Salish Cliffs as early as you can manage on Saturday morning, have lunch after the round, and then if you don’t have too much of an ego thing going on, go get a massage. This is especially true if you take a trip like this with your wife. That spa is what can sell this as a couples getaway, if she doesn’t golf 🙂
- Then hit a different restaurant and casino that night, and finish with a cocktail at the Spirits Lounge.
- Play one more round of golf in the morning before heading out, and all of a sudden you have a fantastic and varied weekend away.
A few more photos from the trip:
Have you been to Chambers Bay or Salish Cliffs? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Also, have any questions about either destination? Happy to do my best and answer any questions you might have!
I attended this trip as part of a media familiarity trip, but all opinions are my own. And I wasn’t joking when I said I’ll be trying to arrange a trip there with some golfing buddies of mine either this fall or next spring.