Dakota Creek: A laid-back alternative to the stuffy links

Local course known for fundraising


photo by Lance Henderson


If the Dakota Creek Golf Course were a golfer, it wouldn’t be stuck up at all.

It wouldn’t mind if you picked up the ball without replacing it with a quarter or if you took one or four mulligans. It would just play to enjoy the beautiful day and have fun.

There is no stuffy clubhouse or rigid rules. Golfers don’t need to swing to avoid million-dollar houses lining the course. A round of golf at Dakota Creek is a walk through the Whatcom County wilderness with breathtaking views, competitive greens and a relaxing spirit.

On an average day during the summer at Dakota Creek, owner Pam Smith is a busy woman.

“It’s go, go, go,” Smith said. “There isn’t any time for anything. You get up in the morning at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and climb into bed at 10 p.m.”

Smith said she doesn’t really play golf, because it is hard for her to get through a whole game.

“I normally get about three holes in and then see so many things that need to be done that I just quit and get back to work,” Smith said.

This year, Dakota Creek Golf Course will celebrate its 20th year in business, and the former nine-hole turned full-18 now boasts championship greens peppered over 50 acres and a tumultuous terrain that gains more than 300 feet in elevation from the first tee.

As the sun starts to return to Whatcom County, groundskeepers are working tirelessly at Dakota Creek to make improvements and generally bring the course out of hibernation.

“The seasons here follow the sun,” Smith said. “We are just like farmers. We had one of the best weekends in February that we have ever had, back when it was real nice, and I hope that the rest of the season follows suit.”

In 1968, Smith purchased 50 acres in Custer off Haynie Road. Then, in the mid-’80s, Smith decided to sell her commercial landscaping business for the opportunity to rehab the alder-rich property.

“I just wanted to do something with the property and I thought about a campground,” Smith said. “We decided to build a golf course, but we just puttered at it for a while.”

The course officially opened as a nine-hole in 1989.

“We struggled and struggled,” Smith said. “We didn’t have that instant maturity that courses with lots of money have. Everyone said it would grow into itself and it has grown into a beautiful course, but it was not in the beginning.”

In 1994, Smith expanded the course to a full 18 holes in an effort to attract more business.

“It was either close the doors or do something to get more golfers out here,” Smith said.

Slowly over the years, Smith said, Dakota Creek built up a loyal following.

“We have lots of regulars,” she said. “There are so many people here to whom I could turn over the keys to the till and feel comfortable with it.”

The course also became known as the place where an organization could host a golf tournament fundraiser.

Smith herself hosts an annual fundraiser to sponsor La Casa Hogar El Buen Pastor (The Home of the Good Shepherd), a home for displaced children in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. Last year, the Smiths and Dakota Creek raised more than $40,000 for the children.

“We found that having a golf tournament was a great way to make money for them,” Smith said. “I started sending $500 a month, then $600. Now I send more than $3,500 a month.”

By a long shot, Smith said most people are attracted to Dakota Creek because it is a good value for their dollar and it has a friendly, low-key atmosphere.

“It’s like a walk in the park,” she said. “We are really blessed in the state of Washington to have a lot of beautiful courses, but this one is exceptionally beautiful because it has a lot of wilderness, yet it’s only two miles from the freeway.”


Dakota Creek’s 17th Annual Orphanage Tournament

Wednesday, May 20 at 1 p.m.

Dakota Creek Golf Course

3258 Haynie Road in Custer


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