COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – It’s in your head the moment you step into the posh Coeur d’Alene resort hotel. Right there, it’s on display – a gleaming silver miniature replication – as you pass through the revolving door into the hotel lobby.
Along a lobby wall, there’s a stunning picture of it, proudly displayed as the icon of the entire region. Heck, it’s the icon of the state of Idaho, perhaps more famous than the potato.
That icon is everywhere, on virtually every piece of apparel in the golf shop, on the stationary, on the golf carts, on the back of the caddies’ white jumpsuits and in you face on the hotel’s promotion TV channel in your room.
There’s no escaping it. At some point, you’re going to deal straight up with the icon – the Floating Green, No. 14 hole on the Coeur d’Alene resort golf course.
There may be nothing like it in the golf world. It’s the planet’s first Floating Green. As far as anyone knows, it may be the only one.
And you can’t wait to play it.
It sits out there, like a misplaced garden that broke away from the mainland. Standing on the tee, you can’t believe it’s 15,000 square feet. It looks like a postage stamp. On the rising back portion of the green are three pine trees and long rows of red geraniums. The ample green is protected by a wide bunker in front and a small one in back.
It’s what everyone talks about. It’s what everyone focuses on. It alone has drawn thousands of golfers here since it was opened and 1991. And it almost never happened.
This ‘gimmick’ hole wasn’t part of designer Scott Miller’s original plan. He leaned toward convention, not invention. By his way of thinking, there was room for a long par-3 for the 14th with Lake Coeur d’Alene all along the left side, a handful of bunkers and an undulating green.
Conventional. And, thus, forgettable. Idaho would have been missing an icon if he had his way. But he didn’t.
Coeur d’Alene Resort owner Duane Hagadone floated the idea of a floating island green.
He wanted the sizzle. Miller thought that was dud. He respectfully declined and tried talking him off the island. But Hagadone insisted. Miller took the idea to his old partner, Jack Nicklaus, and The Bear growled. Too tricked up, 17 great holes and one joke. But Hagadone held firm to his vision. And when the boss insists, how can you really resist?
Miller finally drew it up with a tee complex that faced the water, all pointing toward the barge that included one more unique element. The tee-to-green distance can change with a push of a button. Under the barge is a control room with a mechanical system powering steel cables that can bring the green as close as 100 yards to the tee or stretch it out to 270 yards.
Most the the time, the prevailed wind comes off the water and into the golfer’s face so the tee shot always is an adventure.
The rest of the Coeur d’Alene’s 6,700-yard (back tees) course is stunning. It’s well-designed, wonderfully-maintained with imaginative holes, especially the par-3s, as this story describes. For golfers anticipating a round on the course, they have a two-fold problem. One, there is a large measure of preoccupation with the 14th hole, yet before that are 13 challenging holes to deal with. Focusing can be problematical. And, two, you have four holes after the Floating Green to figure out what went wrong (or right).
Like the 17th Island green at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, the 14th at Coeur D’Alene is a focus-depleter.
If you stay at the resort, there’s free boat taxi – two powerful mahogany racing boats – that will shuttle you to the course. As you disembark, you can’t help but notice the Floating Green to your right. Such a small target from that side angle. You’re already considering what club to use and you’re still on the dock.
The driving range is all water. You hit floaters out to buoys, yet with an eye on the adjacent Floating Green. What course ever put a driving range between the 13th and 14th holes? You have to figure that’s by design. It’s in your head.
The opening hole, a par-5, 540-yarder, starts out away from the water while No. 2, a long 479-yard par- 4, heads back toward the water. It’s on the third hole – a par-3, 155-yarder teetering on the rocky edge over the water – that you get a glimpse of the Floating Green again. You notice it. No. 4 and No. 5 take you back inland while you catch another quick view of No. 14 through the pines on the No. 6 green.
You really don’t see it again until No. 12 and No. 13. As you stand on the 13th tee, you look directly at the Floating Green way in the distance. Yet that’s a hole where you need a fair amount of concentration because you have to clear water twice.
Once you replace the pin on the No. 13 hole, it’s like the stopwatch starts. It’s time. Your heart rate increases as you drive the cart to the tee. All day long you had envisioned what you might do on this hole. All you have is one goal, reach the Floating Green in one shot.
I had played this hole three previous times and never once made the green on the first attempt. That weighed heavy on my mind. That and the fact that more than 30,000 golf balls are recovered in the waters all around the 14th. I had contributed about three sleeves.
We played the course on consecutive days and the distance to the green was about the same, 146 yards. Yet the wind was much stronger the second day and moving the ball from our left to right, the natural path of my drives anyway.
The first day the wind was about 12 to 15 mph. I clubbed up to a 5-hybrid, made solid contact with the ball drifting right but safely landing in the rough. The second day was much stronger wind resistance so I really clubbed up, to a 3-hybrid. For 146 yards! Hey, I have no shame.
My drive on the second day became the immediate property of the wind, carrying it quickly to the right. At one point I thought it was going to take the ball completely off the right edge but it settled in the same area as the first day.
I had made it – twice – with my first drive. It might not seem like much, but it’s an accomplishment. You even get a certificate of achievement, signed by the captain of the little boat that takes you out to the island.
Unfortunately, both times I missed par putts. Yet that really didn’t matter. You are just elated that you made it in one shot. In the past when I failed, those final four holes would take a backseat to your mind replaying what went wrong on the 14th.
As you finish on 18, you are back to within about 50 yards of the 14th tee, again that’s got to be by design. You can either look at the hole and think, you’ve just been conquered. Or you can bemoan, next time. Either way, you really can’t wait to play it again.