Bandon might be the pinnacle of golf in the Pacific Northwest, but despite the array of world-class courses, it’s not for everyone — mainly because it is walking-only, has unpredictable weather and lacks non-golf activities. For families that are looking for summer fun (biking, fishing, river-rafting) with their golf, try Oregon’s other “B”: Bend. A three-hour drive southeast of Portland and sheltered from coastal storms by the Cascade Mountains, Bend is the perfect retreat, no matter what your game.
Even at Bend’s 3,625-foot elevation, this Bob Cupp/John Fought design will wear you out, thanks to flattish, hard-to-hit fairways that are hemmed in by bands of wispy fescues. Things don’t get much easier from the short grass, with forced carries galore over ponds, wetlands, the Deschutes River and the Little Deschutes River. The strength of the layout is its collection of beautiful, if brutal, par-4s, but two gargantuan par-5s — the 635-yard 6th and the 687-yard 12th — will haunt you.
Located approximately 30 miles northwest of Bend, the Big Meadow course at Black Butte Ranch is a walkable, 40-year-old track designed by Robert Muir Graves. The layout is primarily defined by the large, shallow splashes of sand and trees that help squeeze the landing areas on many of the holes. The par-5s are noteworthy, especially the 535-yard 10th, which swings hard to the right and dares big hitters to take a shortcut over the corner. In truth, this is exactly the kind of course you want to play on the first day of your vacation, unlike its sister track, Glaze Meadow, which calls for bow-and-arrow accuracy.
What distinguishes Tetherow from other Bend courses is a wildfire that decimated the property’s tree cover 15 years ago and opened up views of nine mountains. But it’s the ground underfoot that deserves your attention. Architect David McLay Kidd has infused the terrain with a staggering array of humps and bumps, both on the fairways and on the wildly rolling greens. Even so, most memorable is the aerial assault required at the 182-yard, par-3 17th, which plays to a green isolated by sand and scrub. If creative shots and skillful putting are your forte, you’ll quickly warm to Tetherow.
There’s no denying which Sunriver course reigns supreme, but there’s considerable debate as to which should be considerd the second best. While the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Woodlands possesses more drama (lakes, elevated greens and rock outcroppings), Travelin’ Joe votes for the Meadows, a 1999 John Fought redesign that plays like an early American classic, with brilliant strategic bunkering and subtly contoured greens. Neither is the equal of the superb Crosswater layout, though. Meadows’ 9-hole, Fought-designed putting course, along with a 9-hole Bob Cupp-designed par-3 track nearby, called Caldera Links, makes Sunriver perfect for family outings.
Debating the second-best options here is a little like Phil vs. Padraig — both have their supporters, but it’s still an argument over the supporting cast. The top dog remains undisputed….