Golf concentrate: Just add buddies, brews, and birdies!
By Tony Dear
In September last year, we published a travel story about Bellingham in which we suggested a possible itinerary for a long weekend that combined great golf with excellent dining and quality lodging. The proposed schedule went down well, so we decided to apply the same formula to Bend, Ore. The difference this time is that, partly because it’s summer and partly because Bend and its surroundings are absurdly well-endowed with good golf courses, more so even than Bellingham, we’re giving you a full five days of action.
Incorporated in 1905 and originally called ‘Farewell Bend’ (officials at the U.S. Postal Service in Washington DC thought the name too long and shortened it to Bend), the city lies on the Deschutes River where the ponderosa forest meets Central Oregon’s arid high-desert. Native Americans had fished and hunted this area for thousands of years before the arrival of fur traders in 1824 after which a settlement took root. The Pilot Butte Development Company, founded by Midwest entrepreneur Alexander Drake, erected a sawmill on the east side of the river close to what is now the intersection between Newport Avenue and Wall Street in 1901, and the addition of the Shevlin-Hixson and Brooks-Scanlon mills in 1916 established Bend as an important logging center.
The population grew steadily until the 1990’s by which time the logging industry had more or less fizzled out. But rather than decline due to a loss of lumber jobs, the population exploded as Bend reinvented itself as an outdoor sport and recreational activity mecca. In ten years (1990-2000), the number of people calling Deschutes County home rose from 74,958 to an incredible 115,367. By 2006, a year before the nation’s economy collapsed, taking Bend’s housing bubble with it, another 35,000 adventurers, baby-boomers and second home buyers had filed in causing the city’s median home price to soar from $135,000 to $396,000.
That median price sunk back to the mid-$100,000’s during the worst of the recession, but realtor Greg Broderick, speaking to Oregonlive.com last year, said the city is definitely showing signs of a resurgence, at least in terms of house prices, if not job growth. People coming to Bend weren’t looking for money, Broderick said, but rather were bringing it. “They are definitely not looking for a paycheck,” he added.
One of Bend’s greatest attractions, besides its happy position on the river, at the edge of the desert plateau, just below the Cascade Mountains is of course its amazing selection of golf courses which even this most sinister of downturns couldn’t disrupt. “Every one of our courses survived the recession,” says Ted Taylor, Communications & Content Development Director at the Central Oregon Visitors Association. “I was working at Widgi Creek Golf Course at the time, and we actually grew our membership.”
That’s a reflection of just how popular the game is in Bend where you find eight courses within seven miles of the city center, and 30 within a 40-minute drive. Few towns of 80,000 people, anywhere in the world, can claim so many good courses in so limited an area (Monterey, CA with a population of roughly 28,000, St. Andrews with 17,000, Pinehurst, NC with 15,000, and Bandon, Ore with 3,000, enjoy the planet’s best golf : population ratio), and with the economy springing back to life, they are busy, energetic, immaculately-maintained golfing hotspots once again.
To make the very most of this golfing feast during a five-day trip, you need to be playing 36 every day. For that you’ll need good rest, and plenty of fuel. No problem, we’ve got you staying in some wonderful accommodations and have included a handful of the city’s favorite restaurants and pubs where you can sample another of Bend’s great contributions to mankind – the craft beer for which it has become known worldwide.
Morning – Golf at Widgi Creek GC
Designed by Robert Muir Graves who did so much good work in our part of the country, Widgi opened in 1989 and stretches to 6,905 yards from the Black tees. Set in the heart of the 1.8million-acre Deschutes National Forest, it is located six miles southwest of Bend’s downtown area on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. As the name of the road on which it’s situated suggests, Widgi is a beautiful walk among the pines, where the peak green fee never tops $79.
Lunch – Widgi Creek
Because we’ve got a lot of golf to get in each day, it make sense to have lunch at the golf course. The afternoon tee time is at Tetherow where The Row serves up 12 beers and a great lunchtime menu including our favorite, the Truffled Bacon Mac (white truffle cheddar sauce with Carlton Farms bacon and a green side salad).
Afternoon – Golf at Tetherow
When David McLay Kidd’s design opened in 2008, it did so to muted applause. Yes, it looked magnificent and was full of interesting holes with great character, but it was excessively difficult in places. This was obviously before Kidd had his epiphany at Gamble Sands where he created at immensely enjoyable course that many a first-timer would want to play again immediately after completing their initial round.
Tetherow, however, was something of a one-and-done place as non-elite golfers typically found it a real struggle.
To appeal to more golfers, Tetherow needed to make changes which it did twice within its first year. Bunkers were removed, greens expanded, and fairway-lining brush cut back and thinned out.
More quick adjustments were necessary early in 2014 when a herbicide used to reduce poa infestation on the fescue greens reacted badly with the turf. Thankfully superintendent Chris Condon noticed the problem early and was able to avert a major disaster.
Today, the growing pains have eased. And with the design changes pretty much complete, the course back in great shape, the 50-room Lodge attracting very positive reviews, and the real estate likewise doing good business, Tetherow is finally beginning to thrive.
The summer green fee is $175, but if you play after 1.40pm it’s $110.
Dinner – 10 Barrel on NW Galveston Ave.
If exhausted, you could stay at Tetherow for dinner, but you might prefer something a little more casual, plus you’ll probably be wanting to try some of that craft beer you hear so much about. Three and a half miles northeast of Tetherow, is the 10 Barrel Brewing’s city center pub which not only serves up 10 Barrel’s six highly-acclaimed beers but also some excellent pub grub like the Pork Verde Tacos, or Cubano Stromboli.
Night – Tetherow Lodge
Completed in April 2014, the luxurious Lodge rooms have mountain views, fireplaces, balconies, and a wet bar. A corner King room starts at $249 a night.
Morning – Golf at Lost Tracks
Brian Whitcomb, former president of the PGA of America and a golf course designer/developer, opened Lost Tracks in 1996 and put it up for sale in November last year after nearly 20 years of successful operation. Lost Tracks is one of Bend’s less well-known courses, but it’s a cracking 7,003-yard layout whose most distinctive feature is surely the hollow train car that links the rest of the course to the island green at the par 3 9th. Guess what, the peak green fee here is $79, but this includes a cart…during the week. At weekends, it’s $89 to ride 18.
Lunch – Lost Tracks
Grab a bite in the clubhouse. Hamburgers, hot dogs, it’s all there.
Afternoon – Golf at Quail Run
It’s a 20-mile drive south on Highway 97 to Quail Run, but it is most definitely a drive you want to make. This 6,859-yard La Pine gem was designed by Central Oregon greenkeeping legend Jim Ramey who spent 39 years at the Sunriver Resort working on the old South Course (now the Meadows) and growing in the Woodlands Course and Crosswater. Quail Run opened in 1991, and if you tee off after 2pm you can play it for a remarkable $35 ($55 before 2pm).
Dinner – Carson’s American Kitchen
You’re spending Day 3 at Sunriver, so it makes sense to stay there tonight. There’s not much to eat between La Pine and Sunriver, 12 miles north on S. Century Drive, but there are a couple of highly-rated Mexican restaurants in La Pine – Los Tres Caballos and Cinco de Mayo. If that’s not your thing, after checking in at Sunriver you’ll find whatever you want at Carson’s American Kitchen or the Twisted River Tavern.
Night – Sunriver where rooms start at $249 a night.
Morning – Golf on Meadows or Woodlands Course at Sunriver
Another tough choice between two of Central Oregon’s most treasured courses. Fred Federspiel designed the Meadows Course which opened in 1969, the same year the resort’s main lodge opened. John Fought carried out a major redesign in 1999, and the greens were completely re-laid at the beginning of this year with T-1 bentgrass which should recover from winter conditions much better than the previous turf. The course re-opened in May and reports on the new surfaces are good.
The beautiful Woodlands Course is a 1982 Robert Trent Jones design whose greens have already been renovated.
Lunch – The Grill at Crosswater
In preparation for your afternoon tee-time on one of the region’s most venerated courses, you need a good feed. The lunch menu at the Grill has all the tacos, tenders, sandwiches and burgers you could want.
Afternoon – Golf at Crosswater
This magnificent 1995 Bob Cupp design is a highlight of the trip. It plays through wetlands, woodlands and more exposed areas, and doesn’t possess anything resembling a weak hole. Playing the last few holes on a peaceful summer’s evening is an experience every golfer should experience at least once.
Dinner – Deschutes Brewery
We’re heading north to Sisters and Redmond in the morning for the final two days, but you can’t leave Bend without a visit to what is perhaps the city’s most legendary brewpub – Deschutes Brewery, which opened in downtown Bend in 1988. Deschutes now distributes its impressive range of beers, which includes the world-renowned Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Ale, and Inversion IPA, around the world and to 28 states, and there are 19 taps in the pub on NW Bond St. The food is pretty special too – sandwiches, pizzas and an entrée list that includes ribs, rib-eye, and fish and chips.
Night – Pronghorn
The designated driver now has to transport your group of tired, and perhaps a little tipsy, golfers 16 miles northeast to the luxury Pronghorn Resort in readiness for your final two days. You could find alternative and far less spendy accommodations in Redmond, but if you want this trip to be truly special and can afford it, you won’t mind forking out a little extra for Pronghorn’s superb rentals. You don’t actually play the Nicklaus course here until Day 5, but to avoid too much moving about we’ve bought you here early. Junior suites start at $176 a night.
Morning – Golf at Aspen Lakes
A 45-minute drive west of Pronghorn brings you to the charming town of Sisters, just outside of which you find Aspen Lakes, a fine William Overdorf design whose first nine holes opened in 1997 (the second nine appeared three years later). Aspen Lakes is well-known for its red cinder sand bunkers which contrast nicely with the green turf, snow-capped mountains, and blue sky. The course can play as long as 7,302 yards which is a lot of great golf for a peak green fee of $78.
Lunch – Aspen Lakes
Stay at Aspen Lakes for the superb Brand 33 Prime Rib Dip, or Jen’s Braised Rabbit in which the rabbit is slow braised in a savory broth infused with Mirror Pond Pale Ale, pineapple sage, and thyme.
Afternoon – Golf at Black Butte Ranch
The choice is yours – Big Meadow, originally designed by Muir Graves and opened in 1972 before being renovated in 2007, or Glaze Meadow – a Gene Mason design that opened in 1982 but which was given a $3.75m makeover by John Fought in 2012. Both are superb courses with amazing views of the Cascades (especially Big Meadow), but I’d just give the nod to Glaze Meadow where Fought really did an exceptional job rebuilding tees and bunkers and relaying greens, adding 700 yards in length, and taking out 800 trees.
It seems to be a theme, but the peak green fee on both courses is $79; $59 if you start after 2pm.
Dinner – You’ve got three options.
You could simply slip into Robert’s Pub in the Big Meadow clubhouse after your round, head into Redmond which has a number of fine restaurants most notably perhaps Diego’s Spirit Kitchen and Baldy’s BBQ, or head home to Pronghorn to eat in the clubhouse or, if you’re sharing a rental with your buddies, cook for yourself.
Night – Pronghorn
Morning – Golf at Juniper
This will be a sentimental favorite with many of our readers as it was designed by Tacoma’s own John Harbottle who died suddenly of heart failure four years ago. The history of the Juniper Golf Club dates back to the early 1950s when it played over a nine-hole course, which grew to 18 holes in 1987.
Eight years later, the club became aware of proposals to route a highway through the course, the layout desperately needed a new irrigation system, and the Federal Aviation Authority on whose land the course was sited was about to raise the annual lease from $1 to $300,000.
Juniper GC had to move. The Mayor of Redmond, Ed Fitch, discovered the Federal Recreation Act could purchase land for a new course, located approximately two miles south of the existing course, from the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Harbottle was hired and the course opened in July 2005. And what a course it is – a two-time Oregon Open venue and six-time qualifying site for the US Amateur.
Tee off before noon and the green fee is $76, including cart. It’s $65 from 12pm to 3pm, and $40 from 3pm onwards.
Lunch – The Trailhead at Pronghorn
Afternoon – Golf at Pronghorn (Nicklaus)
It’s hard to know with this much quality golf on your itinerary which course will be your favorite, but there’s a very good chance you have saved the best for last. Jack Nicklaus’s high-desert masterpiece opened in 2006 and has appeared on numerous best course lists since, including Golf.com’s top 100 You Can Play ranking on which it currently sits at No.38. There are so many good holes, but none better than the mesmerizing uphill par 5 15th which has to be played to be believed. The near-perfect course conditions are almost to be expected. Not surprisingly the rack rate is a fairly alarming $215, but if you can hang on until 4.10 you can get on for $75. Sunset throughout July occurs later than 8.30pm so you should get at least four hours’ golf in.
Okay, we admit this is a totally ludicrous itinerary. Not only would it be extremely demanding on your body, it might also be too much to handle for your wallet (and we didn’t even mention a handful of excellent courses – Eagle Crest, River’s Edge, Brasada Canyons, Old Back Nine). We don’t expect anyone will doggedly follow this schedule, we just wanted to give you an idea of what elements you might want to include during your trip to Central Oregon.
Summer golf in the high desert really is a slice of heaven, but if you a) can hold off for a few weeks, b) want to spend a lot less money, c) prefer playing in slightly cooler temperatures, d) enjoy a little competitive golf, and e) want to participate in a well-organized event that’s celebrating its 20th year in 2016, and which the organizers call the ‘driving force for championship-caliber amateur golf in the West’ then you need to register for the Lithia Pacific Amateur Golf Classic (www.pacamgolf.com) to be played September 17th – 22nd.
The PacAm is a very highly thought of tournament that seeks to keep the Central Oregon golfing season going that little bit longer. This year’s defending champion is Seattle’s Kelly Davis who plays of 10 and says he decided to enter last year’s tournament after numerous friends recommended it. “A lot of people told me how much fun it was,” he says. “It quickly became a bucket list item.”
Amazingly, the 2015 PacAm was Davis’s first ever strokeplay event as he plays only in scrambles and team events as a rule. Equally astonishing, to him at least, was that he felt he didn’t play particularly well. “I think I shot low to mid-80s in every round, about my handicap,” he says. “I was surprised that was good enough to win.”
Davis went home with a beautiful trophy and new TaylorMade driver, and will be back to defend his title in September provided the neck surgery he had earlier this year has healed in time. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “You meet so many great people, and play a lot of excellent courses. Crosswater is my favorite, and it was in impeccable shape last year.”
Whether you create your own itinerary, or play in the very popular Pacific Coast Amateur Championship, your golf trip to Bend and Central Oregon is going to be one of the best you ever took.