Central Oregon, Part 3: A Land of Diversity

Well, I’m back in my hometown of Crescent City, CA for a few days, so hopefully I’ll have a little downtime to catch up on my reviews and photos. I’ll chip away one day at a time.

My last day in Bend on this trip was Monday and I was able to fit in two more courses before hitting the road again. By the end of my brief visit, I learned that Bend is a place full of diversity. Not only do a wide range of people call it home, but there’s plenty to choose from when it comes to golf courses, as well. I’m not sure I could have picked four more different courses to play while I was there. From the lush, forested Widgi Creek to the desolate desert terrain of Pronghorn to each of the two courses I played Monday…

River’s Edge Golf Course • Bend, OR • 7/1/13

My brother and I had to shuffle some things around for our Monday plans (long story, don’t ask), so this was the best option for an early morning round with a $52 GolfNow time at 7:12. That was the walking rate, so it cost us another $12 each for a cart. This would be a tough course to walk anyway.

We were the second twosome off the tee and enjoyed a nice quick morning pace. This is kind of a roller coaster of a course. It’s very hilly and it’s a lot of “target” golf–especially on the front nine. There aren’t too many flat lies on the course and it definitely would help to have some local knowledge. There are several holes with some unusual twists and turns, so knowing the right strategies would be beneficial.

It has plenty of “funky” elements that I know some golfers won’t like, but ultimately I found it to be a little more forgiving than it looks and very fun to play. And though not as perfectly manicured as some other Bend courses, it was in very good shape and the scenery is great with many awesome views of the whole city and valley below. Most of the course winds through a nice residential area, but the surrounding houses don’t come into play too much.

The very first hole starts off with a massive drop-off to a narrow fairway that doglegs severely to the left. The hill on the right side will feed things back to the middle if you miss on that side, but the rough is just deep enough to potentially catch your ball and leave you with a really awkward side-hill lie.

The signature hole at River’s Edge is the par-3 16th, which features a really elevated set of tee boxes and a straight drop down the hill to a green way below. It’s a fun hole and definitely the highlight of the course. Beyond those big drops, more holes play uphill than downhill, so a lot of the layout plays a bit longer than the scorecard yardage.

The course was in very good shape. The fairways were lush with only a few bad areas here and there. They seemed a bit greener and fuller on the back nine. The greens were nice without too many unrepaired marks and smooth surfaces. The bunkers had pretty good sand. A few of the tee boxes (whites) had some lumpy spots, but usually easy to find a nice level area to set up. The rough was lush in most areas, but there were plenty of bare spots and patchy sections. Lots of ground squirrels here doing their thing, which always leads to some damage on the outer edges.

With a layout some might deem too funky, this course is not for everyone, but others might consider it a very fun layout. The scenery and setting are nice and the elevated views are fantastic distractions to help you forget about how tricky the course is at times.

Some pictures from River’s Edge Golf Course (7/1/13):

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My brother left after that round to hit the road early on the way to our next destination (the coast), but of course I stuck around to squeeze one more round in at one of the place I was heart-set on playing during this visit.

Tetherow Golf Club • Bend, OR • 7/1/13

Originally, we were planning to play here mid-morning, but the change of plans hinted at earlier led to me to cancel that time. I could see on their online times their tee sheet was wide open the rest of the day, so I wasn’t too worried about it. However, when I called in the morning they made things sound not so promising.

The main issue here is that they require guests to play with a forecaddie and they are scheduled out at least a day in advance. So it’s not a place where you can just walk into the pro shop and tee it up the same day. But in talking with the nice guy in the pro shop (Kelly), he was able to work it out for me and lock me in for a noon tee time as a single. Otherwise, I would have had to wait until 2:00 for them to pair me with another twosome that already had a reservation. Thanks, Kelly!

Basically, the deal was I would just be playing alongside one of the caddies, who was on an off-day, but planning to come out and play the course anyway. He would be my playing partner and also my caddie to some degree. It was kind of unusual because it was like playing with a guy who really knew the course and was helpful from time to time (raking bunkers, etc.), but not quite as overzealous to serve as a regular caddie would be. Still, I had to tip him at the end and we had fun out there. He told me a lot about Tetherow and some other area courses.

One of the reasons I wanted to play Tetherow on this trip (beyond just its reputation as one of the best in Central Oregon) is because I had my OB Sports discount card. That made the price $125 instead of the $175 it would have been without it. Though still expensive, I’m always happy to get a better deal whenever I can. Hardly anybody was out there on a slow Monday afternoon, so we made a great pace around the course of about three hours. That was good because I had a bit of a drive still ahead of me that evening.

Tetherow definitely stands out from other Bend courses because of its true links style design. The course architect was David McLay Kidd, the Scottish designer who famously designed the original Bandon Dunes course and helped put Oregon on the world’s golf radar. There’s no doubt Bend is already loaded even more than Bandon with a lot more courses and diversity in designs, so the addition of Tetherow (which is one of the newest courses there) makes it an even more desirable destination to compete with its coastal counterpart.

Though located just a few miles up the road from tree-rich Widgi Creek, Tetherow is completely different terrain. Part of that is because of a large wildfire that wiped out much of the trees and paved the way for a more open links style design. It definitely feels like some of the Bandon Dunes courses at points, just with different scenery (Cascades and high desert terrain instead of ocean dunes). There are a few somewhat forested sections, but mostly it plays in a pretty open expanse of land. Though there are no major changes in elevation, there is plenty of contour and not too many flat lies on the entire course. Every hole is packed with large mounds and severe slopes to put a premium on positioning. Though most fairways are quite wide, you still want to be in the right spots.

There weren’t as many bunkers at Tetherow as I expected, but my caddie also told me they took a few out after the first couple years when members complained the course was too difficult. If you want to know how to pronounce Tetherow, just know it kind of rhymes with “Death Row.” That is the locals’ nickname for the course, if that gives you an idea of its degree of difficulty. The greens here are the most challenging aspect, with some crazy shapes and extreme undulations. Sometimes you can play the slopes to your advantage and other times they can drive you nuts. They also had some insane pin positions that day, which made things extra tough.

The other most challenging element is just the old-fashioned links style design/conditioning itself. You are forced to play shots you aren’t used to. Throughout the fairways and around the greens, the lies are as tight as tight can be. Things like chipping and hitting delicate pitch shots just aren’t easy to accomplish on this shaved-down fescue turf, so different strategies (such as putting from way off the green) can often be applied if you are confident enough. The problem is, most people don’t practice these kinds of shots and it’s hard to feel comfortable with anything. Personally, I had one of the best ball-striking days I’ve had in awhile. I was playing great from tee to green, but my short game (usually my biggest strength) was a complete mess because I just couldn’t hit the shots I was used to and the greens are very difficult to read without any personal experience on them.

The greens are a mix of fescue, bent and poa annua grasses, which I found interesting, but I am no turf expert so I am not sure if it’s that unusual. Like you’ll find at Bandon, they look like they’ll be bumpy and slow, but they are smooth and quick.

Oh well, I still had a blast on this great course. The signature hole here is the par-3 17th, which is kind of an old quarry looking hole with huge side walls and nothing but crusty rocks and desert sand between you and the green. It’s a great-looking hole with some of the Cascade mountain peaks as the backdrop.

I would recommend Tetherow in a heartbeat, especially if you can get a decent deal like I did. It’s vastly different than anything else in Bend and a good alternative to Bandon if you are forced to choose between Oregon’s two top golf destinations.

Some pictures from Tetherow Golf Club (7/1/13):

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My caddie also recommended that I take the McKenzie Pass on the drive over to Florence that evening. He told me it was worth the slight side-trip and it certainly was. It was a windy two-lane road that seemed to go on forever, but the middle section was through the “Sea of Lava” and really neat. It’s just nothing but jagged black volcanic rock for miles and miles in the middle of all the mountains.

At the heart of it all sits a very unique monument called the Dee Wright Observatory. It was built during the Great Depression and it’s a large tower constructed completely of lava rock. When you climb to the top, you are treated with 360-degree views of the entire valley and all the mountain peaks. Inside, there are these little portholes in the wall that tell you exactly which mountain you are looking at (Hood, Jefferson, The Sisters, Black Butte, etc.). It was a really cool experience and I’m glad I took that scenic route.

Here are some pictures from the Dee Wright Observatory:

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