Laurelwood: The Coolest Little Course to Drive You Crazy
To understand the quirkiness and character of Laurelwood, you have to have some experience with Eugene, Oregon. Yes, it’s a sports town, and an arts town, with a totally insane football program next to one of the world’s best Bach festivals, plus much more.
That isn’t what I mean, though. Sitting at the lower end of the Willamette Valley, Eugene seems to get more rain, but a softer rain than Portland, and when the sun comes out, everything appears diamond-studded. In the winter months, it turns into a multi-hued impressionist green painting. The air is soft, and apart from party night, even the university has a whisper to it at full bustle. It feels – well, almost Scottish, ringed with forested hills on three sides, especially when golf is the subject. In fact, I believe that the photographers have made a huge mistake waiting for rainy days – Oregonians play wet golf, no problem, and these photos miss the magic. Oh well, you’ll just have to imagine that, and smelling the rich forest air.
Eugene offers several good places to play, but for me, the most interesting of all is the 2902 yard nine-hole course up in the south hills, just a mile or two from the university, but oh so infinitely more quiet. Laurelwood was designed by Clarence Sutton. I looked him up, and found that he remained a fairly regional designer with courses in nearby Oakridge and Coquille.
I’ve played Laurelwood for over fifty years, with all manner of family and friends. I played with my brother the afternoon before his wedding, and he was so nervous, the scratch golfer suddenly couldn’t remember how to swing a club – I loved it. I spoke during my father’s backswing on the seventh tee, and his response appeared as though he’d been electrocuted – didn’t love that so much. Some of my greatest glories and deepest woes have been experienced on this fabulous little piece of real estate. I actually played there with a Scottish girlfriend once. That’s how I know that the cultural visual works so well. This course and a tam were made for each other.
The first tee is seriously elevated, and to a kid, it’s like teeing off from the top of Mt. Rainier. If you hit the drive of your life, it will go forever, and you’ll live on the memory for years. If you blow it after dreaming of it all week, you’ll be heartbroken. The ninth, a par 3, requires hitting and walking up the same hill. Not much of the course is flat, and most are exhausted by that point. On 4, the right of the fairway is (again, to a kid) is a 45 degree slope, and you almost have to hit it into the woods to the right in order to find the center.
Laurelwood has found herself in various states of repair over the years. Marching into the rough meant dealing with poison oak and yellow jackets in some years. The fairways have been scruffy at times, but looked fairly resplendent the other day when I visited for the first time in years. The greens, during my college years, were like trying to stop the ball on a tilted pool table. Wait long enough, and a short birdie putt would dribble back to you, transforming itself into a 7-iron third shot, with all the unbridled ire that it deserved. The dangerous greens are still there, but appear to hold better than they used to. With a slope rating of 135 and a USGA rating of 35.4, rest assured that it’s harder than that, no matter what those numbers mean.
I believe that present management is treating the old girl well, and at 18.00 per 18 (students and seniors), I can’t wait to get over there and relive my childhood experience, warts and all. The new “Fireside Room” sounds like making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but Laurelwood isn’t a sow’s ear. It’s just a beautiful, sassy little course that will give you more trouble than you ever expected.