"Ugh, I'm so jealous you're at Bandon. Take lots of pics!" That was the general reply when I told friends I was in Oregon for a golf trip. Believe it or not, however, Oregon offers a lot of quality golf outside of its southwest corner. Central Oregon, to be more specific, is a hotbed of top-notch courses, scenic hikes and homegrown breweries. It's home to 30 golf courses within an hour of each other, including three in Golf Digest's Greatest 100 Public(Crosswater, Tetherow and Pronghorn). Just take a look at the sunrise over Tetherow, a links-style David McLay Kidd course that offers a full fleet of Golfboards (more on that later).
Before I retell the story of my four-day trip to Bend, I'd like to introduce myself and Harry Darling, the friend who joined me. I've been working at Golf Digest for more than eight years and I have a 2 handicap. Harry, who also carries a 2.8 Index, was born and raised in Portland and spent many summers in Bend, but never fully took advantage of the town's golf/outdoors activities until a couple of years ago. Harry is the one who convinced me that Bend is worth the cross-country flight (we both live in New York City and flew to PDX, then drove 3.5 hours to Bend). He was right.
Located just 10 minutes from the heart of Bend, Tetherow is a great place to call home in Central Oregon. Check out the view of the first hole from our porch. Bliss. There are just 50 rooms on property ($249-349) and staying there grants you preferred tee times. The Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn, like Tetherow, is open for public play, but the two other courses we played, Crosswaterand Brasada Canyons, are open only to resort guests and members. Keep that in mind if/when you plan your trip.
Tetherow itself ($175) offers many dramatic views. Here's Harry driving it on the 424-yard par-4 6th hole. This is one of several forced carries found around the course. Such forced carries might deter some, but if you play the right tees -- and there are FIVE sets of tees -- the only thing they'll be is beautiful.
The greens at Tetherow have been called too penal by some, which is why a few of them have been leveled out since the course opened in 2008. (The 17th green was being flattened and expanded when I played the course, on June 2nd.) Whether you think the greens are tricked-out or not (I don't), one thing's for sure: they make you think.
This view of Tetherow's 6th is a good depiction of the course's character. Holes that twist and turn, rolling fairways and greens, and fescue grass all fuse to offer a unique, links-style experience. You won't really play another course quite like it, whether you're in Bend or anywhere else in the country.
Crosswater ($189), designed by Robert E. Cupp, is located less than 30 minutes south of Tetherow and it offers a more parkland experience. Here's a photo I snapped while standing behind the 18th green. Forced carries into greens are quite common at this Sunriver-based course. That stream you see is part of the Deschutes River, one of the longest rivers in Oregon.
Perhaps the most visually stunning hole at Crosswater, the 687-yard (!!!) par-5 12th offers a clear view of Mt. Bachelor, the fifth-largest ski resort in the country. Since it offers the third-longest winter season in North America, people have skied at Mt. Bachelor in the morning and played golf at Crosswater in the afternoon.
Much to my surprise, the view from the white tees on this 12th hole (572 yards) is just as stunning! Golfers who play from white or red tees usually miss out on the views . . . not so at Crosswater.
The woodlands and wetlands you see here sum up Crosswater quite nicely. I snapped this image while standing on the 13th green, looking at the 14th hole.
Crosswater itself is situated in Sunriver, a huge resort and family vacation spot. There are two other courses on property -- Meadows and Woodlands ($109) -- and here's a view of Crosswater's serene lunch area. Sunriver offers five different types of accommodations -- from vacation rentals to lodges to cabins -- and nine dining options. It's massive.
While golf is a great way to experience the outdoors, hiking allows you to really appreciate the land you might dismiss if you're worried about losing a golf ball or missing a three-footer. So Harry and I took an afternoon off from golf (blasphemy!) and set out to find Tumalo Falls.
We found it. Spanning 25 feet wide and 89 feet high, Tumalo Falls was so worth the 3.5-mile journey.
Tumalo Falls runs into Tumalo Creek, which we walked along during our hike. It was beautiful.
Even though this image might suggest otherwise, the Tumalo Falls hike wasn't tough. Harry and I finished the 7-mile hike in less than three hours. It was, at its hardest, a moderate walk.
This was one of our views during our descent. We actually had a sip of that water (which is part of the Deschutes River) and it was cold, crisp and entirely refreshing.
Back to golf. The Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn ($210) offers a more parkland experience than Tetherow and a more high-desert experience than Crosswater, and it gives off the most upscale vibe among the four courses I played. It was in immaculate shape. Indeed, the course was private when it initially opened in 2004 but it opened up to the public a few years later. I knew I was in for a treat when I pulled into the resortthe entrance is four miles long. Pronghorn itself is located on 640 acres of landthat includes the resort and all its amenities and another course, the Fazio Course, which is private. Beyond that, Pronghorn is surrounded by 20,000 acres of undeveloped federal land.
The entire course winds around rivers and lava rock outcroppings. Here's an image I snapped while looking back on the 378-yard par-4 13th hole. What you don't see is the huge rock wall that was behind me.
Forced carries off the tee are fairly common at Pronghorn's Nicklaus Course, but they're not unreasonable by any means. The Nicklaus Course offers five sets of tees, all but ensuring you'll find a comfortable yardage.
The 342-yard 12th is a classic risk-reward short par 4. The landing area is wide if golfers decide to dial back off the tee, but it's extremely narrow if players opt for driver. Even a long drive that settles in the fairway leads to an approach that plays to an elevated green that's surrounded by bunkers. Most of the holes at the Nicklaus Course, like this par-4 12th, force you to think. This photo was taken by Patrick Koenig, an avid golfer/photographer who joined us at Pronghorn.
While I didn't see a ton of other golfers walking, I'm glad we did -- the course is entirely walkable.
The fourth course we played in Central Oregon was Brasada Canyons ($159) which is located at Brasada Ranch, a resort that not only offers a variety of accommodations and dining options, but also more than 900 acres of horseback riding trails. While Harry and I didn't partake in that, we did play the course, and it was unlike any of the others we played in Bend. Here's a look at the 584-yard par-5 18th hole. Designed by Peter Jacobson (a native Oregonian) and Jim Hardy, Brasada offers the most high-desert experience -- wide fairways, significant elevation changes and vistas that allow you to see vast amounts of land.
Here's a different view of Brasada's par-5 18th (Patrick Koenig snapped this image). While the course has wide fairways and huge greens, it still penalizes golfers who don't strategically think their way from tee to green. As you can see here, being anywhere on the left side of this finishing hole spells trouble.
Here's Harry driving it on the 543-yard par-4 10th hole. Brasada's two nines are entirely different. While holes on the front 9 are essentially launching pads (enormous fairways allow golfers to bomb it off the tee), holes on the back 9 have a bit more character, forcing golfers to pick spots and think creatively.
If you were to ask me to send you one image that sums up Brasada, I'd send you this one. Wide, rumpled fairways that lead to huge, fairly-level greens and that are surrounded by high-desert vegetation. That's Brasada.
Beyond golf and hiking, Bend offers a plethora of great breweries. Harry and I went to 10 Barrels (shown here) but Central Oregon is home to 26 craft breweries. There are 19 breweries in Bend alone including Deschutes Brewery, the 11th largest brewer in America. (Photo by Portland Monthly Magazine)
Since the nights in Bend get chilly year-round, this fire pit was more than just eye candy.
And that was our trip. In three days we played four courses (Tetherow, Crosswater, The Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn and Brasada Canyons), did one hike (Tumalo Falls) and went to one brewery (10 Barrels). While Central Oregon isn't the easiest place to get to -- just six cities fly direct to/from Redmond Municipal Airport, none farther east than Denver -- Portland International Airport services direct flights to/from tons of cities and the 3.5-hour drive from Portland to Bend is beautiful. Next time I tell people I'm in Oregon, I hope they don't automatically assume I'm at Bandon Dunes.