Golf Gems of the Cascades: Oregon Mountain Courses

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Visit almost any region of North America, and you’ll find championship golf courses. In the home states of Nicklaus and Palmer (and the USGA itself), you’ll find more than a few. We know about Pebble Beach, and Georgia’s a given.

As in other things, however, there’s a blank spot in the national consciousness where the Pacific Northwest is concerned. The LPGA and men’s senior tour pass through from time to time, but we rarely see the young men.

The problem may come down to a few geography teachers in Latrobe and Augusta who still tell children that the wagon tracks through
Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alberta boast only lumberjacks, fur trappers and whistling marmots. All right, that’s hyperbole, but there are courses here that would surprise the bluebloods back east, and three good examples are in central Oregon, up in the Cascade Mountains. These are tour-worthy courses, where being distracted by the scenery can be as dangerous to your score as a lake or bunker.

Tokatee Golf Club – If this top twenty five public course had only been situated nearer a larger community, it could be a tour jewel. But then, it wouldn’t be Tokatee. Designed by Ted Robinson, it sits along the banks of the McKenzie River in the town of Blue River (aptly named), somewhere between Bend and Eugene. Keep your head down has added meaning here, because if you look up before your shot, you’ll see the peaks of the Three Sisters directly above. Your concentration could become altered when you look back down.

For the pros, the front nine would require some extra danger, as most of the water trouble is in the back. Move the blues back a few yards throughout, and go Saharan on a few of the bunkers (especially fairway) and you’d have yourself a tour spot. As a bonus, the 11th might give even a Georgian a nostalgic flash of Augusta’s 16th, trading fir trees for azaleas, of course.

The Black Butte Ranch – Heading up the McKenzie Highway out of Tokatee, you’ll enter the pine forests that signal the desert’s edge thirty plus miles away. A year-round resort with residential acreage, The Black Butte Ranch boasts two courses, in particular the seven thousand yard Big Meadow with a spectacular view of Three-Fingered Jack.

Even though the fairways are a bit more manicured, the course makes sure that nature accompanies every player. The wildlife is so diverse that you never know what you might see (safe from bears, they tell me), and it’s not uncommon to share the fairway with Great Blue Herons. The slightly drier climate lessens the chance of rain, the restaurants are highly rated and the charming town of Sisters is only a few miles away.

Crosswater Golf Club – Continuing up to Bend and twenty miles south, you’ll find the resort town of SunRiver, boasting multiple, high quality courses. The best is Crosswater, open only to guests of the SunRiver Lodge, site of the Jeld-Wen Tournament on the Senior Men’s Tour. Crosswater is in perpetual tour-readiness, and is described on the website as a heathland course. That means water and reeds.

Not going airborne from the tee is lethal here, as one must often clear a stretch of marshland in order to reach the fairway. At the rough’s edge, trouble is not gradual. One inch in and you’re fine. One inch out, and it’s hire a scuba diver or safari guide. It was here that Tom Watson confirmed for me the truth of Lee Trevino’s comment about age and distance – “Those clubs don’t know how old you are.”

All three of these courses, lying within a hundred miles of one another, boast entirely different challenges and natural environments. None is violently hilly, so all are easily walked. Oregon’s sunny season (another little-known secret) generally runs from July through September, and is kind to vacationers out to find special courses. And when you’re done, you’ve still got Washington, British Columbia and Alberta to go. Stay tuned for those. You won’t regret it.

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