Northwest Travel: Coeur d'Alene

The Coeur d'Alene resort may be the Northwest's best

John Gottberg Anderson / For the Bulletin /

Published Sep 9, 2012 at 05:00AM

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Here's one thing I learned on my recent visit to The Coeur d'Alene resort: Golf balls can float.

Okay, so perhaps your own Titleist can't cruise over the surface of a pond at Pronghorn. Maybe your Maxfli won't skip across the water at Crosswater.

But up here in the panhandle of north Idaho, it's not just the balls that float. It's the greens, as well.

More specifically, it's the signature 14th that rolls with the waves and the wakes on Coeur d'Alene Lake. Billed as the world's only moveable floating green, this par-3 hole changes its length between 95 and 200 yards several times a week, depending upon where it is placed by a computer system.

The resort sells custom-made hollow balls with just enough carry to lift them off the tee to the green with a solid drive. More often than not, the tee shots wind up short, diving into the lake with a “kerplunk.” Assuming you do clear the water, you'll have to hope you don't bounce off a tree or land in a bunker on the 15,000-square-foot island. A small shuttle craft, nicknamed “The Putter,” carries golfers from the tee to the green, as there is no bridge to connect it to the rest of the course.

Now, I haven't played the 18-hole course; but I took my turn on the driving range, located just down the lakeshore from the famous 14th. A pyramid of floating balls stood beside me as I teed up and practiced my stroke, hitting ball after ball directly into the lake.

“Fly balls” dove like cormorants, but “line drives” skipped several times like flat stones.

At other golf courses, water is something to be avoided at all costs. At Coeur d'Alene, it's the perfect practice medium. Yard markers on buoys indicate the length of drives, although those numbers can be deceiving since the hollow balls don't fly especially far. But loft and direction are easily measured — there's no disguising a wicked slice — and a tiny trawler easily gathers the balls by dragging a net across the water's surface.

After a half-hour of watching the golf balls get wet, it was time to immerse myself. Adjacent to the golf course, at the lake's edge beneath the resort's newly opened Hagadone Events Center, an infinity pool extends almost imperceptibly above the sandy beach, its water at least 20 degrees warmer than that of the lake itself.

I swam a few laps, relaxed with a cool beverage, then jumped aboard “The Eagle” for a two-mile, water-borne shuttle around Tubbs Hill and back to resort central.

The resort

No destination resort in the Pacific Northwest combines comfort and sophistication — including a luxurious spa, fine dining options and recreational amenities — so well as The Coeur d'Alene. Nestled on the north shore of its 25-mile-long namesake lake, the resort was built in 1986 and immediately became the catalyst for the gentrification of the town of Coeur d'Alene (pronounced core-duh-LANE).

“Downtown took off with a character of its own,” recalled Bill Reagan, the resort's general manager since it welcomed its first guests. “It's as if the hotel created a center from which Coeur d'Alene could grow.”

After a 413-mile, 7 1/2-hour drive northeast from Bend, via the Tri-Cities and Spokane, my traveling companion and I turned off Interstate 90 in the late afternoon and approached the hotel via a circular drive off Sherman Avenue. A team of valets and bellmen was there to greet us, unloading our luggage, parking our car and guiding us through the elegant, contemporary lobby to the long front desk, where we were quickly checked in for a three-night stay.

From the balcony of our lakeview room in the resort's landmark 18-story tower, we looked down upon a 372-slip marina surrounded by a floating boardwalk well over a half-mile long. Beyond, we could see powerboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, jet skis and even parasailors upon deep, serpentine Coeur d'Alene Lake, before it disappeared into heavily forested hills.

The resort has seven restaurants, and we availed ourselves of the offerings at four of them during our stay. Beverly's, on the seventh floor of the tower, is its crown jewel, a five-star restaurant with a $2 million wine inventory. (It's so extensive that it even stocks Annie Green Springs for more pedestrian tastes.)

We were joined by another couple for dinner at Beverly's one night. Chef Tyler Schwenk persuaded our quartet to share a “shellfish tower” — prawns, scallops, mussels, oysters, lobster and king crab — before we even got to our main course: ancho chili-glazed lamb for me, pan-seared Muscovy duck for my companion.

On other evenings, we had an Asian fusion meal at the Bonsai Bistro and cedar-plank salmon at the Cedars Floating Restaurant, both off-property but readily accessible from the hotel. We had breakfasts in the Dockside coffeehouse, a lunch by the golf course and drinks one evening on the Lake View Terrace, where we were joined by former Bend wine-shop owner Chris Oatman, now a Coeur d'Alene resident.

Around 'CdA'

On previous visits to north Idaho, I have used Coeur d'Alene — often referred to merely as “CdA” — as a base from which to explore the panhandle region. And there's a lot to see here.

To the east, toward Montana, Interstate 90 runs through a series of historic towns, including Kellogg and Wallace, which once made this region a major silver-mining center.

To the north are more lakes, large and small, including massive Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-oh-RAY), so deep that the U.S. Navy conducts sonar experiments in its waters, but so alluring that the town of Sandpoint, on its north shore, has helped to bury a recent history of right-wing radicalism by welcoming scores of artists who are anything but radical.

West of Coeur d'Alene, a series of towns spill across the Washington state line toward metropolitan Spokane, 30 miles distant. Together they essentially triple the city's population of 45,000, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in Idaho after Boise.

The southern half of Coeur d'Alene Lake is embraced by the sprawling Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation. For centuries before explorers of European ancestry arrived, Salish-speaking Indians made a home here in the foothills of the Bitterroot Range. French-Canadian fur trappers, frustrated by the tribe's astuteness in trading (they wouldn't swap valuable furs for cheap, shiny trinkets), declared that they had “coeurs d'alênes,” or “hearts like awls.” The name stuck.

A great way to get out and about from Coeur d'Alene, and get exercise in the process, is to rent a bicycle from ROW Adventures. From its head offices in a corner of the shopping plaza attached to The Coeur d'Alene resort, owner Peter Grubb has expanded offerings beyond whitewater rafting to include a wide variety of international water and land adventures. (Travel + Leisure magazine readers honored the company this year as the “world's best tour operator.”)

We took an easy 15-mile ride along the northern lake shore, following the North Idaho Centennial Trail to its eastern terminus at Higgens Point. There were a few ups and downs, but the route was mostly level, giving us glimpses of parks, fishing piers and local beaches.

Spa day

Back at the resort, we weren't quite finished with our day's exercise regimen. Forested Tubbs Hill, which rises 375 feet above the lake shore and divides the resort from an older residential area at Sanders Beach, is a 135-acre municipal park laced with well-trodden dirt trails. We chose one that circled the thumb of land, running about two miles past secluded inlets and beneath squalling ospreys' nests.

Then we returned to the resort for spa treatments.

Spa Coeur d'Alene is one of the finest spa facilities that I have been pleased to enjoy during my travels. Opened in 2006 at a cost of $10 million, the 15,000-square-foot spa features 21 treatment rooms on two levels. Its staff offers massages, facial treatments, manicures and pedicures, skin therapy, reflexology and other services. My deep-tissue massage left me feeling rejuvenated, and my traveling companion thoroughly enjoyed her “Coeur (heart) stone massage.”

The spa was designed by Tag Galyean, a famed resort architect also known for the spas at California's Lodge at Pebble Beach, Colorado Springs' Broadmoor and West Virginia's Greenbrier. Galyean made extensive use of red cedar and river rock in the design, but water was his focal point, from the broad lake views in relaxation rooms to a series of interior waterfalls that impart a sense of the natural environment to all corners of the spa.

For me, a highlight was the hydrotherapy that followed my massage. Spa Coeur d'Alene has installed unique, computer-operated therapeutic showers with 18 showerheads and varying temperatures that work on six different parts of the body.

The next day — our second full one at the resort — we traveled to the golf club. Launches leave the resort marina every half hour through the day, unloading passengers at a long pier after a two-mile lake cruise. In addition to the golf course and practice facilities, pro shop and Floating Green Restaurant, this is the location of the infinity pool and the Events Center.

Opened in July 2011, the 7,000-square-foot Hagadone Events Center was designed to host events of up to 600 guests. Its beautiful Outdoor Celebration Garden has quickly become one of the most popular venues for weddings in north Idaho.

For visitors who want to get out on Coeur d'Alene Lake but who don't have particular interest in golf, chartered lake cruises and hourly motorboat rentals are available at the marina. And just down the lake shore, in City Park on the west side of the resort, concessionaires offer sailboat rides and parasailing.

The park is also a popular playground for CdA families and young adults, especially in summer. On our visit, a troupe of young jugglers from the city's Sorensen Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities was performing tricks with fire and knives that I would never have trusted a 10-year-old to attempt.

Duane Hagadone

The visionary behind The Coeur d'Alene resort is Duane Hagadone, a Coeur d'Alene native who celebrated his 80th birthday on Labor Day.

Taking over as publisher of the local newspaper when his father died in 1958, Hagadone expanded his holdings in marine and hospitality enterprises, where he has amassed an estimated net worth of $800 million. But he continues to live in a lakeside estate where his 60-foot, state-of-the-art sailing yacht, the Sizzler, has a permanent home.

“Years ago, there was a small Best Western property beside the lake in Coeur d'Alene,” he recalled in a telephone conversation. “I always thought it could make a wonderful resort. When I had an opportunity to buy it, I did.

“We were always great believers in surveying our customers as to what they would like,” he said. “Over time, it became apparent that they needed more things to do here. It became evident that a golf course would help us put heads on pillows. A world-class spa would do the same. People wanted more shopping, so we built a shopping plaza across the street.”

Hagadone said he visits leading resorts all over North America, looking for ideas to improve the offerings at The Coeur d'Alene resort.

“We're not on the beaten path,” he understated. “We've got to try harder.

“We knew we had one of the great freshwater lakes in the world, and that, of course, is the anchor. We try and utilize the water as much as we can, offering things that others can't. We do a lot of meetings on our cruise boats. And during this economic downturn, when things have been tough in the hotel business, we have upgraded our facilities to compete with anybody.”

The resort bends over backward to assist visitors who fly into Spokane International Airport, Hagadone said. “It's 30 to 40 minutes away. We'll pick you up in our limo vans and you'll have no need for a car while you're here. We have the retail, the boating, the hiking, and seven restaurants where we can take you by van or boat, if you prefer.”

Besides, what golfer wouldn't be enticed by a floating green and golf balls?