Acura's ZDX easily negotiates even the dampest Portland pavement.
Let's get one thing out of the way, right from the start: They say it always rains in the Pacific Northwest.
They're right. Gray skies and light drizzle "welcomed" us every morning during a three-day trip from Seattle down to Portland for golf in an Acura ZDX Crossover. But to write off this corridor of the country as a viable golf-trip destination because of sketchy weather would be a mistake for at least two reasons: the caliber of courses and the many other things there that will keep your hands (and other body parts) busy, like the squadrons of premium micro-brews and late-night mac and cheese that will reset your circadian rhythms.
The area's top courses include Chambers Bay
, just south of Seattle, site of this year's U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open, and Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club
, half an hour west of Portland. After cutting over to the Pacific coast from Seattle in a rainstorm, we caught a four-hour crack in Portland's gloomy three-day forecast -- enough time for a round at Ghost Creek
Witch Hollow, got its first national exposure in 1996, when Tiger Woods won the last of his three U.S. Amateur titles there. The USGA brought the U.S. Women's Open there in 1997 and 2003 and ran the U.S. Girls' and Boys' junior amateurs simultaneously on Witch Hollow and Ghost Creek in 2000.
We didn't manage a peek at the gated Witch Hollow, but Ghost Creek shows why the USGA keeps coming back to Pumpkin Ridge. The clubhouse vibe is understated and friendly -- a wedding reception rocked out in the lower level as golfers putted unperturbed on the practice green 30 yards away -- but the Bob Cupp design has formidable muscles under the fuzz. The 469-yard ninth hole is in the discussion for the hardest par 4 in the Pacific time zone. A creek angles through the landing area on the right, encouraging you to aim for the fat of the fairway left. But safety off the tee leaves you with a 200-plus carry over water to get to a wide-but-shallow green with bunker danger behind.
Keeping an exquisite 3:30 pace -- Cupp designed Ghost Creek for walkers, and paths-only cart rules not-so-subtly encourage you to hoof it -- we reached the 329-yard 17th before the drizzle came back. Seeing the finish line -- and feeling a little precipitation creep into my waistband -- I tried to bite off the 240-yard carry over the creek that slices across the fairway and protects the right side of the green. My tee shot stayed dry, but a soggy pitch from wet rough dribbled into the water.
We hustled back to the lot to test the ZDX's foul-weather gear: the mellifluously monikered Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. Yes, that's really what it's called. The car's computer brain determines what wheels need the most traction and sends it there -- presumably with the help of an expertly drawn manga superhero.
Actually, there are only a few vehicles -- most notably the BMW X6 -- that inspire spectators to ask what the heck that thing is, but in a good way. The ZDX aspires to that select group and is aimed squarely at X6 considerers. Characterized as a four-door coupe by Acura, the ZDX is more like a midsize luxury hatchback. Built on the same platform as the MDX sport-utility vehicle, the ZDX is the curvier, more suggestive sister -- slippery and teardrop-shaped and built standard with a roof that comprises a multipane piece of tinted glass. Acura's chevron grille can be somewhat, um, prominent on its sedans, but it gives the ZDX's face the look of a Spartan battle helmet.
Regardless of how the ZDX's beak plays, it's the cabin that will sell this car. At its fully tricked-out price of $56,045, it had better have high-quality appointments, and it does. The center stack is one of the rare automotive features that can make you sit in the parking lot and experiment. Bluetooth capability is old hat, but in the ZDX you can play music from a digital library wirelessly -- and answer calls -- with your iPhone zipped in your jacket pocket. The radio, temperature-control and navigation systems work via voice command, leaving steering (and air-conducting your imaginary symphony) as your hands' sole responsibility.
The elfin, almost invisible rear doors technically provide access for two adults into the back seat, but the ZDX's real purpose is to serve as an all-season tourer for people who don't need a truck. With the rear seats folded flat and the back hatch open, the ZDX will swallow two golf bags and enough luggage to get even the most frequent flier surcharged. The lower, wider crossover stance makes the ride carlike, even if the gas mileage doesn't correlate. We got 17 miles per gallon.
Seattle has the vibrant food scene, and the crushing traffic problems, of a much larger city. We ditched the Interstate and weaved through surface streets to Slim's Last Chance Chili Shack in south Seattle. Slim's brisket-and-bean chili comes served over a bed of jalapeno macaroni and cheese. Folks from south Texas wouldn't recognize it, but they'd finish the bowl and order more.
To complete the circuit, our Portland hosts led us through a labyrinth of girders underpinning the Morrison Bridge to the Montage for some Spam Spicy Mac -- a concoction of macaroni, Cajun gravy, jalapenos, tomatoes, heavy cream and the famous mystery meat. You can cool the three-alarm fire in your mouth with a gulp of Rainier beer and marvel at the massive mural of The Last Supper on the wall -- complete with illustrated beer bottles where Leonardo daVinci intended wine cups to be.
In the mural, Jesus isn't looking up at God. He's checking to see if it's about to rain.