Playing Shuksan Golf Club outside Bellingham is all about a state of mind.
From the striking view of Mount Baker on a clear day to the log-cabin feel of the clubhouse greeting golfers when they arrive in the parking lot, Shuksan is all about beauty and comfort.
"Even on a bad day, when you've it bad and put a big score, everything about this place is just relaxing," Shuksan head golf professional Ben Harvey said. "The setting is what makes this course different."
But as relaxing as the course is, Shuksan is no pushover.
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The course is a great test of any player's course-management skills.
"The thing about this course is that any level of golfer is going to have a good time," Harvey said. "The novice golfer is going to be blown away by the beauty. It's an open course, and there are no houses around, you can see some bald eagles and hawks. It's really beautiful. Plus you have the elevation changes, on No. 1 and 10 — it's just awesome to hit off those holes. The good golfers are going to challenge their course-management skills in ways other courses don’t."
Harvey, who returned as the club's golf professional last week, takes a quick tour of the course:
"It's a par-3, 175 yards up on a plateau. It's one of the holes that really frames Mount Baker nicely off the tee. You look up and see Mount Baker with lines of trees on either side. Plus you've got to shape a pretty good shot off the tee. You have to play a bit of a cut or a fade. If you hit it long or left, you're going to be in trouble. You've got to play your shot to the front of the green."
Members’ favorite hole
"It's the last hole, and it's a par 5. Plus, it's a pretty good risk-reward shot. You've been playing all day, and maybe your have a game going with your friends, and it's all coming down to that hole. We hear a lot of stories of games won or lost on that hole. Plus, it's just a beautiful hole."
"You have got to use your course-management skills with the tee shot. There is a creek that cuts across the fairway, so if you hit it left or right, you will get wet for the long hitters. It's tough to get there in two. I've done it once. It's not impossible, but it's definitely a challenge. The green is elevated 80 feet or so. So if you are 230 out, it plays like its 250 or 260. If you are short, it will roll all the way back down the hill or roll into a bunker. You will see some birdies here, but not many eagles. Even par is a good score on this hole."
"It's not overly long. You can hit a 3-wood or a driver off the tee to an ample landing area. From the fairway, you hit to a fairly good-sized green. Usually you have a 9 (iron) or wedge in your hand, and the green is very receptive to shots, so the ball will hit and stay. The hole just sets up real nice."
Best risk-reward shot
Second shot on No. 13
"It's not the easiest shot, but it's the biggest challenge. The hole is 540 yards from the back tees, so if you hit a good drive off the tee, it leaves you about a 3-wood to a long, narrow green with trouble all around. It's a bit of a blind shot. You can’t see the green all that well, so you have to pick something to aim for and trust yourself. I'm a bit of a risk-reward junkie, so whenever I have a good tee shot I go for it."
Hole not to underestimate
"It's a 315-yard, par-4 on the scorecard, but it's one of those course-management holes. If you let your guard down on the tee shot, you can find your approach to the green blocked off if you go to the right, and you can lose your ball in the long grass if you go left … The green is elevated, so you still have work to do, even if you hit a good tee shot. The green drops off to the left and the back, so it leaves you with probably the most intimidating wedge shots on the course. On paper, it looks like a no-brainer, but you have got to be careful."
Worst place for a ball to land
Tall fescue grass
"If you hit it into the water hazard or sand bunker, you know what to expect. But if you go in the long native grass around a lot of these holes, first you've got to find it. If you can't, it’s a long walk back to hit another shot."
Toughest green to read
"It has a lot more slope from back to front than you think. If you're above the hole, it's going to go a lot faster than you expect, and if you're below it, it's going to be slower. It's a hard hole to get a good feel for the speed."
Best hole to grip it and rip it
"The tee is elevated above the fairway 80 to 100 feet below. There is an ample landing area, so this is a chance to really hit it, which is what you want to do. But like every other hole out here, there is trouble if you go too far left or right. But seeing how this is a par 5, and you want to try to reach it in two to give yourself a shot at eagle, it's a great hole to tee it high and let it fly."
Tip from the pro
"Be aware on each hole. Try to find the 150-yard marker on each hole, which we mark with a stake … It's a good point of reference to work backwards from. You need to have good course-management skills on this course. Each hole, you've got to think about it … You don't want to go out there and grab the driver on every par 4 and par 5 and swing away. That can get you in a whole lot of trouble. Be aware of the trouble out there. It's right in front of you. There isn't too much hidden on this course."
Meet the club professional
Pro since: Last week. Replaces Chris Bensel, who took a position with Charbonneau Country Club in Portland, Ore.
Before coming to Shuksan: Worked as an assistant pro at Shuksan when the course opened in 1994 until 1996. Served as Shuksan club pro from 1998 to 2002. Moved to San Diego, where was a manager at Pro Golf Discount.
Why return: "I really wanted to get back to Whatcom County and Shuksan. It is warm and sunny every day down there, but it is too much of a rat race. I'm from Washington, and I really missed it up here."
Why a pro: "I've been playing golf since I was about 10. My dad got me into it. I grew up in Richland, and we played a lot of golf at Sham-na-pum Golf Course (which is no longer in existence), and the golf pro out there was great. I started working out there for him, picking range balls and whatever other odd jobs I could get. It just went from there … So, after so many year being around golf and playing golf, it just gets to the point that it's all you want to do."