Written by J.R. Humphrey
The Early Years
In June of 1997 I met Patrick Nesbitt when I started working at Safeway in Spokane, WA. We quickly realized that we had a lot in common and became very good friends. One of those commonalities was, of course, a love of golf. We both started playing golf around 12 years old and we were both recently out of high school so we were starting to play more regurlarly. I recall that we first played together at Deer Park Golf Club. Pat was definitely better than me and I can remember how consistently he drove the ball in the fairway (always with a slight fade) and how well he chipped around the green. These are aspects of his game that still shine to this day. At that time I would have guessed that we had each played about 15-20 different courses. Now I have played 232 courses and Pat has played 176.
Pat soon introduced me to a couple of his other close friends and our golf outings usually included them as well. I can't remember for sure but I believe it was in 1998 that Pat and I decided to take a little golf trip up to Rossland, BC (in and area known as the Kootenay Rockies). We were also joined by Pat's friend Jason Jess. I believe it was a 3-day trip and we played a few of the courses in the area such as Redstone Resort, Birchbank Golf Course, Granite Pointe Golf Club, and Castlegar Golf Club. It was a fun time and I think we repeated the trip the next year, this time with the addition of another friend Derek Fountain.
Our golf trips back in those days were very thrifty. We were looking to save money anyway possible and we usually booked a stay and play package through the main hotel in Rossland. Each day on the trip usually included 36 holes of golf. A staple of our trips that mostly continues to this day. Since we were so thrifty, we were always walking the courses back in those days. This is something that has completely flipped since the mid-2000s, as we always strive to use a cart on the course.
Unfortunately we didn't end up taking a golf trip for a couple of years after that and we weren't playing much golf with Jason or Derek anymore either.
Pat and I still managed to do our fair share of golfing though. Remember how I said that him and I played our first round of golf at Deer Park. We decided one day to utilize their all-day play rate. We managed to play 63 holes of golf while walking the course. We easily had time to play another 18 but we decided we should get home and have a good meal instead. Possibly more amazing (and crazy) was that we decided to take advantage of the all-day rate at Chewelah Golf & Country Club, but this time with a cart. We were the first group out and the last one on the course and managed to complete a historic 82 holes. Don't think we will ever come close to that again!
A New Beginning
In 2001, Pat started working at a different Safeway location and I ended up doing the same in 2002. It was also around that time that a strapping young lad named Charlie Rhodes moved up from Richland, WA to Spokane and begin working at Safeway with us. Pat and I soon realized that Charlie also had a lot in common with us and that he was starting to take a liking to this game known as golf. My first round with Charlie was at Downriver. At the time I think Charlie had played very little golf in his life but I was impressed by how well hit full shots (after only taking it up a few years ago). He kept the ball in play very well, although he was pretty rusty with his short game. I remember he was just off the green on the 15th when he chipped back and forth across the green four times before he finally got the ball on with his fifth try. Charlie is a quick study though and he quickly figured out his short game and it is now possibly the strongest part of his game. When he gets hot with the putter, he pours in everything. He loves to compete and is almost always looking to get some side action on the round, whether it be for a Teamp Competition (Team Comp.), one-on-one, or even for a longest drive or closest to the pin (K.P.) on a hole. Charlie is also one of the nicest guys I've known and is always a lot of fun to play with. He has also played quite a few courses in his career as well as he is now up to 138.
Charlie and I have probably played more golf together than anyone in our group. There were several years that we rolled out to Downriver in the late afternoon to play twilight (Cheap rate that starts about 3 hours before dusk and let's you play as long as you can. Told you we here thrifty!). I can't tell you how many times we played in complete darkness. I remember one summer Charlie and I played golf 9 out of 10 days at one point. The only reason we didn't play 10 was becuase he drove down to Richland for the day, where he still managed to play to make it 10 in a row for him.
With the addition of Charlie as a solid 3rd to our group, we decided to revive our annual golf trip. In 2004 we once again made our way to Rossland, BC but we also extended the trip to 5 days by driving down to Wenatchee to play Apple Tree Golf Course, Desert Canyon, and Highlander Golf Club. We also included another friend from Safeway Tyler Ward who played a little golf with us from time to time as well. Wenatchee is great area for golf. There are so many courses there that we absolutely love. This trip marked the first of 18 consecutive years that we have taken at least one major golf trip.
2005 was a great year for our golf trip becuase we decided to venture out and see what golf was like in Kalispel, MT (known as Flathead Valley). Pat, Charlie, and I quickly learned that we love this location for golf trips. Kalispel is a medium-sized city, that is well spread out, and boasts some fantastic courses such as Meadow Lake Golf Course, Northern Pines Golf Club, Eagle Bend Golf Club, and Whitefish (North & South). The courses are all generally close and we also found some good places to stay and eat. We ended up taking 6 major trips there in a span of 12 years.
Call Us Thrifty or Call Us Cheap
Remember how I said we were thrifty. This year also marked a trend that continued for several golf trips. We were able to get some free golf from some of our favorite courses in the Kootenay Rockies and Montana when we purchased a ticket to the Spokane Golf Show. When you purchase a ticket at the show ($10-$12), you are given one free round from a list of participating courses. We cheated a little and bought several tickets so that we could, of course, get several free rounds of golf. We really used this to our advantage for the 2010-2012 trips to the Kootenay Rockies. The golf show is at the end of February and we would literally plan our trip around these golf passes.
The 2005 trip to Flathead Valley was a little strange in that there were only 3 of us (Pat, Charlie, and myself). We decided to go back to Montana the following year because we loved it so much but we were able to add a new 4th, Josh Schull. Josh doesn't golf a lot but we all had a great time and managed to play all the same great courses from last year. As well as to go a little out of our way to play Old Works Golf Club.
The Core is Born
2006 was a truly pivotal year for the us. The name of this website is Core Four Golf. It was this year that Ian Kautzman began getting more serious about golf and we decided to include him on our 3rd golf trip to Flathead Valley. It was this trip that established the Core Four. This year and every year since has had at least one major golf trip that included the four of us. We once again had a splendid time in Kalispel and repeated it the next year to make it four years in a row.
We met Ian when he started working with us at (you guessed it!) Safeway in 2001-02. Golf was pretty much a new sport for him but he was itching to play whenver he could. Ian is a true student of the game. He enjoys learning as much as he can about the golf swing, as well as equipment. Ian reminds me of Ernie Els in that he doesn't appear to swing fast but he can really punch the ball out there with his drives. He is also known for routinely playing well-under his handicap. And he is keeping up with us in terms of courses played as he has now hit 164 of them.
Ian is also responsible for starting this website back in 2014, as him and I had always bounced around the idea of starting a site to track our rounds and stats. He wasn't really a programmer but easily put a site together. Ian also gets credit for coming up the name of the Core Four. In the summer of 2014, I finally decided that I would take over design of the site, as Ian was finding it hard to make time to add features to it. And that is the site that you see today.
We made three more consecutive trips to the Kootenay Rockies in 2009-2011 but we also added the addition of a couple of new courses in the area such as Creston Golf Club, Balfour Golf Course and Kokanee Springs. We love the remote nature of Balfour and love the ferry ride (world's longest free ferry ride) to Kokanee Springs.
A Family Affair
We took a full trip to the Kootenay Rockies in 2011 but it was this time without Charlie. We still managed to find a 4th in Pat's dad Gary Nesbitt. Pat and Gary are truly father and son and it's hard to tell the difference between them sometimes. Gary loves golf and plays very consistently. He has played with all of us for many years and is always happy to join us when we are looking to fill up the group. He has gone on several mini-trips with us and we have always had a great time. Gary is one of the most easy-going guys that I've ever known. This easy going attitude is refelected even more in his golf game. On this very trip we were playing Creston, and him and I managed to hit the green on the Par 3 13th and then make the putts for birdie. As we walked off the green, Gary said, "nice birdie, J.R." I responded with, "you too Nez (Gary)." He said, "Me..., Oh, I did birdie that, didn't I."
My father-in-law Steve McGrath has never been a part of any Core Four trips but him and I have been on a number of vacations together and we have played some stellar courses as well. In 2011 we had the privilege of going to Maui and playing both The Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course and Kapalua. The Plantation course hosts the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions and I have watched it for many years. It is without a doubt one of my favorite courses. We've also made it out to Salishan Golf Links and Palouse Ridge Golf Club for other trips as well. We also take an annual trip to Bellevue, WA to run a 10K/5K every spring. We use this as an excuse to play a new course in the area. Courses such as Harbour Pointe Golf Club, TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, and The Golf Club At Redmond Ridge.
A Golfing Mecca is Found
2011 was also the year we decided to finally take our game to Bend, OR. Bend is truly a golfing mecca! I don't think you can find this many quality courses in one area anywhere in the world. The locale boasts some incredible courses such as Tetherow Golf Club, Juniper Golf Course, and Widgi Creek Golf Club. You will not be dissapointed if you decide to take a golf trip there. Bend is also a great city with a lot of great resorts/hotels to stay at as well as excellent restaurants.
We managed to make it down there for an additional trip in 2013. This time around we added Crosswater and Brasada Canyons Golf Course to our list and they are the top two courses ranked by the Core Four. They are that good!
One Trip a Year is not Enough
In 2014 I talked the Core into making our way to a new golf destination, Southern Idaho. It also marked the first time we've gone on a six-day trip. We needed all six days as we made our way to McCall, ID to play Jug Mountain Ranch and Osprey Meadows at Tamarack. Then to Sun Valley which boasts Clouds Nine and Trail Creek. And lastly to Boise to tee off at courses such as Banbury, Ridgecrest, and Falcon Crest. It was a lot of driving but ended up being a great trip. We especially enjoyed our time at Sun Valley with 45 holes of stellar golf and exceptional accomodations.
2014 was also the birth of what we now refer to as a mini-trip. Ian and I had one of our best 3 days of golf as we ventured to Central Washington to play the 3 Suncadia courses (Tumble Creek, Prospector, Rope Rider), as well as Bear Mountain Ranch and Gamble Sands (Sands). The golf on this trip was about the best we've ever had and Charlie was able to join us on the first day. This trip was also memorable in that my car broke down just as we were arriving at the first course. We were staying in the small town of Cle Elum where there are no rental cars around. In order to make it to the remaining rounds for the next two days, we had to rent a truck. But not just any truck, a U-Haul truck. And they didn't have any small sizes to choose from. Gotta do what you gotta do! We had several people get a good chuckle over that. From that point on, we've essentially had at least one mini-trip a year to go along with our main trip.
The Open Comes to Pacific Northwest
When it was announced the U.S. Open was coming to Chambers Bay, we immediately stated we would be there. We purchased tickets as soon as they came out, and those tickets were sold out in a matter of minutes. They sold so many tickets that they ended up releasing more a couple of weeks later.
We felt that in order to prepare properly for this major that we should play the course ourselves. So we took a little overnight trip to play both Chambers Bay & Salish Cliffs in April.
As for our actual trip to the U.S. Open, we each had our own itinerary. Pat and Gary arrived early and watched play on every full round and each of the three practice rounds. Both Ian and I arrived to watch practice rounds on Tuesday & Wednesday. Charlie arrived separately from any of us but he was escorted with his wife Amanda as she wanted to watch some golf as well. But what would a golf trip be without actually playing golf. Of course we mixed it up to play golf on the practice round days (Gold Mountain (Olympic), Druid's Glen Golf Club, and Trophy Lake Golf Course) and once on the way home (The Links At Moses Pointe). Remember how I metioned that we were thrifty. Ian and I booked our rooms at the dorms at Pacific Lutheran University at a super cheap rate. Charlie's wife Amanda didn't stay for the whole trip so he ended up joining us in our room as well. The tournament itself was pretty fun to watch (Sunday was very exciting!). We were methodical about watching play from each hole and we all saw every competitor play at some point in the tournament. We came away with it being a very memorable experience.
What Happens in Vegas..., is Golf
2016 was a record breaking year for the Core Four in that we went on four overnight trips and one of them required a flight to get there (which we had never done). Ian can boast that he was the only one to actually make it out for all four trips.
The first trip found Charlie, Ian, and I making our way down to Las Vegas to play Paiute (Wolf), and Reflection Bay Golf Club, and we also drove a little out of our way to Mesquite to play Wolf Creek Golf Club. Pat, Charlie, and Ian had all been going down to Vegas during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for many years but we finally decided to go down to do some golfing, and the courses did not disappoint. As with many of the trips for the NCAA Tournament, Charlie also made the decision to drive there, a mere 16 hours from Spokane. Pat wasn't able to make it but we came away with having played some great courses. Our only regret is that we couldn't play more, as we only played three times in about four days.
We also managed that year to seek out a new destination for the main trip by heading off to Cranbrook, BC. As with so many other trips, the courses did not disappoint. Some of the highlights were Shadow Mountain, Bootleg Gap Golf Course, St. Eugene Golf Resort, Wildstone Golf Course, and Trickle Creek Golf Course. We also stayed at the St. Eugene Resort & Casino which we found to be very comfortable.
The last highlight of 2016 was to play Sahalee Country Club. How often do you get to play a course that has hosted a major? Between the four of us, we can now say that we have played three . The others being Chambers Bay, and Torrey Pines (South) which Charlie, Ian, and I have all had the chance to play on separate occasions. A great moment occurred for Ian while playing Sahalee. He aced the Par 3 9th hole. Only the second hole-in-one for the Core Four (I managed to get the first) and the only player to do it on a trip.
In 2017 we once again ventured off to Vegas. But this time we left in March which left us much more daylight and better weather as well. And this time Pat was able to make it. Charlie unfortunately did not make it this time around, so he was able to avoid the 32 hours of driving and saved a lot of money by avoiding those green fees. The golf courses are expensive but were absolutely fantastic. This time around we were able to play Coyote Springs Golf Club, Rio Secco Golf Club, Conestoga Golf Club, and Bali Hai Golf Club. It was this year that we realized that we weren't cheap anymore, as we dished out over $100 for each round.
A Little More British Columbia
Many times we have crossed the border to play some of the fine courses in BC. We finally decided over the next couple of years to drive a bit further and play some more of the wonderful courses that we had heard about. In the summer of 2017, we ventured to what is known as the Columbia Valley. We were in stored for some great golf, however there was a hiccup. Due to some work issues, Ian was only able to make for two of the five days. Charlie had some similar problems and only joined us for three. The trip was also plagued by some smoke from nearby fires, a common occurrence with our summer trips over the last few years. The trip started out fine until the afternoon of the third day. We could actually see the smoke slowly coming in through the nearby valley. Luckily though, we all got to experience the five courses offered by the Radium and Farimont hot springs. The highlight being Radium Resort (Springs). After Charlie and Ian headed back to Spokane, Pat and I go continued on to play Copper Point (Point), Eagle Ranch Golf Resort, and Greywolf Golf Course. Greywolf is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite courses. The Par 6th is one of the most photographed and memorable holes in all of Canada. I highly recommend these courses. They are some of the finest in the province.
In 2018 we explored the beatiful area of Osoyoos (in South Okanagan). I had previously made my way here on many family vacations, but this time I was allowed to experience their golf culture. The highlights being Fairview Mountain Golf Club, which is a wonderful track, and Osoyoos (Desert Gold), which has a stretch of 15 holes that is unmatched in any course that I have played. This is another area that I would highly recommend.
The Best Golf Resort in the World?
Before we made our way to Osoyoos, we left in the cold, wintry month of February to visit one of the most renoun golf resorts in the world, Bandon Dunes. Bandon has been praised by anyone who has ever been there, and believe me, it certainly lived up to the hype. Bandon Dunes (Bandon Dunes), Bandon Dunes (Old Macdonald), Bandon Dunes (Bandon Trails), and Bandon Dunes (Pacific Dunes) are some of the finest courses you will ever play. Also the 13 hole Bandon Dunes (Bandon Preserve) is perhaps the best par 3 course you can play anywhere. Be sure to check it out as well.
What makes this resort special is that it is all about the golf (and about the food too). The only downside of the trip was the weather. We had a little bit of everything. The first day was moderate and we only had time to hit up the massive driving range, and play the little Bandon Dunes (Shorty's) Par 3 (which is actually part of the driving range, and only open on certain days). We also found a little bit of extra time to putt around at the Punchbowl, which is a great place to get some betting going. The next two days saw great weather but were delayed due to frost, which lead us to playing our last couple of holes in the dark on the second day, and skipping out on our afternoon round on the third day and instead playing the Preserve. The fourth day was cold and windy for our morning round at Bandon Dunes, and then so rainy in the afternoon that we cancelled our afternoon round. When we teed off on our final day at the Trails course, the weather was actually good... Until we reached the 1st green. Then we were stuck in some of the worst hail ever. The rest of the round was quite the adventure. It was windy, it rained, it hailed 3 or 4 more times, and somehow it was sunny for a couple of holes. Without a doubt the worst weather we have had in a round of golf, but the course was fantastic.
Regardless of the weather, we absolutely loved our time at Bandon and we will be back in a few years for sure. Probably in 2021 since the newest course, Bandon Dunes (Sheep Ranch), will be opening sometime in 2020.
We Take it to the Next Level
In 2019 we decided to go a little bigger and rent a condo through Airbnb, and we were not disappointed. We went back to Bend, Oregon for the 3rd time in the decade, and found a place just off the 18th hole at Eagle Crest (Resort). After so many years sharing hotels rooms, it felt so nice to have our own rooms, cook our own meals on the grill, and end the day with a nice soak in the hot tub. The condo was so relaxing. It will be very unlikely that we settle for hotels on future trips. The trip to Bend saw replays of a lot of our favorite courses, but we managed to sprinkle in a couple of new ones such as Aspen Lakes, a wonderful track, and the spectacular Pronghorn (Nicklaus). Bend is still one of our favorite locales and it is hard to imagine we won't make it back again in the 2020's.
As for the rest of the year, we made it back Las Vegas. I alone ventured off to play Paiute (Sun Mountain), Paiute (Snow Mountain), Primm Valley Golf Club (Desert), and Primm Valley Golf Club (Lakes). But was joined by other Core Four members to play other courses such as The Revere Golf Club (Concord) and The Revere Golf Club (Lexington). We are slowly crossing off all the courses in the Vegas area.
I personally travelled to Orlando in 2019 to play some fantastic courses like World Woods (Pine Barrens), World Woods (Rolling Oaks), Streamsong (Blue), Streamsong (Black), and Streamsong (Red). Streamsong rivals Bandon Dunes in many ways with 3 amazing courses. Definitely take a trip there if you possibly can. I also played a few Scottsdale courses at the start of the year during a family trip over New Years. The We-Ko-Pa (Saguaro) and We-Ko-Pa (Cholla) courses were certainly the highlights. Both Orlando and Scottsdale are littered with fabulous courses to try.
The Pandemic is Upon Us
Of course 2020 was the year of COVID-19, which made life difficult for everyone. But it didn't seem to slow us down much at all. We started off the season with a short trip to Central Washington where we played some old favorites and a couple of less heard-of courses that we have become very fond of (Leavenworth Golf Club, Kahler Mountain Club). This area has no shortage of great golf.
We also ventrued off to Montana again in 2020, but this time to a completey new area. We found a wonderful Airbnb in the small town of Simms, Montana. It it is one of those small towns off the highway that you could hold your breath as you drive through. The house we stayed at was amazing. Not only was it quiet and spacious, it had... a room for each of us, a firepit to BBQ, basketball hoop, horshoe pit, and ping pong table. We were more than happy to get done with golf for the day as it felt so good to hang out at this amazing location. The courses were enjoyable too. We started off with the amazing nine-holer Galena Ridge Golf Course on the first day, and saved the best for last as we played Canyon River Golf Club on our way home.
Just like in 2019, I drove off on my own to the Big Sky, Montana area to play a few absolutely stunning courses such as Rock Creek Cattle Company, Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, and The Reserve at Moonlight Basin. All three of these courses are now in my Top 10 after playing them, which speaks to how good they are. Of particular note, The Reserve course is the most incredible setting I have ever scene (or could imagine) for a golf course. It sits at 7,500 feet elevation with mountains all around you. It is hard to believe there is even a course up there.
As we commonly do, we repeated two previous trips in 2021. The first being Bandon Dunes. With the addition of the new Bandon Dunes (Sheep Ranch) course the previous year, we felt it was a great time to venture back to the coast. We chose February for our first trip, but this time we decided to spend a little more money, and go in April with the hopes of better weather. That did the trick except for one afternoon. Day #2 was our only chance to play Sheep Ranch, and the weather did not look promising even before we left Spokane. The morning of the round we started off with a round at Bandon Dunes, and the weather was decent until the last hole when the wind started to pick up and the rain started to fall. We drove to Sheep Ranch shortly after and the weather continued to turn. Charlie and Pat decided (smartly) to ditch the round. Ian and myself decided to give it a go. With the round underway, we were consistently treated to downpours and 50 MPH gusts. It was absolutely miserable. You didn't dare hit the ball in the air as it was completely at the mercy of the wind. We were so miserable. Standing on the 6th tee, our clothes completely soaked (especially our shoes) and our hands numb. We looked at each other and said, "enough". I am happy we gave it a try but so dissapointed that we didn't get to play there, as there were no tee times available for the rest of our stay. Minus that hiccup we had an absolutely fabulous time. It seems likely that the 3 year gap between trips to Bandon will become a standard in the future. So expect us to be back in 2024. (Especially with the news of a new Championship & Short course coming in the next couple of years.)
To round out our 2021 golf season we had planned to visit the Bremerton area, but due to an extremely poor weather forecast, we called an audible and drove down to Boise instead. We played some of the courses we made it to in a previous trip, and once again found a wonderful Airbnb to stay at. I can't say enough how great it is to have not only your own bed, but your own bedroom. It makes our trips so much more relaxing.
We Take to the Skies
The next year I managed to play a good amount of golf in Maui again. Exploring a couple of new, great courses like Kapalua (Bay) and Wailea (Gold). Maui is such a fantastic vacation destination. I don't know if there is a place on Earth that rivals it. It doesn't get any better than mixing beaches, golf, and great food.
Each member of the Core has flown to different locations in the United States and played golf over the years. But 2022 was the first year we flew somewhere specifically for a golf trip. After years of me talking up St. George, Ian and Pat finally gave in and headed down to the desert with me to try out some of the fantastic courses we have heard about. And it did not dissappoint! At the end of April, the weather was absolutely perfect with mid-80 degree weather every day. We found a wonderful condo to stay at so we could do our usual grilling and soaking, and played the best courses the area had to offer. Coral Canyon Golf Course, Copper Rock Golf Course, and Sky Mountain Golf Course all boasted superb layouts and un-matched views and scenery. I highly reccommend this area. The cream of the crop in St. George is the world renown Sand Hollow (Championship). The course was visually stunning and featured the best 5 hole stretch (11th-15th) of golf anywhere in the world. On the flight home, we immediately talked about heading back down in future years.
This year's Core Four trip saw us venture to what is known as the Shuswap area, located in British Columbia. In January of 2019, I had purchased some vouchers for the 5 main courses in the area. We had planned to use them later that summer but were unable to due to COVID. Luckily the courses said they would honor the vouchers, so we made our way accross the border for the first time in many years. We were a little concerned about the border crossing but it was a piece of cake. More importantly we were treated to some sensational golf. Most of the courses from our vouchers were fantastic, the highlights being Talking Rock Golf Course, Mara Hills Golf Resort, and Salmon Arm (Champions) which I consider to be a hidden gem. We also visited the lesser known The Rise Golf Club. This moutainside course offered a unique layout and absolutely stunning views of the valley. The highlight of the trip was without a doubt Tobiano Golf Course. This has been at the top of my Must-Play list my whole life. And if you ever visit there, you will know why. It is an amazing layout with views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Kamloops on every hole. It is the kind of course you build a trip around. No wonder Golf Digest ranks it as the #90 course in the world at the time we played there. As I have said about many locales, I can foresee us returning in the future.
And the Story Continues...
It is my hope that we make a "trip by plane" a standard for each year. I foresee many locales to visit in the future: Salt Lake City, Nebraska, Alabama, Maine, and Nova Scotia. As well as exploring more of British Columbia/Alberta. Specifically the areas of Whistler, Kelowna, and Banff Springs.