The Golf Club at Black Rock – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Over the last year of playing more and more golf courses I’ve learned that there are two different types of golf outings: there are rounds of golf, and then there are golf experiences.
To say that playing at The Golf Club at Black Rock is the latter wouldn’t be doing it justice.
Black Rock, located just above the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is a private club that opened up in 2003 to a ton of praise, and even won best new private club that year – beating out some formidable competition.
Any time you show up as a guest at a private club, there’s always a question of how you’ll be treated. Will it be the snooty, pretentious kind of place where you aren’t welcome? Will the place seem more like a prison with their strict rules and long standing “tradition”?
Or will it be nothing like that?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect before arriving, and when I got there, to say I was surprised would be a bit of an understatement.
I’d been looking forward to this round for about two months leading up to it, so you can imagine my disappointment where upon arriving in Coeur d’Alene a few days earlier, they were seeing the heaviest June rain in years.
Luckily though by the time Sunday rolled around, the city had dried out, and we even got to follow along with the Ironman Race as we drove out I-95 to the club.
Getting to Black Rock is pretty simple from town, you drive south on 95 for 25 minutes, take a 2 mile trip through beautiful countryside, and then arrive at the expansive gates.
Once through, it’s about a mile to the club house, and words like “wow” and “holy crap” seemed to come out around every turn as I got my first views of the course and the property.
As I later learned, The Golf Club at Black Rock wasn’t exactly built like most modern clubs. The guy who built the club wanted everything to be done and ready on day 1. That means cabins were built, a beautiful clubhouse was already constructed, and the course was ready to go – which is saying something considering the amount of dynamite it took to create some of these holes.
We missed the turn for the clubhouse, and an employee saw us and remarked “you look a little lost” in the friendliest way possible. We apologized as she pointed us back towards the valet, and then she said something that would be repeated multiple times throughout the day “Just have fun! Why else would you be here?”
Fun, huh? Where were the stodgy old men telling me about how my shorts weren’t the proper length for the course?
I could already tell I was going to like this place.
I’d had the special treat of playing my round with their Director of Golf, Trevor Fox, who was also about as accomodating as they come.
He met me out front, got me setup with a cart and I headed down to the range to get warmed up.
The range was very nice, with multiple manicured greens to hit to, and one even with a giant target that was surprisingly useful. The attendent there was also incredibly helpful, telling me a bit about the course and helping me with clubs.
What would then transpire over the next 4 hours was a golf experience that not only lived up to my very high expectations, but exceeded them in every single way.
As I stepped up to the first tee not only was a incredibly excited, but at this point I just wanted to make sure I didn’t totally embarrass myself. As many of you know I’m trying to play both the top 100 public courses and the top 100 courses in the United States, and this would be #1 on the big list, as Black Rock is rated as the #58 best course in the country by Golf Digest.
Hole distances are from the copper tees, as thats what we played during our round.
Hole 1 (Par 4, 339 yards)
I stepped up to the copper (blue) tees, closed by eyes, and nailed my drive right down the fairway.
I love courses that have easy opening holes. You can beat me up later on, but at least do your best to make me look good off the first tee – which Black Rock definitely did.
1 is actually a really fun hole as you hit straight downhill (a common theme on this course) to a wide open fairway.
I had a short approach and then an easy two putt for par.
Psh, I can do this.
Hole 2 (Par 3, 171 yards)
Remember the easy opener we had? Well things change quickly.
2 is a mid distance par 3 that’s slightly downhill with water all along the right. Seemed like a relatively straight forward par 3 – that was until I got down to the green. Now I understand why Trevor told me, “this is where things get more interesting.”
My tee shot landed on the edge of the green, but I had to navigate a camelback hump in the middle of the green, and probably two more breaks just to find my way to the hole. Might be the only time I’ve ever been happy with a three putt.
On two you also start to get a sense of designer Jim Engh’s love of the amphitheater setting. Many of the greens at Black Rock have natural amphitheaters that flow down to the green. While on the surface you’d think this would make things easier, I found that due to some relatively heavy rough, your ball didn’t roll back down to the green nearly as often as you’d like.
Hole 3 (Par 5, 578 Yards)
The first of many holes I’d been waiting to play, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
We headed back to the back tees in order to get the full effect of this 607 yard Par 5, that goes through a canyon straight downhill. There are two fairways each with different landing areas, but the imagination of Engh was quickly becoming apparent as Black Rock was starting to seem more like a fantasy course in a video game than real life.
The lower of the two fairways was built by piling all of the debris from the rest of the course construction up, and then putting the grass on top of it. You can see much of the remenants in the chasm area between the fairway and the green.
Scored a nice par here, if you count the mulligan I took on my second shot 🙂
Hole 4 (Par 4, 363 yards)
I’ve found the 4th hole to be kind of a pivotal hole for me when deciding how I like a golf course. Often you’ll see some good opening holes on a course and then everything goes downhill.
Other times the first few holes leave something to be desired and if the 4th isn’t interesting, then it’s going to be tough to really wow me during the rest of the round.
Luckily, Black Rock delivered after it’s monster par 5 on 3. The 4th hole is a beautiful dogleg left par 4 that forces you to launch it over some brush, and an imposing bunker on the right to hit the fairly open landing area.
A great hole that rewards you with an easy approach for a good tee shot, but punishes you if you are anywhere other than the center of the fairway.
It was becoming clear that Black Rock would totally live up to my expectations, and despite being distracted by great conversation and unbelievable views, I managed a par on this one.
Hole 5 (Par 5, 494 Yards
The par 5s at Black Rock easily rival the collection at any other course I’ve played. The 5th takes you out of the trees and into beautiful meadows overlooking the course and surrounding areas.
Once again in an example of creative design that focuses on shotmaking, your second shot on 5 leaves you with a choice. Traverse a long sand trap that unassumingly curves all around the front of the green, or layup, and still face a short approach over the same sand trap. Long isn’t necessarily bad here due to the signature amphitheaters around the greens, but if you’re short (like I was) you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Hole 6 (Par 4, 404 yards)
I took one look at this hole, and knew I could be in trouble if my slice came back. One of the longer par 4s on the course, the entire right side of the fairway is protected by a lake that winds all the way back to protect the front of the green.
Two pot bunkers also make sure to punish if you leave your approach short. I went way left on my tee shot, doing my best to avoid the lake. Pay close attention to the pin location, because as with many greens, a 3 putt will be looming if you’re on the wrong side of it.
Hole 7 (Par 3, 194 yards)
This is the longest par 3 on the course, and one that kind of reminded me of #14 at Cog Hill – minus all the sand traps.
That said if you go short and right, you’ll have a difficult time making it up and down out of the deep bunkers.
This is another great example of a par 3 that while not too scary on the surface, will kill you if you end up on the wrong side.
Hole 8 (Par 5, 567 yards)
It was sitting on the 8th teebox that I finally came to a realization. Black Rock has 3 par 3s, 3 par 4s, and 3 par 5s on it’s front 9. You don’t see this very often, and it made it possible to have more really fun holes with absolutely zero filler.
Just like #5, the par 5 8th is all risk vs reward.
The tees are elevated and the fairway downhill, so if you really connect, getting it onto the green in two is totally possible. You know, you just have to watch out for a tree, water, and a bunch of pot bunkers guarding the green. That said, if you layup, you’re still having to do that from just about any spot in the fairway.
My three wood play was less than stellar throughout my round, but Trevor knocked it on in 2 and then made his eagle look like an everyday occurrence – which in all actuality probably is for him.
Hole 9 (Par 3, 172 yards)
To finish out the trio of par 3s on the front 9, we faced what I thought would be a sure-thing for par. While on the driving range I watched no less than three people drop it to within 2 feet.
I later found out that if you know the pin positions, you can get some very favorable rolls on the green by getting it to the right spot. As we walked up to the tee box he merely said “Ah, now I see why there were so many people close to a hole in one” – apparently the pin was in one of those favorable spots.
Wasn’t really meant to be for me, as my first shot went in the water, and subsequent shot was on the complete opposite side of the green.
Triple bogey isn’t usually how you want to finish off an otherwise solid 9.
The Back 9
For as much fun as the front 9 was, the back 9 is equally as fun, but even more scenic. I honestly hit some of the most fun shots of my life on a few of these holes, and it really proves how much fun Jim Engh must have had while creating this course.
Hole 10 (Pa 4, 351 yards)
Unfortunately for me, my slice really started to kick in on the back 9, and reared it’s ugly head on the opening hole. Luckily I found my ball and was able to get it up and over a tree to land just off the green.
This is a really unique hole and another example of Engh’s imagination. The fairways at Black Rock are usually running a stout 8 on the stimpmeter, which allows you to literally putt the ball from 50+ yards out and get it to any pin location on this green.
We didn’t try it considering just a couple days prior Coeur d’Alene received inches of rain over the course of a couple days. That being said, the course was in amazingly good shape considering it had taken on so much water.
Hole 11 (Par 4, 362 yards)
I think I was even more excited to play this hole than the floating green at Coeur d’Alene Resort.
Well, look at it!
You hit from an elevated tee to a pretty big landing area, and then have one of the coolest approach shots in golf.
The green is elevated and framed with two cascading waterfalls on each side. Trevor told me just to get it up there, and it will bounce around and usually leave you in a good spot.
He was right, I was a ways to the left, but it hit some rocks and then tumbled down to within 8 feet of the hole.
Everything about this hole is amazing. From the tee shot, to the approach, to watching the waterfalls tumble down the rocks from the green. It’s without a doubt top 5 par 4s I’ve ever played.
Hole 12 (Par 5, 538 yards)
I expected a bit of a letdown at 12 after such a great hole, but little did I know that I was just the beginning of one of the best stretches of holes on the course.
It’s a mid length par 5 is pretty tough to reach in two, as the approach shot is straight up hill.
The view of Lake Coeur d’Alene from this hole is one of the best on the course, as you can see it down to the right of the fairway for the length of the hole.
Despite a few poor approach shots, I was able to get up and down after leaving it on the hill near the green.
Hole 13 (Par 3, 138 yards)
Just when I thought nothing would outdo #11, we roll into the par 3 13. One of coolest par 3s I’ve ever seen. The hole is short, measuring 138 from the copper tees. But when you step on to that tee box for the first time, none of that will matter.
You have a giant downhill shot, the lake to your right, and beautiful cascading waterfalls to the left.
As you get down to the green, 3 more waterfalls seem to appear out of nowhere and it’s hard not to just stand there and take it all in.
Apparently this hole wasn’t part of the initial course, as the developer didn’t own the land. However when Engh set his eyes on it, he called up the developer and said “we need this land”. Do what you’ve gotta do, and make it happen.
The result is a memorable and beautiful addition to an already great course.
To further my love of the hole I had one of my best tee shots of the day, leaving it within 5 feet. But as was the case during the whole round, I just missed, and had to settle for par.
Hole 14 (Par 3, 144 yards)
The second of back to back par 3s, 14 is no less impressive than the previous hole but in a totally different way.
After making the hike up to the teebox, you’re presented with a very imposing site. You’ve got a 150 yard shot, over a canyon to a narrow green, with a cliff backdrop ready to knock any long shots out into who knows where.
Unfortunately for us, the pin was in probably the scariest location possible.
I knocked it on but hit it just a few feet too long, and watched it roll to the lower level of the green. I failed to get it back up the hill on the first putt, and had to experience something no golfer ever wants to feel – a 4 putt.
Hole 15 (Par 4, 417 yards)
This hole is really unique. It’s got no sand, no water, yet plays as one of the hardest holes on the course. If your tee shot isn’t in the fairway you’re not only going to have deep rough to contend with, but most likely an uneven lie, as I unfortunately learned the hard way as I knocked my approach shot into the weeds, never to be seen again.
That a hole with none of the traditional hazards can be so beautiful and challenging is a testament to the quality of this golf course – and it’s just one more example of the incredible variety of holes on the track.
Hole 16 (Par 5, 529 yards)
Ugh. The last of 5 incredible par 5s on the course, it’s also the one that officially ruined what was otherwise a very good round. My slice was comin’ in hot, and I ended up with two penalty strokes on this one.
The tee shot is relatively innocent, assuming you can hit the landing area, but then you’ve gotta decide how much you want to bite off on your second shot. The shorter you go, the more trouble you’ll face on your approach shot, but with a relatively narrow fairway, you also open yourself up to more trouble – as I had to experience.
Quadruple bogey. Not fun.
Hole 17 (Par 4, 332 yards)
Hole 17 was a really fun hole. I agree with many others in that any great golf course should have one really good, short par 4. This was the one at Black Rock. Straight away at 332 yards, all you’ve gotta do is hit the fairway with your tee shot.
I pulled a hybrid and landed in good shape.
The approach shot is unique however. A raised green is guarded by pot bunkers at varying heights below the green. It makes for a really cool aesthetic, but I may be biased considering I luckily didn’t have to hit out of them!
A solid par in a string of pretty poorly scored finishing holes.
Hole 18 (Par 4, 396 yards)
Talk about a finishing hole. You’d think Black Rock would let you off easy after some pretty stout tests throughout the round, but rather it just takes the best of all of them, and then makes you face them again.
A downhill tee shot makes you hit a forced carry over brush while ignoring the deep bunkers on both sides of the fairway. If you’re in one of them you’ll be hard pressed to make par – just get it out and hope for a one putt.
Your approach has you going at an uphill green with another big amphitheater.
To say it’s a great way to end the round is an understatement.
Best Par 3: Hole 13, hands down. It has a little bit of everything, but for the casual golfer that likes beautiful scenery just as much as well designed hole – this one has both.
Best Par 4: Hole 11. Like 13, the water falls help to make this. When it comes to par 4s I want every hole to make me think – and make me have a whole lot of fun with each shot, and that’s exactly what 11 did.
Best Par 5: My first reaction would be to say #3, due to the dramatic nature of the hole. However I think I’m going to go with #8. The risk/reward you get for going for the green on your second shot will force a lot of golfers to make some very difficult decisions – that hopefully, they’ll reap the rewards of.
There’s no question, if I were to be a member at a golf club, The Golf Club at Black Rock is exactly what I’d want. Not only does it feature fantastic golf, but every member and employee that I talked to were genuinely friendly without a hint of pretentiousness.
The scenery is also unbeatable, and the fact they have such a full service clubhouse makes it that much more family friendly.
I hope to return to Black Rock at some point soon. Just going through and reliving the round while writing this article reminds me of just how enjoyable this round of golf was.