Druids Glen Opens With Rave Reviews

DRUIDS GLEN, located about 11 miles east of Kent, twice failed to open as a country-club project. It's now open as an upscale public course, with new ownership, and a fast-growing reputation.

KENT - When the foursome arrived at the 12th tee at the newly opened Druids Glen Golf Club, one golfer looked at the gorgeous downhill par-3 fronted by a huge pond and proclaimed:

"This is what they call a golf hole, boys!"

Four holes earlier, a golfer in another foursome compared walking the course to "walking in a mountain meadow."

Druids Glen, a public course located about 11 miles east of Kent, is opening to considerable praise. In Puget Sound golf, this is the big opening of 1997. Last year, the big debut was of the acclaimed Olympic Course at Gold Mountain outside Bremerton.

Unlike municipal Gold Mountain, Druids Glen is expensive. The regular adult greens fee is $42.20 on weekdays and $53.02 Friday through Sunday. Motorized golf carts rent for $28.13.

"This place is $10 to $12 overpriced," groused one golfer in the parking lot this week. Other critics of the greens fees point out that it's a lot of money for a course that opened this month with portable toilets, no food service and with its driving range still under construction.

Travis Cox, director of golf at Druids Glen and Willows Run in Redmond, defends the cost, saying the course is special and "upscale." He said once the clubhouse is built in the next 18

months, it will be the kind of place where someone goes to spend the entire day.

Cox said the fee structure will be reviewed periodically. It will be interesting to see what rates are next summer after the first of the two new plush courses at Newcastle outside Bellevue opens.

Druids Glen twice failed to open as a country-club project. The course was rescued this spring by Brian Patton, owner of Willows Run. Patton is the brother-in-law of Seahawk owner Paul Allen.

Patton is committed to public golf and also committed to keeping homes off the 350 acres he has purchased for undisclosed millions. The course occupies about 220 acres and Cox said Patton is interested in building a par-3 course catering to families and youngsters on additional property.

Unlike many Northwest courses, Druids Glen doesn't feel constricted by trees. One golfer noted, "There's a nice airy feel to it."

The turf on most holes is wonderful, almost inviting you to take off your shoes and walk barefoot on a grass carpet.

The course's appeals include:

-- A stellar group of four par-3 holes.

"I've never played a better group of par-3s on a single golf course," said Jerry Abbott of Kirkland.

-- Sensational views of Mount Rainier on some holes and no highway noise.

-- A layout that invites you to use your driver rather than play it safe with a 3-wood.

-- Four sets of tees that dramatically toughen the course as you move back. The slope (difficulty) rating ranges from 117 to 137 (113 is average). The yardage is 7,146 from the back tees. From standard (white) tees, the yardage is 6,004 and the slope 123. The weekend golfer should shoot a better score here than at other upscale public courses such as Meriwood in Lacey or the Classic Country Club near Puyallup.

-- A good variety of holes. No two holes in this bentgrass layout designed by Keith Foster are alike. Memorable holes include No. 10, which requires a long carry over water and the par-5 14th with a wetlands in the middle. The scenic par-3 16th is a visual treat of greenery, water and white-sand bunkers.

-- The course is walkable, despite a long uphill trek from No. 16 green to the 17th tee.

-- Motorized carts aren't required.

-- Most errant shots can be found.

-- The white sand in the more than 45 bunkers is stunning.

-- The course should drain well and be highly playable in the winter.

-- The course appears capable of handling big tournaments.

Criticisms, in addition to the prices, include:

-- The course, which is located in the Covington area near the new Kentlake High School, is difficult to find. There are no road signs to help you. (Cox said the course is awaiting government approval to erect road signs. He said temporary signs were not allowed.)

-- The greens aren't close-cropped and are slow. Cox said the staff is mowing the greens down at a gradual rate to ensure their health.

-- The 17th and 18th fairways, the last to be planted, are splotchy.

-- Many areas beyond the rough are stony and can damage clubs.

The new course is a wonderful conversation piece for golfers. The four words, "Played Druids Glen yet?" are going to resonate in 19th holes and pro shops for months.