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Originally published Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 10:00 PM

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Great golf beckons just a short drive north in Whatcom County

Whatcom County has 13 public courses ranging from par-three layouts to resort-level Loomis Trail Golf and Country Club and Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club, which was designed by Arnold Palmer.

Special to The Seattle Times

Whatcom County's finest

A closer look at some of the county top courses.

Sudden Valley Golf and Country Club

It was designed by Ted Robinson, who did Sahalee Country Club on the Sammamish Plateau. There are two distinct nines, with Lake Whatcom in play on some excellent front-nine holes. The memorable tee shot on No. 15 is off a bluff.

Homestead Golf and Country Club

New owners took over this Lynden course two years ago and improvements are noticeable. It is an easily walkable course with water on 15 holes. It was designed by Bill Overdorf, one of Washington's best-known golf architects (The Classic, The Woodlands at Hawks Prairie). The course is tight in places, and is lined by lots of homes. The island green makes the par-5 18th hole one of best finishing holes in the state.

Shuksan Golf Club

A rare course where you can see most holes from the clubhouse. It is in a rural setting, with no homes on it. A creek meanders through many holes. There are gorgeous views of Mount Baker, but it is not easy to walk because of elevation gains on a few holes. It has attractive spring greens fees of $28 on weekdays and $38 on the weekend.

Lake Padden Golf Course

It was carved out of a forest and has wide fairways, but this is no pushover. It used to be a municipal course but is now leased to operators. One of the state's best bargains and therefore it's quite popular.

North Bellingham Golf Club

This links-style course shows the variety of Whatcom courses. With its openness, this is much different from almost all the other courses in the county. It was designed by Canadian Ted Locke on what had been a cattle ranch.

Semiahmoo

This is No. 7 on Golfweek's list of top 10 Washington courses open to the public. There are 67 bunkers. The homes are set back and not intrusive. Like Loomis Trail, Semiahmoo is an amenity of Semiahmoo Resort, which has a spa, restaurant and overnight accommodations.

Loomis Trail

This course is one of the state's toughest and water is in play on every hole. It is ranked No. 5 on Golfweek's top 10 list of Washington courses open to public. The Tudor clubhouse is among the state's nicest. From the longest tees, the course is 7,137 yards with a staggering rating of 75.4 (what an expert would shoot) and a slope of 143 (113 is a standard course). From the white tees, the course is 6,192 yards, with a 70.5 rating and a slope of 130.

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Semiahmoo, Sudden Valley, Shuksan do not drain well , balls will plug this time of year... MORE
I'm pretty sure that you cant take a direct flight from Bellingham to Maui like the... MORE
Best winter course in Whatcom County is Raspberry Ridge (south of Lynden) for keeping... MORE

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With gasoline prices going higher than a Bubba Watson drive, the words "golf road trip" might take on a different meaning this year.

Instead of a journey to golf hotbeds such as Bandon Dunes or Bend in Oregon, the prudent decision might be to head to the golf-rich Bellingham area. You are still getting away and playing good courses but not draining your gas tank and checking account.

In the late 1990s, Whatcom County's golf marketing folks called the area "Monterey North" after the famous Monterey Peninsula in California best known for Pebble Beach Golf Links. The name "Monterey North" didn't stick but the reputation for good courses has remained.

The reason Whatcom County has so many good golf courses can be found across the border — Canadians. They are the same reason you can now fly directly from Bellingham International Airport to Maui or to Denver, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Oakland and Los Angeles.

The Canadians on the flights out of Bellingham are avoiding high airport and airfare taxes in Canada. The Canadians on the Whatcom County golf courses are looking for good golf at reasonable prices. After the round, they use their NEXUS passes to zip back across the border in time for dinner.

British-born Tony Dear, whose website www.Bellinghamgolfer.com covers the game in Bellingham, said the percentage of rounds by Canadian golfers varies by course and proximity to the border.

"But it's probably fair to say roughly 40 percent of the rounds played in Whatcom County are played by Canadians," Dear said. "The figure is probably closer to 50 percent if you include the Graham Cooke-designed course in Point Roberts which is part of the county but a 75-minute drive north from Bellingham into Canada then back out again."

For golfers from the central Puget Sound area, the quality Northwest Washington courses start south of Whatcom County line. Eaglemont, just east of Mount Vernon, and Avalon, with its 27 holes outside Burlington, routinely attract Seattle-area golfers.

Whatcom County has 13 public courses ranging from par-three layouts to resort-level Loomis Trail Golf and Country Club and Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club, which was designed by Arnold Palmer. Both of these Blaine courses are longtime residents on state top-10 course lists. Semiahmoo is open for public play on odd-numbered days and Loomis Trail on even-numbered days.

Golf road trips tend to be getaways for bogey golfers or better, and the courses with reputations are often targeted.

In Whatcom County, that would be Loomis Trail, Semiahmoo, Sudden Valley Golf and Country Club, Shuksan Golf Club, North Bellingham Golf Club, Homestead Golf and Country Club and Lake Padden Golf Course. Although most of these names sound private, the courses are public or semipublic.

Adult weekday summer prices range from a bargain $27.60 at Lake Padden to $70 at Semiahmoo and Loomis Trail.

In Washington, Bellingham is to golf what Westport is to salmon fishing. Whatcom County residents know and appreciate that fact.

As Bellingham lawyer Philip E. Sharpe, Jr., said, "We're lucky to live in an area with so much good golf at reasonable prices."

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