Tokatee, Beloved Oregon Course, Survives Holiday Fire
Most of the time, golf courses are built within hailing distance of a city or major town. Put a golf course in the middle of nowhere, and it had better be a good one if it wants to survive. Such is the case of Tokatee Golf Club, situated on the McKenzie Highway, halfway between Eugene and Bend, Oregon. If people from either town want to play Tokatee, it requires a 50 or 60-mile drive from the west or east. To the north or south, there’s not much of anything except mile after beautiful mile of forest country and ice-capped peaks.
The Eugene area is around 200,000 people, and Bend is no bigger, but they come to play every summer, without fail. The word ‘picturesque’ is an understatement. Situated along the highway of McKenzie Pass over the Cascade Mountains, the “River Runs Through It” quality of the region is irresistible to the sporting Oregonian. Losing Tokatee would be the state equivalent of a Yankees fan losing his team’s stadium.
The northwestern fires have decimated some of the most treasured parts of Oregon, from the coast to the eastern plains. Tokatee sits in the middle of it all, nestled in the Cascades. It was a sitting duck (if fellow Oregonians will excuse the expression), a goner for sure, just like other resort courses up the pass have been in previous fires. I’m not sure what caused it to go down this way, but the fire halted its progress one quarter-mile from the edge of the course.
The importance of Tokatee to Oregon golfers was, according to Operations Manager Mark Giustina, of extra importance as a stress-reliever this year, thanks to “COVID, home-schooling…wildfires, and the election.” Generators were brought in at the crucial time to keep the sprinklers going, and Tokatee escaped with only the inconvenience of downed phone service, and a limited restaurant menu. It has already reopened.
The course’s location fits well into the typical Oregon habit of scheduling days of multiple activities. Come to Tokatee with your skis (snow and water), fishing rod, binoculars for bird watching, hiking boots with shotgun packed, towing your boat, of course, and you’re right there for a five or six-sport day. Bring the horse along if you wish. In two or three days, you get pretty much everywhere and do pretty much everything sporting Oregonians love to do.
For me, as for many of us who grew up with strong Oregon roots, a day at Tokatee was an on-the-mark Christmas gift, spring break idea, or de-stress break When life got to be too much in the (ahem) ‘big city,’ something that rarely happens in Eugene, a town built for the meditative life, there was Tokatee. For residents of Bend, the course marked the halfway meeting point for family members still down in the valley. Pull out the driver on the first tee, and there were the Three Sisters towering above, and an array of beautiful water holes not far from one of the west’s most beautiful rivers.
My family remembers the Christmas trips between Eugene and Bend. A discussion of how long ago we passed Tokatee was the final arbiter of the “Are we there yet?” question. The amount of snow on the course during the later winter elicited the first sighs of “When can I get my clubs out again?” The familiar invitation to play golf on the coming weekend, sometimes met with “I’d love to, but I have to stack the firewood,” turns to “Absolutely, count me in!” when Tokatee was part of the deal.
Nature has been cruel to the west this year, but even she stopped short of playing false with Tokatee. May it ever be so, especially if this is to become the new normal.