It doesn’t take long to figure out what makes North Bellingham Golf Course different from any other course in Whatcom County — in fact, most golfers should have a pretty good idea well before reaching the parking lot.
“Most courses in this area have trees lining every fairway,” North Bellingham head professional Nathan Vickers said. “We’re wide-open. We’re a real Scottish Links-style course.”
Like any Scottish Links course, that means tall grass lining most holes waiting to bury errant shots.
It also means wind is a factor on every round. With no trees to break up a breeze in the open field just off the Guide Meridian, the course was set up to test golfers with the prevailing winds out of the southwest.
“Wind is going to be a big factor here,” Vickers said. “You are going to have to account for the wind on just about every hole.”
North Bellingham’s wide-open surroundings also create panoramic views that other tree-lined courses miss.
“You can see Mount Baker from just about everywhere on the course,” Vickers said. “You get a great view of the San Juan Islands, and can see weather developing and moving in. And we get a lot of wildlife out here. You’ll see a number of bald eagles and other birds of prey.”
Vickers recently sat down to give a quick tour of the wide-open public course with plenty of water and sand hazards, tall grass, breathtaking views and, of course, the wind:
“The dogleg right par-4 has a lot of options off the tee. If you want to get risky and give yourself a shorter second shot, you can try to hit it long. But the fairway gets pretty narrow at about 250 yards. There is water to the right and tall grass borders the left. It has a two-tiered green with a bunker in front. The water is in front of the bunker and wraps around the right side and behind the green … Plus when you look back from the green, you get a great view of Mount Baker.”
Members’ favorite hole
“We have a lot of great holes. You might get a different answer from every golfer you talk to. No. 4 is a par-4 dogleg left over water. There is a line of bunkers down the right side and one along the left. The green is big with a whole lot of undulation. Our members also really like No. 12 and No. 13 on the back nine.”
“It all depends on the wind. The course was set up for the prevailing wind out of the southwest. No. 11 is the longest hole from the back tees, and it plays even longer with the wind. There is trouble all the way from tee to green. There is a bunker and a pond to the right off the tee and more bunkers and water you have to navigate on the second shot. The green is kind of a big triangle.”
“It’s the shortest — only 156 yards from the blue tees and 130 from the white. There is water short and right, but you really have got to hit it bad to put the water in play. A lot of our better players may say some of the par 5s are easier, because they can make scores under par, but 14 is the shortest.”
Best risk-reward shot
Tee shot on No. 17
“During the summer, the grass to the left side of the fairway gets pretty high. If you hit it in the grass it’s pretty much unplayable. Plus the further left you hit it, the further you have to hit it to carry the fairway bunkers. If you hit in the bunkers, you pretty much have to lay up. But if you take the risk, and try to hit it left, you can set yourself up pretty good to try to reach the green in two shots.”
Worst place for a ball to land
“Really, the tall grass anywhere on the course. In the summer, we play it as a lateral hazard. I’ve seen people try to play it out of the green, and it just doesn’t work. I’ve even tried it a few times, when I didn’t think my lie was too bad. But I’ve ended up making the lie worse. Three or four whacks later, you’re still in the grass.”
Toughest green to read
“It doesn’t look that hard, but it can play tricks on you, especially when the pin is in the back. When the pin is there, putts are going to break right more than you think. I always generally play a little more break right than it looks, because I know it. But generally all our greens are tough to read. You almost always have to deal with break one way or the other, either up or down.”
Best hole to grip it and rip it
“It’s a nice straight away par 5. The fairway is pretty wide, so you can hit it as far as you can and try to reach it in two. There is a bail-out area to the left. Generally, I aim left and just hit it as far as I can.”
Tip from the pro
“The wind. You’ve got to watch out for the wind. You have got to make sure you club up properly. If the wind is blowing hard, you usually have to go two or three clubs. Most people don’t club enough when it is windy. They might go up one when they really need two or three.”
Meet the club professional
Head club pro since: 1997
Prior to working at North Bellingham: Worked at Sudden Valley Golf and Country Club
How he got into being a club pro: “I actually picked up the game a bit later in life. I didn’t really start playing until I was a senior in high school. I was into wrestling in high school and I ran track in the spring for the cardio work. Then that last spring in high school I got into golf, and I was hooked. I started thinking how great it would be to work and play golf, and here I am.”
Awards: “I won a few pro-ams a couple of years ago at Sudden Valley and Shuksan. But nothing really that big ... What I’m most proud of is I’ve done a lot to build loyalty out here. We have a lot larger membership base than they used to have.”