Black Butte Ranch: “There is [still] a place”

By Clifford Cowley

John Fought Puts the Icing on Glaze

Last September, I reported to you that Black Butte Ranch was the vacation spot of the Central Oregon Region.  I told you “there is a place,” like the brochure says, where you can take in over 1,800 acres of pristine natural landscape, surrounded by evergreens, aspens and panoramic vistas, all guarded by the ranch’s namesake Black Butte, an ancient cinder cone.  Two meadows, Big Meadow, and Glaze Meadow make up the bulk of the acreage with two golf courses occupying a portion of each. During my first visit last summer, I experienced Big Meadow, one of the two championship courses the ranch has to offer.  At the time, Glaze Meadow was undergoing a major renovation by renowned Northwest designer, John Fought.

Fought, has accumulated an impressive resume in golf architecture and as a player.  He was the 1977 U.S. Amateur Champion and a two-time PGA TOUR winner.  A native of Portland, Ore., Fought began his design career working with noted architect Bob Cupp on award-winning courses such as Pumpkin Ridge, site of the upcoming LPGA Safeway Classic, Big Sky in British Columbia, Crosswater at Sun River and Rush Creek, in Maple Grove, Minn.

Fought’s most recent accomplishment, the comprehensive remodeling of the Glaze Meadow Golf Course at Black Butte Ranch, brings his architectural career path full circle and ushers in a new way the industry views golf course design.

On his own, Fought was the designer of Centennial Golf Course in Southern Oregon, the award-winning Sand Hollow Resort course in southern Utah, and has made a name for himself as a course renovator, including complete renovation of the Country Club of Jackson (Mississippi), and restoration of Rosedale Golf Club, a Donald Ross design.

Fought’s philosophy of letting the land dictate the course fits with the current popular trend to minimize the impact on the land in course design.

“It’s easier to do that than it is to take the land and move it all around to force some architectural masterpiece,” says Fought.  He feels it’s better to find beauty in the land itself, embrace it, and move as little dirt as possible to make a natural course with natural beauty.

He also believes golf courses should be fun for the regular golfer.  In the 90s, courses were built to be a “true test” of golf, but they were too difficult and play dropped off.  Now, the goal is to bring families back, make the game fun for all, put in some things that make the game a test for those who want it, but also make it available for the regular golfer to have fun, too, by the placement of multiple tee boxes and hazards that will test lower handicap players.

Like a New Course

With the blessing of the Black Butte Ranch Association, Fought’s renovation of Glaze Meadow has achieved the goal of providing opportunity for players of all handicaps to enjoy a round at Glaze.  “We had the money,” says ranch CEO Scott Huntsman.  “The whole course was worn out.  The irrigation was breaking down and had surpassed its usefulness.  Black Butte Ranch has gotten a whole new course for $3.75 million.  Everything is new, from the bottom up.  You can’t build a new course for that kind of money.”

Indeed, Glaze has a completely new irrigation system with state of the art sprinklers that will save a considerable amount of water.  The greens are bigger, with new bunkers in different locations. Originally designed by Pacific Northwest legend Gene “Bunny” Mason, debuting in1978, the basic routing of the holes remains intact, but the corridors throughout the golf course have been expanded, to both enhance playability and create a variety of new challenges. Before renovation, Glaze Meadow had grown in on itself.  Trees grew up and obstructed the view of the surrounding mountains, and they grew inward obstructing the fairways.  People found it difficult to play and the number of rounds dropped off considerably.  “In 2011, annual rounds were 13,000.  We hope to get them up to 20,000 again,” adds Huntsman.

Fought’s renovation has done several things.  First, he took out some of the 100 trees for more sun. The refurbished turf grass, bent grass and a mixture of bluegrass fairways and roughs will benefit from the improvements to natural ventilation and sunlight.  “It’s a meadow, not a forest,” says Fought. “The course had lost its visual panoramic beauty.  Now it’s back.”

According to Huntsman, they harvested around 700,000 board feet of merchantable timber. During my round, the vistas were one of the first things I noticed.

Strengthened in several ways, Glaze Meadow returned in June, armed with more length, playing to 7,007 yards from the tips, an increase of close to 500 yards.  The increased length comes mainly from a fifth set of tees and the modernization of the design includes the “Family Tees” – built forward to encourage youngsters to play Glaze Meadow right along with the adults. With five tee boxes instead of four, Glaze has become a thinking man’s course.  If you don’t think, you can get penalized.  With strategically placed traps and doglegs that require careful club selection, sometimes, you may want to use a three-wood instead of a driver.  From the tips, the course is a formidable challenge for any golfer.  From the blues, the length is still a test at 6,505.  The whites, reds and gold tees are about 5,931, 5,367 and 4,909.  No matter what your handicap is, there is a distance that allows for comfortable play.  Most of the fairways have been widened.  In fact, #16 is twice as wide as before.

The greens at Glaze Meadow vary in sizes, dictated by the distance and approach to each.  Longer holes offer slightly larger greens, and most greens offer openings in the front allowing a run-up shot for players with a lower ball flight a chance to compete against the dart throwers who go for the pin.

The new Glaze Meadow is reminiscent of the classic layouts of Donald Ross or Harry Colt, with slightly elevated greens, square tee boxes and deep, grass-faced bunkers, and even though it’s a new course, it still maintains a mature feel, and the more spacious playing area provides an environment that is as engaging as it is memorable. Course modifications made a minimum impact on the forest setting and restored much of the sprawling meadowland that distinguishes the property.  In particular, holes two through five meander through those flats, where the natural wetlands contribute a pair of water hazards on three holes.

Variety Provides Fun

The variety of Glaze Meadow is evident on the back nine, with three Par 3s, three Par 4s and three Par 5s.  Hole #12, one of the longest holes in the Northwest, at 612 from the tips, is a thinking man’s hole.  A bunker on the left is out of play from the whites at 161 yards.  Of course, I managed to find it and still had a long way to go.  Visually, it’s one of the prettiest. Playingly, it’s a test no matter what tee box you play from.

The most memorable hole may be #17, a downhill Par 3 that can have golfers holding their breath as long as the ball is in the air.  One of my favorite holes is #5.  The visual appointments are stunning.  A boulder lined creek runs the length of the 164 yard Par 3, and flanks both sides of the green.  Behind the green, the lake is a testament to an accurate tee shot.  When I visited last year, I visualized playing the hole and what it would look like when it was done.  The result did not disappoint.

Another favorite, #9, is an uphill shot to a dogleg Par 4 at 380 yards from the tips.  The green is partially hidden from the fairway with a deep bunker guarding the front of the green.   At only 312 yards from the whites, long hitters will want to take out a three-wood for a 200 yard drive to leave a 112 yard second shot.  I placed my drive perfectly and used a pitching wedge to reach the green.  I ended up one-putting for birdie.  No wonder it’s one of my favorites.

Hole #11 is a strategically tenuous Par 3 at only 166 yards from the whites.  With an elevated green, I used more club than the yardage marker indicated to carry the two bunkers on the left of the green.  My partner pulled his shot and fell off the steep bank on the left to the rough.  Not good.  I landed on the green and two putted.  Par on that hole is good. Number 18 was probably the most fun.  Three bunkers guard the drive on the dogleg Par 4.  I hit to the corner and landed in the bunker, but my shot out got me within 30 yards of the green overlooking the clubhouse.  Even though I came away with a bogey, I thought about how fun the hole was if you hit a good tee shot, and have a nice eight iron into the green.  Birdie can be had.  Fought has introduced a sophistication to the Glaze Meadow course that is unlike any other venue in Central Oregon.  Implementing the terrain’s natural elevation changes, Fought presents a golf course that is interesting, provoking and just fun to playmaking Glaze Meadow a “must play” golf course in Central Oregon. Blessed with the remarkable topography of the Cascades and their equally inspiring vistas, Glaze Meadow Golf Course has been completely remodeled to reflect the spirit of classic golf course design in a true mountain setting.

There is a place. It’s called Black Butte Ranch.  I will be going back.

Sidebar #1

Lodging

While I was there, I stayed in one of the condos.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the furnishings and the complete amenities including everything I needed to cook and eat.  I enjoyed watching the basketball playoffs on the big screen TV, and the patio deck afforded a view of the mountains.

Dining

We ate dinner at The Lodge.  The chef, Adam Kapela, came out and visited with us and treated us to duck prosciutto.  Heavenly.

On Sunday, we ate lunch at Robert’s Grill.  The hamburger was drippingly delectable. Reservations recommended as both eateries are very popular particularly during high season.

Contact

Black Butte Ranch

PO Box 8000

13457 Hawksbeard Road

Black Butte Ranch, OR 97759

www.blackbutteranch.com

541-595-1500

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