Circling Raven’s 15th Anniversary Has Been 200 Years in the Making

Folks in this part of what we now call Idaho, approximately 30 minutes south of Coeur d’Alene, have been telling stories of Circling Raven for over 200 years.
No, not the golf course, of course — though, that’s certainly merited more than a few words of flowing prose in magazines and golf blogs worldwide since opening in 2003 — but of the tribal leader who lived in the region in the late 18th and early 19th century, leading his people through some of the most controversial events in tribal history, from the first contact with white men, to a vision of the Catholic missionaries who would soon come and convert tribal members from their centuries-old religions.
Two centuries later, as Circling Raven’s descendants made plans to open a world-class championship golf course on tribal land, Director of Golf Dave Christenson reflected on the momentous change in fortunes the course and accompanying casino resort could have for the tribe, and thought of Circling Raven. Thus was the course’s name born.
Fifteen years later, Circling Raven’s namesake is thriving, perennially ranked among the nation’s top public courses and expanding continually to meet the demands of golfers traveling from all around the globe to share the land that Circling Raven himself once roamed.
From a single bingo hall in 1993, the resort has grown to include a casino, hotel, events center, fine dining and world-class spa. Multiple wings have been added to the original hotel building, with a comprehensive casino refurbishment to be unveiled this spring.
Designer Gene Bates was the first to really see the land the way Circling Raven saw it, in all of its natural splendor. While others like Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Robert Trent Jones, Jr., saw the highway and train tracks that bisect the land as obstacles, Bates saw them as features he could use to enhance a golfer’s experience, and showcase the beauty of the land. The presence of Highway 95 to the west allowed Bates to push farther up the eastern hillside than other architects had considered, bringing in elevation changes that allowed golfers to see the landscape from a new perspective. The train tracks, meanwhile, allowed Bates to craft tunnels and bridges that add an old-world charm to a new-world course, taking golfers back, however briefly, to that time in the 19th century when the locomotive first brought the outside world to the wild west, just as Circling Raven (the golf course, that is) brings them back today.
Bates’ course sprawls across 620 acres of wetlands, creeks, evergreens and Palouse grasses. There are split fairways, elevated tee boxes, risk-reward delights, and more than a few moments that will take one’s breath away. It’s been called a top-100 public course by Golf magazine, Golf Digest and Golfweek, a top-10 tribal course in the U.S., and made just about everyone’s “best new” list when it hosted its first full season in 2004. As it celebrates its 15th full season in 2019, the legend of Circling Raven has only grown — just like the legend of its forebear did two centuries before.
“It’s a complete golf course,” says Bates. “ I’m gratified to hear players applaud it as a truly great golf experience.”
Francis SiJohn, the chief executive of the resort and a Coeur d’Alene tribal member himself, says that preserving the legacy of Circling Raven and the tribe he once led is the golf’s course’s primary mission.
“Circling Raven Golf Club is a wonderful amenity and championship course that brings great enjoyment to players and guests from around the world,” Sijohn says. “But, most importantly, the course stays true to our tribal mission to nurture our land and use it in ways respectful to our heritage and tradition.”
Two centuries ago, the wider world came to this land and forever altered the lives of the people who called it home. Today, people are coming once again, and having a similar impact on the tribe’s future.
The legend of Circling Raven lives on.

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