Date Played: June 19th, 2013
I’ve gushed about North Central Washington as a golf destination before, but it was never really complete without a review of Highlander Golf Club in East Wenatchee. Highlander is perched high up on the North hillside of the Wenatchee River. Offering amazing views, a simple but satisfying course and a wealth of great amenities; Highlander is a quality bet for a good time if you’re in Wenatchee.
Being the closest public course to town, Highlander is a pretty popular course locally and even regionally due to partnerships with Cascase Golfer and Sports Radio KJR. The design is pretty typical of a John Steidel design, and since it’s among his most recent, it has a lot in common with other runs in the Northwest, where he is a course design staple. The best way to describe the course is a conglomeration of Apple Tree, Lynnwood GC and Riverbend (all Steidel courses) but on a great piece of land. The front 9 is a pretty plain “links” style layout with large grassy mounds separating knobby and straight fairways. The greens are fairly large, and offer decent and subtly tricky contouring.
All the holes are standard fare until the Par 3 9th hole. It plays 180 from the tips (a more manageable 130 from the whites) over a deep canyon with a beautiful vista of the valley below. The green jettisons diagonally from right to left with a nice backstop to hit into, so miss long and right. The back 9 was reworked a couple of years ago and offers a couple of great holes and a couple of iffy ones. 10, 11, 12, and 13 are all pretty plain. Reachable par 5s and short par 3 over a pond serve to let you down a little after the 9th. But the stretch run of 14-18 are all fantastic holes in their own rights.
14 is a downhill par 3 that plays 200 from the tips into a green that is trouble long with bunkers guarding the front. The wind is typically at your back, making club selection a premium. 15 is an uphill par 4 with a quirk. The diagonal fairway runs left to right, letting you decide how much you can take on. So often an uphill par 4 is just a break hole that is a straight shooter, but with a blind tee-shot and OB all along the right side, this sub-300 yarder is a thinker, and a good one at that. 16 is my favorite hole on the course. Sitting atop the hill, typically with a strong wind right at your back, this one is only 279 from the white tees (318 from the tips). The fairway runs out to about 200-220 yards depending on your angle, with a large pond directly in front of the green. From the back tees, it’s an easier choice to pull an iron and lay up, but if you’re even a medium length hitter you must really fight your ego to keep the driver in the bag. If you give it a rip at the green, a fade into the walls of the punchbowl green is advisable (and reachable for me as a guy who averages a 250 yard drive).
17 is a totally redesigned hole, and one of the most beautiful in the Northwest. A very, very short par 4 at only 250 from the tips and 230 from the whites; it’s run right along the cliff with a stellar view but trouble everywhere. What makes a good golf hole (for me) is a choice and a challenge. The challenge of this hole is also the flaw of it. The tee shot (white tees) requires you to carry 180 yards to reach the very abbreviated fairway. Once over the canyon, the left side is a steep hill with native vegetation and the right side is a lateral hazard that drops off the face of the cliff. The only way to play this hole is to just yank a fairway wood (or driver for shorter players) into to the hill on the left and hope it works out. The choice on this hole is taken away by the long carry and super tight landing area. The wind will nudge your ball towards the cliff, but with a lucky bounce or a good flight path, eagle is a real possibility on this hole. The other issue, that will need to be worked out in the future is the access to the green. A winding road takes you to the fairway about 40 yards short of the green. Walking on and walking off takes a bit and it backed up 3 groups deep on a Tuesday evening at 7pm.
The finisher is a short par 3, but playing over another canyon on to a very interesting two-tiered green. 180 yards from the tips and 140 from the whites, the right side of the green runs along the cliff, with a bailout area left. The green has two distinct tiers, with the lower one tougher to reach, but offering an easier putt.
Bottom Line: Highlander Golf Club is a quality play, and a good self-esteem booster. I shot my best score of the year (a 78 with a few missed chances) on my first trip, but when even when I carded an 88 the next day, I had a mighty good time. It’s got a restaurant, driving range, two practice greens and a stocked pro-shop. Carts are also included with your round as it can get a little tough to walk on the back. Rates are a smidge steep at $60 for a weekend slot, but early 2pm twilights are more than fair at $35 weekdays and $39 weekends, and golfnow.com had some stellar deals if you can find them. If you’re in the Wenatchee area and don’t feel like driving out to Desert Canyon, Highlander is a very nice backup. Final Score: 80/100
Design – 20/25 (Fun and easy, but Steidel took some risks on the back 9. He also used the wind very well in the routing)
Test of Golf – 18/25 (Par 70 and only 6400 from the tips. It’s also only a 112 slope from the white tees)
Value – 16/20 ($60 on the weekends is a bit much, but good twilights and golfnow deals are more than worth it)
Condition – 8/10 (A fairly mature course with thick rough and excellent greens. Lots of divots on the tee boxes)
Amenities – 9/10 (2 practice greens, driving range, cart with every round, stocked pro shop and a restaurant pretty much covers it)
Experience – 9/10 (A really enjoyable course, albeit a short and simple one)