Stellar Golf in Central Oregon

The 9th hole on Sunriver's Crosswater course.
Michael Houska

A leisurely three-hour drive southeast of Portland, Oregon, smack in the middle of the Beaver State, the city of Bend anchors a region that rivals any in the country for its fine combination of public-access golf and off-course activities.

The undisputed king of central Oregon golf remains the Sunriver Resort, a perennial GOLF MAGAZINE Gold Medalist. A quick drive south of Bend, this sprawling oasis has been pampering guests for 35 years. It offers plenty for kids to do, superb accommodations and delicious food -- elegant at the Grille at Crosswater and casual at the Owl's Nest. Best of all, there are three stellar golf courses.

Leading the way is Crosswater, ranked 47th on GOLF MAGAZINE's Top 100 You Can Play and just a two-minute drive from the resort. Essentially flat, this walkers' delight calls for 11 forced carries over the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers (hence the course's name) and has plenty of length, measuring a whopping 7,683 yards from the tips. Your round may be observed by elk, deer and ospreys, while your lost balls -- and you will be sure to lose some on this tough layout -- may be collected by river otters.

The solid Meadows Course (7,012 yards, par 71) sits directly behind the resort, with a driving range that faces the facility's private airport and the Cascade Mountains beyond. Renovated in 1999 by John Fought, Meadows hosted the 2002 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, the first USGA championship held at Sunriver. The resort's namesake provides the water hazard on seven holes, while the 536-yard 17th and 467-yard 18th offer dramatic views of the Cascades.

The Woodlands Course (6,880 yards, par 72) offers the most diverse terrain of Sunriver's three layouts. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. design rises and falls over natural topography, with the back nine a bit tighter than the front.

Get a little closer to towering Mt. Bachelor by playing Widgi Creek (6,903 yards, par 72), a lovely but tight track on the western outskirts of Bend. Tall ponderosa pines lining each fairway make you feel you're playing down narrow chutes, and the greens have some of the funkiest slopes you'll encounter around here or anywhere else. That muted roar from behind the 14th green and 15th tee comes from the Deschutes River flowing 100 feet below. Play here, then drive up to Mt. Bachelor for lunch at Scapolo's Bistro.

Just north of Sunriver but still south of Bend you'll find Lost Tracks Golf Club. This 7,003-yard, par-72 layout, opened in 1996, was designed by owner Brian Whitcomb, secretary of the PGA of America. He crafted a memorable venue with more doglegs than in your average kennel. Some are 90-degree turns. Playing such severe doglegs can get frustrating, but there's relief: fantastic mountain views from the tees and fairways.

Four miles away, Eagle Crest -- a resort with three walkable courses -- enjoys a different microclimate from that of Bend or Sunriver. That means a longer golf season. Warm weather arrives earlier in the year here, and leaves later.

Crib Sheet
Sunriver Resort
Greens fees: $60-$160; 800-962-1769
www.sunriver-resort.com

Widgi Creek
Greens fees: $49-$85; 541-382-4449
www.widgi.com

Lost Tracks Golf Club
Greens fees: $40-$75; 541-385-1818
www.losttracks.com

Eagle Crest
Greens fees: $40-$65; 541-923-GOLF
www.eagle-crest.com

Aspen Lakes
Greens fees: $40-$56; 541-549-4653
www.aspenlakes.com

Black Butte Ranch
Greens fees: $40-$65; 800-399-2322
www.blackbutteranch.com

Quail Run Golf Course
Greens fees: $24-$40; 800-895-GOLF

Need more information? Contact the Central Oregon Visitor's Bureau at 888-350-8017 or go to www.visitcentraloregon.com.
The Ridge Course (6,927 yards, par 72), designed by John Thronson, is fairly straightforward, with large greens that break predominantly toward a nearby butte. For lunch, try the surprisingly good hot dogs in the pro shop.

The Resort Course (6,673 yards, par 72) is the oldest of the trio and was crafted by Gene "Bunny" Mason. The standout hole: the 481-yard 2nd, which cuts through a canyon as it twists left and then right to a smallish green.

But the Mid Iron Course, a 4,160-yard par 63, is the newest and most intriguing at Eagle Crest. This tough, immaculate Thronson design features nine par 3s (the longest is the 188-yard 10th) and nine par 4s (ranging from the 259-yard 17th to the 398-yard 4th).

Be sure to check out the 18-hole putting course next to the Ridge Course. It comes complete with rough, trees, bunkers and even elevation changes, and at $8 for adults and $4 for children, it's a steal.

Aspen Lakes is William Overdorf's only design in Oregon. Overdorf worked his magic on a beautiful piece of property just outside the town of Sisters. It's hard to beat this 7,302-yard, par-72 track for natural beauty, with ponderosa pines and views of mountains almost everywhere you look. There's a refreshing variety of holes; perhaps the only downside of the routing is that the 462-yard 9th and the 583-yard 18th holes finish a half-mile hike from the clubhouse. But the course, which calls for few forced carries, is in such great shape that you won't mind the walk.

Just west of Sisters looms Black Butte Ranch, first developed as a tennis haven when it opened in 1969. Today its pair of golf courses attracts most of the attention. The original course is Big Meadow (6,850 yards, par 72), a 33-year-old Robert Muir Graves design that's fair to players of all skill levels. Glaze Meadow (6,574 yards, par 72), a Mason design that debuted in 1979, is a classic shotmaker's course. There's more water in play than on Big Meadow, and several holes are isolated in dense woods.

The toughest tee time in the area might be at Quail Run Golf Course, a 9-holer situated 15 minutes south of Sunriver. This 12-year-old layout (3,512 yards, par 36) is popular for both its affordability and quality. It offers solid, no-frills golf.

Get the real lay of the land at the High Desert Museum and Lava Lands, both off Interstate 97 between Bend and Sunriver. The spectacular topography you'll see there will give you some insight into the terrain you've been treading. And the best way to cool off might be whitewater rafting down the Deschutes. Hop in with Sun Country Tours (800-770-2161; www.suncountrytours.com), which has been running these trips for 25 years. One run down the rapids may convince you that you belong back on the golf courses.

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