Central Oregon has been my home for the past 34 years. It’s a golf mecca, with more courses on the west coast per capita than anywhere besides Phoenix and Palm Desert. And with good reason. Our summers are some of the most desirable of anywhere in the world, and people in the area love their golf.
But the area has seen an unprecedented influx of new migrants and golf courses have become overly crowded. And the price to play has nearly tripled since I was a kid in the early 2,000s.
Sure, I still play some of my local haunts, but not as much as I used to, certainly not on weekends.
That’s why every summer a group of my closest golf buddies and I make a week-long trek to Boise, Idaho to play golf.
The two closest big cities to my hometown are Portland, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. We’ve all played golf in Portland, and quite frankly, the golf and weather just aren’t as good as they are in Boise. While Portland has one of the finest collections of city-owned courses in the nation that are affordable to play, they aren’t always in the best shape, and they’re almost always overcrowded. When we go on vacation, the last thing we want are six-hour rounds that take all day and bumpy greens. We don’t have to deal with that too often in Boise.
But course conditions and pace of play aren’t the only reasons we sojourn to Boise. The city itself has a lot to offer. It’s rich with culture, has a major university, great places to stay, and everything is centrally located. Not to mention it’s only a couple hours farther for us than driving to Portland.
Best Bets in Boise
Compared to other metropolitan areas within driving distance of Central Oregon, Boise’s downtown takes the cake. There are great places to stay for a reasonable price, delectable places to eat, and traffic isn’t nearly as bad as other big cities.
While we could stay in one of several reputable hotels close to downtown, we usually decide on an Airbnb or VRBO rental. There are a lot of options close to downtown, and many of them are old, historic homes with character. Even though Aribnb and VRBO have fees that make you think twice before you pay, they aren’t that bad when you divide it up eight ways. Not to mention we can make whatever place we choose home for the week. We save a lot of money by cooking in, doing laundry, and are free to roam about as we please unencumbered.
Even though we do eat a number of our meals at home, we eat too. There’s no shortage of quality places to choose from in and around downtown. I don’t care what anyone says.
One of the places we always enjoy a meal at is Alavita Italian Restaurant. Italian food is my absolute favorite, and when you’re playing golf six or seven days in a row, it’s important to carb up. But Alavita isn’t your typical red and white checkered tablecloth, spaghetti and meatballs Italian joint. Sure, there are some classic dishes on the menu, but most of the fare is infused with modern concepts. Savory and flavorful are the words our group uses to describe Alavita. The beer and wine lists are second to none as well.
Chandler’s Prime Steaks and Fine Seafood is another spot we never miss. It’s received the prestigious DiRona award as a distinguished restaurant in North America. We always make sure we’re extra hungry when we come here because the portions are huge.
The menu is extensive. Whether you’re in the mood for a juicy prime rib, or fresh seafood that arrives daily, there’s something on the menu you’re sure to enjoy. The craft cocktail and wine lists are impressive too.
Between the food, drink, and ambiance, a meal at Chandler’s is one you’ll remember.
Next to Italian, our group is always on the lookout for top-tier Mexican food. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven when we found Coja de Jima. This joint takes Mexican food to another level. Instead of greasy burritos, enchiladas, and tacos that are served with refried beans and rice from Costco, every dish on the menu utilizes the freshest ingredients and sauces are all made inhouse.
Every dish here is light, vibrant, and full of flavor, much like you’d find in the homeland. Food here is a far cry from the bastardized gringo iterations we’ve grown accustomed to.
Dining at Coja de Jima is a full sensory experience as the food is fresh and succulent and the atmosphere alive with spirit and creative flair.
In an effort not to turn this into an article for Conde Nast, I’d better get to the heart of the matter and talk about the real reason we venture to Boise every summer. Golf.
We’ve all come to agree that Boise is an affordable golf destination that flies under the radar. Can the same be said about Myrtle Beach or Scottsdale? No. But it’s a hell of a lot cheaper and there are more than enough quality courses to choose from.
Our first stop always comes in the town of Nampa, about 40 miles west of Boise on Interstate 84. Nampa isn’t a town all that remarkable, but Purple Sage Golf Course is more than worth the stop if you appreciate everything good about a muni.
Every Thursday, Purple Sage hosts a skins game that’s open to anybody. It’s $1 a hole in addition to your green fees. And it’s one of the most democratic, diverse groups you can find. Everyone from local area pros to high handicappers show up to make birdies and drink light beer. You aren’t going to pay for your trip in this game, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Most importantly, make sure to stick around for war stories afterward; the beer is ice cold and the company unforgettable.
The golf course is nothing to sneeze at either. Is it on par with Augusta? Not quite. In all honesty, the layout is straight forward; the fairways are heavily lined with small conifers and run parallel to each other. What you see is what you get. But the condition is always up to par, especially the greens.
Cheap fun and a great way to start off any trip to Boise, Purple Sage isn’t to be missed.
Arguably the most highly touted public course in Boise is BanBury, located in the western suburb of Eagle. Designed by John Harbottle III, Banbury has played host to prestigious events like U.S. Amateur qualifiers, the Boise State Amateur, and Monday qualifying for the Kornferry Tour’s Boise Open.
It’s a real test too. From the back tees it measures north of 6,900 yards and is a ball striker’s test. Water comes into play on a number of holes and keeping whitey in the fairway is the key to scoring well.
The course condition is superior to the majority of other public courses too. Never will you find a bad lie in the fairway, and the greens roll fast and true. Being above the hole can be a little scary.
Banbury has been in our rota every year on this trip, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Falcon Crest has been ranked inside the top 5 in the state since it opened.
There are three courses here, but the Championship track is the one you want to play. From the back tees, this is a big course with big features. There’s plenty of room off the tee, but the greens are sizable and undulating. You’ll want to pay careful attention to the hole locations here, as you can leave yourself with some birdie putts that cross county lines.
Just like Banbury, the Championship Course at Falcon Crest is supremely well-kept. To this day, I maintain these are some of the purest fairways I’ve ever played on; the ball sits up and you feel confident over every shot.
The 18th hole is especially memorable. It’s a tough par-four that requires a long drive down the left side to shorten the approach. The approach itself plays to a large green over an expansive lake. Anything short and you’re looking at a big number. As someone that likes a tough finish, I’m a big fan of the 18th hole, and the other 17 at Falcon Crest.
If you’re coming into Boise from the West, you’ll pass Ridgecrest Golf Club immediately on the north side of Interstate 84 in the suburb of Eagle.
From the road, Ridgecrest looks like any other public course, but once you show up for your tee time, you’ll find an experience that far exceeds expectations.
Like Falcon Crest, Ridgecrest is plenty forgiving off the tee. With the exception of a couple holes, you can pound away with driver. Everything is right in front of you.
Here too, the greens are substantive and undulating. And they’re like grease lightning in the summer. Again, playing to the correct quadrant of the green is necessary to score. Three-putts and bogeys abound if you hit it in the wrong spot.
My favorite hole at Ridgecrest is the 12th. From the back tees, it measures 229 yards, but plays far less than the yardage. If you’re afraid of heights (like me), standing on this tee box will put butterflies in your stomach. I’ve hit everything from 2-iron to 8-iron on this hole depending on the wind.
The visual backdrop on this particular shot is memorable too. On a summer day, your ball stands out against the brightest of blue skies as it descends into a horizon of verdant farmland, before hopefully coming to rest somewhere you can hit the next one from. Par here is a great score.
When it comes to bang for your buck, there might not be a better option than Ridgecrest in the Treasure Valley.
If you’ve read any of my other golf travel articles on the Golfer’s Authority site, you know I’m keen for a wager when I tee it up with buddies. That’s certainly the case on this trip with a bunch of yahoos with a similar mindset.
That might be why we often have the most fun at Quail Hollow.
This course isn’t long, measuring just over 6,300 yards from the tips. But it’s ripe with opportunities for risk and reward.
The design style is what I like to call “western target golf.” Elevation changes are a plenty, and there’s a clear distinction between golf course and sagebrush (stay out of the latter).
The par-fives are all reachable in two with a decent tee shot, but you’d better be precise with the second, or else that eagle putt could very well turn into one for bogey, or worse.
The collection of par-threes is outstanding too. On the front nine, hole four measures just 178 yards, but plays to a shallow green with no reasonable place to miss it. If there’s such a thing as a 7-iron that says “man up,” it’s this tee shot.
Number 15 is 239 yards from the back box, but it plays more than 200 feet downhill. This time, a long iron or fairway wood is usually required to a target you have to squint to see down below. Play these two holes in even par and there’s a good chance you’ll walk away with some money at the end of the day.
I’m a huge advocate for public golf that’s accessible to everyone. Muni culture is in my blood and I’ve vowed to never join a private club, even if there’s one in heaven.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t get excited for the chance to play a pristine private track when the opportunity presents itself.
In Boise, there’s no finer private club experience than Hillcrest Country Club.
Located just south of downtown, this old-school, traditional design plays host to a Kornferry Tour playoff event every year and proves a real test for the game’s elites.
The first hole is a warm welcome into your round as the tee shot is elevated and plays to a generous fairway. Left with only a wedge or short iron, it’s a scoring opportunity out of the gate.
But holes two through five present one of the sternest stretches I’ve ever played. From the back tees, the feature a nearly 500-yard par-four (hole two), a long, tree-lined dogleg left that requires a precise tee shot (hole three), a daunting 220-yard par three to a wicked green (hole 4), and a long par-four with a fairway that makes you feel claustrophobic (hole five). I don’t want to count the number of times this stretch of holes has had me playing catch up the rest of the day.
While there are some scoring opportunities once you get through the gauntlet, you’d best keep your ball in the fairway and below the hole. Failure to do so has added gray hairs to my head, that’s for certain.
Hillcrest is a quintessential, old-school layout that has more than stood the test of time. If you have the opportunity to play this track, by all means don’t pass it up.
In the western U.S., Boise is town a town that most people have heard of, but don’t know much about. And in my opinion, it’s catastrophically underrated as a town to visit, live, play golf, and simply enjoy life.
Boise presents a seamless blend of western, rugged individuality, modern thought and infrastructure, and immeasurable things to see and do. And it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco.
If you’ve yet to visit Gem State’s Capital, I suggest you do so as soon as possible. Your money goes a long way, and chances are you won’t want to go home.