This article appeared first in LocalGolfer.com.
by Bart Potter
BREMERTON, Wash. – Let’s open the argument with a grand claim:
In the greater world of municipal golf courses in the Great Pacific Northwest, the greatest value of all lies in deeply wooded foothills in the southern reaches of the Olympic Mountains of Washington state.
A case could be made for the city courses in Portland, Ore., or the county- and city-run layouts in Spokane, Wash., or the breadth of public golf in Bellingham, Wash.
It’s an argument without a loser.
Each region is worthy of golf exploration in the cause of quantity, quality and affordability. But it’s in the Navy city of Bremerton that the art of Northwest muni golf assumes its highest form in the two courses of the Gold Mountain Golf Club.
The Olympic Course at Gold Mountain, home to two USGA national championships in the past seven years, would by itself be reason enough to pay Gold Mountain a visit.
Add in the Cascade Course, which suffers only by proximity to the Olympic, and you have a muni golf two-fer on this blessed site that holds its head up in awfully good company.
(Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, is operated by Pierce County, Wash., and is thus a municipal course, but it can’t match Gold Mountain in value, i.e., affordability.)
Daryl Matheny, Gold Mountain’s general manager, said the world is in on the secret of the Olympic Course after the club hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2006 and the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2011.
“Around our area we knew how good the Olympic Course was,” Matheny said. “The Publinx was the first event that put us on the map, and not just the national map …the international map. We had kids playing from all over the world.”
Feedback from the USGA after the Publinx was phenomenal, Matheny said.
“When we had the Junior,” he said, “that just put an exclamation point on it.”
A player taking on the Olympic Course for the first time will encounter user-friendly fairways off the tee, offering ample landing areas with no sacrifice of challenge.
Elevation changes come into play on nearly every hole on the Olympic. The John Harbottle III layout is compact on its acreage in the sense that one green is close by the following teebox, but the dramatic ups and downs guarantee you’ll notice the workout when you’re finished with a walking round.
The rugged layout also ensures you’ll have genuine double-take moments when you arrive at a tee, any tee. Don’t forget to reward yourself with an occasional look backward from the green to the tee you just left … if you can see it. The Olympic is rich with blind tee shots – either because the flag is out of sight above you, or behind a broad hill you have to climb before descending, or some gnarly variation thereof.
The Olympic’s back nine boasts two holes that could be called its signature holes. The par-3 16th, 157 yards from the blue tees, requires a carry over water to a large-ish green and backdrop that loses nothing through the lens of a camera.
No. 18 is a memorable finishing hole. At 271 yards from the blue tees, 255 from the whites, it calls out to a big hitter to take dead aim at a green thoroughly blockaded by a half-dozen bunkers. More realistic players, or the faint of heart, depending on your mind-set, can play to a substantial bail-out area to the left and then hope to put some air under a wedge to land on the green.
Other holes, too, will stay in your mind. No. 6 is a birdie-able par-5, thanks to the potential for serious roll-out down the other side of the hill. No. 15, a 335-yard par-4, also calls for a tee ball to the crest of a hill, then a second shot to a pin below tucked behind and to the right of the pond that comes into play on 16.
No. 17, a 439-yard par-4, offers plenty of landing room to the right after a precipitous drop, but play too far that way and you limit your options into the elevated green. Trouble lurks tight left in a steep, heavily grassed hillside sloping inward just off the tee. The whole effect is stunning, better experienced than described.
The Cascade Course, opened in 1971, is a more traditional layout, with nothing like the hills and cliffs of its younger brother. Its fairways are even broader, and its greens are bigger; a ball hit into the mature trees can be found more easily here and punched back into play.
“Before the Olympic,” Matheny said of the Cascade, “it was one of the best public courses in the Northwest.”
Value, challenge, bountiful scenery: A visit to Bremerton is rewarding for any kind of golfer. For those tuned to the special vibrations of muni golf, Gold Mountain is the peak of the art.
(Photos by Rob Perry, courtesy of Gold Mountain Golf Club