May 31, 2007

Long Weekend

Golf finds a place in culture-rich Rogue Valley

Pears competition: The 15th green at Centennial, a course built on an old orchard.

Pears competition: The 15th green at Centennial, a course built on an old orchard.

Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley has a reputation for culture, starting with the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland (orshakes.org). The area is also a favorite among campers, hikers, river-rafters and wine-glass swirlers. Until now, golf wasn't much of a factor, but Centennial Golf Club, which opened in Medford last May, is changing things.

Designed by former U.S. Amateur champion John Fought, Centennial ($84 with cart, centennialgolfclub.com.) is the valley's first new, upscale public course in a decade. Management is especially proud of the course's grooming, which is superb. With wide fairways and an open, linksy feel, the layout will test you—but it shouldn't leave you wrung out, Hamlet-like, wondering whether to be or not to be.

While there, consider driving 20 minutes to Eagle Point. Here you'll find the Stoneridge Golf Course ($43 with cart, 541-830-4653) and the

Eagle Point Golf Club ($63 with cart, eaglepointgolf.com).Stoneridge is the hilliest of the area and most economical, with a rate as low as $27 for walkers. Locals consider the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Eagle Point the most challenging.

Visit here: One of the area's biggest draws is Crater Lake. Roughly 75 miles from Medford, it offers some of the most stunning scenery anywhere. The lake sits in a collapsed volcano surrounded by a 20-mile ring of tree-covered cliffs. Just time your visit carefully: Crater Lake National Park is generally buried in snow October through June (nps.gov/crla.)

Eat here: Porters is the place for a post-round celebration. The Medford restaurant is housed in a restored train station originally built in 1910. Beyond the décor, Porters (porterstrainstation.com) has an inventive menu that stresses local flavors. Try the Oregon pork chops stuffed with blue cheese from the award-winning Rogue Creamery.

Stay here: The 70-room Ashland Springs Hotel, opened in 1925, got a top-to-bottom makeover in the late 1990s but still exudes old-fashioned charm. Sit in the two-story lobby and read a book by the fire°or watch the tourists parade past its restored antique windows (ashlandspringshotel.com). Rates start at $80.

Travel advisory: Rogue Valley is less than six hours straight up Interstate 5 from San Francisco. Or you can fly into Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR). Worth stretching your trip by a few days: The great Bandon Dunes and Sunriver golf resorts are less than four hours away by car.

Star Rating Explanation

Course ratings are derived from the exclusive 5-star Golf Digest Places to Play scale. A single star represents "basic golf." Five stars indicates "golf at its absolute best." Golf Digest's Best Places to Play guide, based upon the ratings of tens of thousands of readers, is available for $24.95.

Basic golf.

Good, but not great.

Very good. Tell a friend it's worth getting off the highway to play.

Outstanding. Plan your next vacation around it.

Superb. Golf at its absolute best. Pay any price to play at least once in your life.

The equivalent of one-half star.

If a course has no star rating, it means that the course did not receive a minimum of 10 ballots, either because it is very new or simply was not visited by a sufficient number of Golf Digest readers. If you've played one of these courses and would like to rate it, click here.