I grew up in Oklahoma and learned about Native American history in school and from friends of various tribes. I’ve always appreciated and admired so many wonderful aspects of the diverse Native American culture.
There’s also a lot to be admired about the number of spectacular Native American golf courses that have quietly arrived on the golf travel map in the past few years.
Many pair first-class golf and top-notch resorts with unique tribal experiences. These range from clubhouses with towering totems framing the entryway to Native American-inspired cuisine and activities. You’ll find holes designed and named to pay homage to tribal legends. Better still, the adroitly designed courses are often set on pristine land with no surrounding development so you can fully immerse in your natural surroundings.
A trip to a Native American course is a special experience that transcends the typical golf resort vacation. You’ll leave with great golf memories and a special appreciation of Native American culture. Now, that’s a great pairing.
There are around 50 Native American courses in the U.S. and I’m highlighting five that are among the best:
Circling Raven Golf Club, Worley, Idaho
A wonderland of wetlands, woodlands and Palouse grasses, the 7,189-yard Circling Raven exudes natural beauty and is brimming with challenging and fun-to-play holes. It has wowed players since its inception 15 years ago and has been voted North Idaho’s best course and a Golf Digest Top 100 course.
Located at the Coeur D’Alene Casino Resort Hotel, the course is a Gene Bates design. Bates is also known for his work at Bayonet and Blackhorse in Seaside, California, Canyons Golf Club in Park City, Utah, Southwood Golf Club in Tallahassee and Salish Cliffs in Shelton, Washington.
“Our ancestral homeland is sacred. That’s why we used 620 acres for Circling Raven, which is more than three times the average land dedicated to U.S. golf courses,” says Laura Stensgar, Director of PR and Cultural Affairs, Coeur d’Alene Tribe (Tribal member). “We wanted to let the course flow through its natural terrain, to provide a pristine environment with no surrounding development, to allow players to feel nature and the peaceful, spiritual experience that comes with it.”
Off the course, Stensgar highlights cultural activities that include hiking parts or all of the 75-mile trail that winds through our homelands, eating traditional Native American cuisine, viewing buffalo up close, or seeing an 18th Century church our tribe built that was one of the earliest structures in the state.
Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, Choctaw, Mississippi
One of the world’s most decorated Native American courses, Dancing Rabbit is universally regarded as one of the best courses in the U.S. It’s ranked #33 on Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 Courses You Can Play.”
Located at the Pearl River Resort in east central Mississippi, the two courses, the Azaleas and Oaks, are set among soaring pine trees and beautiful oak trees. The lush terrain looks untouched and the designers Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate, who collaborated on both layouts, have done an amazing job of preserving the integrity of the land. The courses are immaculately maintained with an Augusta National style approach to attention to detail.
The Azaleas and Oaks courses comprise more than 700 acres with five miles of winding spring-fed streams and lots of elevation changes.. Both courses have five sets of tees. The clubhouse is a stunner, too, with a fabulous practice area and exceptional restaurant.
Pearl River Resort and its casino is owned and operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Major amenities include a spa and salon, Geyser Falls Water Theme Park and unique shopping.
Sweetgrass Golf Club, Harris, Michigan
Do you like island greens? Sweetgrass delivers a beauty with its signature hole, a 168-yard, par-3 from the back tees.
The rest of the course has a lush, park-like feel and the holes are named after traditional Potawatomi clans, villages, allies, medicines and symbols. Ranked among the top 20 best public golf courses in Michigan by Golfweek and Golf Magazine, Sweetgrass was designed by Paul Albanese, an architect with a Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture who is also director of Golf Course Architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.
Though Sweetgrass is not a “links” course in the traditional sense (it isn’t on the water), it plays like one because it’s fairly open and relatively flat, has deep wild grasses framing several holes and players often have to battle confounding winds.
What separates it from a “links” experience is the water or marsh that comes into play on ten of the holes and four holes that are tree lined.
Grip it and rip it types love attacking Sweetgrass which measures 7,273 yards from the back tees. Mid-handicappers will score well playing from the middle tees at 6,439 yards.
Another superb golf option at the resort is Sage Run, an 18-hole design, also by Albanese, which takes golfers through terrain dominated by pine scrub, open areas and a partially wooded area.
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club, McDowell, Arizona
Set in the stunningly beautiful Sonoran Desert, about 20 minutes from Scottsdale, the We-Ko-Pa Golf Club rests on pristine Fort McDowell Nation Land, which will never be commercially developed. If you’re seeking a phenomenal desert golf experience, this is the place you’ve been dreaming about.
Amazing cacti, rugged and scenic desert terrain and mountain views of the iconic Four Peaks to the east make playing here a truly inspirational experience.
The golf complex is comprised of two 18-hole golf courses: The Saguaro, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design, is a traditional design with greens close to tees that make it very walkable and the Cholla Course, is a quintessential target style layout designed by Scott Miller. Refreshingly, there are no homes, condos or townhomes lining any of the fairways.
Off the courses, you’ll bask in luxury as the We-Ko-Pa Resort & Conference Center is the only AAA Four Diamond Resort with spa and casino in Scottsdale and it features amenities like six restaurants and lounges and a casino with slot machines and Live Bingo and Live Keno.
Salish Cliffs Golf Club, Shelton, Washington
With radically changing elevations and 360-degree views of Kamilche Valley, Salish Cliffs has a distinctive character with a great selection of uphill and downhill holes. It serves its purpose well as a resort course with fair landing areas off the tee for all skill levels. Stretching 7,269 yards from the championship tees, the course plays to 6,766 yards and 6,312 yards for mid-handicappers.
Many of the holes are framed by thick fescue and you definitely want to stay in the short grass if you want to score well. If you spend most of your time chopping out of the tall stuff, trust me, you’ll want to destroy your scorecard before the cart attendants get a good look at it.
Located at the Little Creek Casino & Resort, Salish Cliffs is designed by Gene Bates.
An interesting fact about Salish Cliffs is that it’s the world’s first Salmon Safe Certified Golf Course.