Evolve or die. It’s the reality facing so many destinations. Demographics, tastes and lifestyles change rapidly in today’s social-media-fueled buffet of golf delicacies. And it’s not just in the world of golf travel. From how a country club attracts members to what a public course can mean for a community to what the modern golf resort offers — everything is being questioned.
And yet while so many things in golf are in flux, some things about a great golf-travel experience are foundational and timeless: a breathtaking and fun golf course, convenient and comfortable accommodations, superior and attentive service. Nail those three things and golfers will come back again and again.
That’s what has made the evolution of Idaho’s Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel and its Circling Raven Golf Club so fascinating. It’s been a 25-year journey — from the opening of a humble casino and hotel in 1993 to the opening of Circling Raven in 2003 to soon hosting a tournament on the Symetra Tour in 2020.
Located in Worley and built on land controlled by the Coeur D’Alene tribe, the Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort began as a 20,000-square-foot bingo space, expanding first in 1996 before further casino-floor growth that now comes in at 100,000 square feet of gaming space, including 2,000 machines and table games. There are entertainment venues, retail areas and eight restaurants.
Back in 2011, the resort expanded its accommodations dramatically, too, and the property now sports two hotels on property: the Mountain Suites, which have a more Idaho-rustic feel, and the Spa Tower, which has a modern luxury motif. As the name suggests, the Spa Tower is connected to the Spa Ssakwa’q’n, a 15,000-square-foot space that is a beacon for relaxation.
On our recent visit, the Golf Trip Experts team was blown away by how far the resort has come since our previous visit many years ago. First, the food-and-beverage operation is now top notch. Red Tail Bar and Grill, where the menu and drinks exceed your average eatery, is a perfect spot to relax after golf while watching sports on the big-screen TVs. And the high-end dining option — Chinook — does a wonderful job with steaks, pasta and more (and don’t wimp out before ordering the Nitrogen Ice Cream for Two prepared tableside).
More importantly, the Spa Tower is a mix of modern hotel-room architecture and stylish decor. The rooms have everything a golf traveler needs, including luxury beds, well-designed bathrooms, plenty of storage, comfortable TV seating and a desk area (just in case you need to get a little work done on vacation). Between the Spa Tower and the food-and-beverage offerings, the Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel has everything a golfer needs to entice him, her or a group to stay multiple nights for a complete golf-getaway experience.
Play Circling Raven
Circling Raven sits on 620 varied acres of wetlands, forest and Palouse grasses. And by most accounts, the course is one of Gene Bates’ finest creations (he also designed Salish Cliffs in Washington State, among others). The front nine plays through a meadow-style landscape, peaking on the difficult No. 9 hole. The meadows give way to expansive forest on the back nine, with each hole feeling like its own theater.
The views on the course are varied, showcasing the entirety of the land. The course feels a small part of a much bigger landscape, providing a true sense of scale. Several of the tee shots play down into a larger landing area, giving the golfer plenty of opportunity to take in all of what’s in front of them.
While the course, which tips out at 7,189 yards, is a looker, it poses plenty of questions to the player. The better golfer has to make clear decisions and execute them aggressively if they wish to score on this 74.0-rating, 144-slope course. As for average (and below-average) players, the course can be a little overbearing at times, especially when the rough is up, but it’s our understanding that Circling Raven is working hard to improve the playability even more for golfers of all abilities.
The Circling Raven pro shop is a thing of legend, with so many golfers commenting how great it is as a perfect complement to the course. If you’re looking for swag as a souvenir of your Circling Raven adventure, the shop offers one of the more extensive selections of apparel and all sorts of other goodies you’ll find anywhere in the golf world.
Keep in mind that the golf season in north Idaho isn’t all that long — golfers can reasonably expect to play from April through October, maybe into November. However, no matter what time of the season you visit, the green fees are exceptionally reasonable and always under $100 — one of the better values in the West for a course that has been lauded with honors since opening. But you’ll need to take a cart, as the sprawling nature of the property makes walking an afterthought.
Like the resort, Circling Raven is still maturing. Another nine holes are planned for the property, giving golfers even more reasons to stay and play — be it more golf, blackjack, hiking, dining, seeing a show, you name it.
It’s hard to imagine the Coeur D’Alene envisioned their resort becoming what it has a quarter century into its life. The resort has developed into one of the best in the U.S. Northwest, and it is continually attracting new visitors who are getting a taste of what the amazing Coeur D’Alene area has to offer. It’s exactly what a traveling golfer needs, and it keeps getting better.