Bellingham Golf: Raspberry Ridge, Overlook & Dakota Creek
Relatively cheap, good-quality golf isn't easy to find in Puget Sound. 9-hole rounds priced under $25 are few. I was pleasantly surprised with 3 courses near Bellingham: Raspberry Ridge (Everson), Overlook (Big Lake), and Dakota Creek (Custer).
Raspberry Ridge 9-hole, Par 34, 5170 yards
$23 for 18 holes
In a word: enjoyable. Raspberry Ridge is a local's course of medium length with the usual difficulties. The holes are not too short, too long, too hilly, or too narrow. It offers a consistent and straightforward layout with well maintained greens and just enough bunkers, mid-fairway trees, and water hazards to keep you honest. Raspberry farms line a few holes and there are ripe apples for the picking at a few tee boxes. A couple short cart paths cross neighborhood streets is about the only thing that would qualify as out of the ordinary. Whatcom County was settled by folks that prefer order in their day - whether it be on the farm or at the links. Beginners can play here without much problem and its unlikely the pace of play will ever be too quick. The course is a year-rounder due to its sandy soil and good drainage. Decent pro shop, a cart tunnel under the highway, a well organized starter, and a cafe.
I hoofed it for 18 on a Monday in August, combining forces with a twosome for the first nine in order to speed up play behind two duffers (members). I played the second round alone, which gave me a chance to fix some of the mistakes I had made the first time through. Lots of good iron play to be had here. You can carry a driver, but likely all you will need is a 3 wood and some rinkys.
Overlook Executive Golf Course
9-hole, long par 3 course, Par 34, 2261 yards
$28 for 18 holes
Overlook is a great place to improve your golf game. It has a pleasant atmosphere, friendly staff, and fun layout - absolutely the best thing to do in Big Lake. Expect sun in the Summer. Even though Overlook is known as a "par 3 executive course", the course is challenging and surprisingly long. Water hazards and sloping fairways will gobble balls if you're the kind who typically grabs a long club and just wings it out there. Better players will target every shot carefully and reap the rewards. Your mid-irons and wedges will get a workout. The greens are nice and fast, so bring that wedge that spins balls well. I played on a Tuesday around noon and had the place mostly to myself. Hard to shoot 3 on most of the holes.
Dakota Creek Golf Course
18-hole, Par 71, 5185 yards, Slope rating = 103
$26 for 18 holes
Dakota Creek was designed to challenge every golfer - especially if you walk it and carry a bag. Its hilly and long with sideways-sloping fairways on nearly every hole. The course is located on a ridge of glacial sediment that divides the Fraser and Nooksack River deltas. It plays like a links course, but one with a serious tilt. The uppermost tier of holes drape across a grassy ridgeline with sweeping views to Mt. Baker and the grass-tree mosaic of the surrounding farmlands. There are few sand bunkers, but tons of trees, shrubs, pothole ponds, and agonizing terrain features of all sorts lurking just out of view. Advice to "stay left on every hole" is well taken for all but maybe two. Aim your tee shot on 14 diagonally across the fenceline. Shoot the steep, uphill gap through two trees on 10 hard. A stiff 4 iron on 5 (and an equally solid 7 iron on 8) will put you on the green. Expect to hit 200 yard shots with accuracy from firm fairway lies if you want to play Dakota Creek well. All in all, its a great course, but not a forgiving one. Keep those grooves clean and expect to lose a few balls.
I hoofed my bag around all 18 holes and kept up with a cart of two older gentlemen ahead of me the entire way. Carts are recommended for all but those who can keep a brisk pace of play. Despite my pars on many holes - the short ones were most rewarding - I recall writing down a lot of fives. When I tallied it all up, I was thrilled with a score of 80 (2 mulligans).
Bonus: Gateway Golf Course
9-hole, Par 36, Pasture rating = 110%
$16 for 9 holes (drop a check in the box)
Before I headed down to Big Lake, I stopped in to play a quick 9 at Gateway, located just outside of Sedro-Woolley. While Gateway is technically a golf course, it more closely resembles a cow pasture that someone occasionally runs a mower through. Consider wearing rubber boots. On hole 9, I knocked my tee shot 2 feet from the cup, but in order to finish I had to time my put perfectly to avoid the rapidly rotating sprinkler, also occupying the green. Maybe the place has fallen on hard times or maybe its always been this way. Consider Gateway as a place to try your hand at "speed golf" (see Erik Anders Lang on YouTube). Or trying playing a round with just one club. Or just go elsewhere.