Golf is great but No. 3 can be maddening
By Sandy Compton
-No. 3 at Hidden Lakes; par 3, 190 yards from the blues to the center of a big green. No problem, unless you go right, where a tree-lined gully awaits. Or left, where a lagoon lurks. Don't go short or long. At 170 yards there's 6 feet of water; at 210, a swale full of pine and brush.
No. 3 is no problem, unless something goes wrong; and, if you play golf, you know that at any given moment on any given day any number of things can go wrong. That's golf, to a tee, if you'll excuse the expression; trying to keep things from going wrong. Successful golf for the ordinary player seems to be a series of happy accidents.
Good golf courses, on the other hand, are not accidents, and Sandpoint is surrounded. The gorgeous Coeur d'Alene Resort course is just south of us, as are Avondale in Hayden, the Coeur d'Alene municipal course and The Highlands at Post Falls. West are Twin Lakes and Stoneridge, 18-hole layouts an hour away. Thirty miles west at Priest River is the 9-hole Ranch Club, and Priest Lake Golf Course is a half hour north of that. Thirty miles north, Bonners Ferry has Mirror Lake, as pretty a nine holes as you'd ever want. Beyond that is Canada, where Creston and Cranbrook have 18-hole courses and legendary Kokanee Springs awes golfers from all over the world.
At the risk of sounding provincial, though, if Sandpoint golfers want as much golf as a person could want, they can stay home. The Elks Course, on the outskirts of town, is a well-kept, friendly nine-hole layout built and maintained by the Sandpoint Elks. It served as Sandpoint's only course for many decades, and served well. Challenges include sand, woods and four long holes with magnetic out-of-bounds right. Professional Tom Tharp gives effective, reasonably-priced lessons for all levels of golfers. The Elks provides all the ordinary challenges of golf in a nice setting.
And then there is Hidden Lakes.
Ten miles east of town on Highway 200, Hidden Lakes is sculpted into the old T.T. McGhee ranch, home of an Idaho cattle operation until it was purchased by developer Jim Berry and others in the mid 1980s. The transformation into its current state has been accomplished by a series of owners, the last of which is Dick Villelli.
In its 14th season as a golf course, Hidden Lakes is magnificent. The 6,200-yard walk around the course wends through field and forest, around lakes and estuaries of Pack River, up hill and down dale. Wildlife includes Canada geese, painted turtles, muskrats, ducks, white-tailed and mule deer, an elk herd that comes off the nearby mountain to graze on the fairways, the occasional bear and moose who are not favorites of the groundskeepers, but give golfers a thrill when they emerge from one of the lakes or trot across a fairway. Water hides on 17 of 18 holes. Without a guide, it's almost guaranteed a first-time visitor to Hidden Lakes will discover what's behind the name.
The par-71 course is "maturing." A few years into its existence, the front and back nines were swapped to make for a better turn at the club house. Each year, groundskeepers makes things a little easier for those of us who hit less than straight; taming fairway-side cedar and grand fir forests so that it's more possible to find an errant ball. A river-front clubhouse is planned for construction beginning this fall, and new beginning and closing holes will be constructed. Other holes will be moved or redesigned to allow construction of groups of residences inside the course. The course will grow to 7,000 yards and pick up another par-5 hole make an even 72 par.
Development is designed not to take away from the golf experience Hidden Lakes is known for. Owner Villelli says, "We are trying to keep the wild nature of the course intact, trying to keep the wildlife. The homes will be in 'pods' you don't see (from the course) … no fairways lined with houses. Our course will be as beautiful and maintained as any. Our goal is to be the number one course in Idaho in three years, and I think we'll be there." With a great groundskeeping crew and the help of Director of Golf Ken Parker and head pro Mike Deprez, it's not an unrealistic goal.
There's no need to wait for that goal to be accomplished. The golfing is great, so let's go. When we get to No. 3, you hit first. It's a piece of cake, really. Hit it straight and right around 190 yards. You'll be fine. Really. No problem.
Before you hit, though, did I tell you that the guy who has the ball salvage contract took 30,000 golf balls out of here last year?