As my holiday trip continued, I made my way down the beautiful Oregon Coast. This is one of my favorite places on earth and I’m getting pretty close to having played all the courses along this stretch. I was able to check a few more off the list on this visit and I will feature them all in this article.
As I was driving from Vancouver to Newport the day after Christmas, I rolled into Astoria (as in “Goonies never say die!”) with enough time to play one of the area’s short courses…
Lewis & Clark Golf & RV Park • Astoria, OR • 12/16/17
Astoria itself only has two golf courses and the other one is private (Astoria Golf & Country Club). It may be accessible, but I didn’t have time for a full 18 anyway and I’ll have to look into it more next time I am around here. Then, there are a few courses in nearby Gearhart and Seaside to round out the minimal golf list in the far northwest part of the state.
Lewis & Clark RV Park has a few attached activities. They also have a foot golf course integrated with the regular golf course. It sounds like they also have a few disc golf baskets they’ll put up during other parts of the year. Only the regular golf course was open in winter and it was completely deserted when I arrived around 2:00.
The small pro shop was closed, but there was an honor box outside with scorecards and course information available. The winter rate was $10 for nine holes. I only had a $20, though. Thankfully, the RV Park office had change and I was able to just pay for golf in there.
Lewis & Clark is a regulation 9-hole layout that features seven par-4s and only one par-5 and par-3 each. Several of the par-4s are under 300 yards, while a few are more average in length. The par-3 is 108 yards and the par-5 is a pretty standard 502.
The terrain here is very flat and wide open. In some ways it feels like a cow pasture that they just converted into a golf course at some point. There are some creeks that meander throughout to provide some sense of direction. Otherwise, it’s pretty sprawling across a big field.
Absolutely the most interesting thing about Lewis & Clark is that it is the first course I’ve ever played with astroturf greens. The tees, fairways and rough are all normal grass and, to be honest, were fairly well kept. I am not sure why they opted to go with fake turf on the greens, but I guess that gives them an excuse not to mow as often—especially during the rainy season. Each green had two different hole locations pre-cut so they can change up the hole positions a little if they want.
Not only were the greens astroturf, but they were super tiny and extremely firm. No matter what type of shot you play, I’m not sure it’s possible to hold them. The grass around them was soft and several greens had a large, thick collar of rough in place of what might normally be a fringe cut. Anything landing short would stick and stop. Anything landing on a green would bounce and I don’t think any amount of backspin would help much. They were crazy!
The only saving grace was that they were rebuilding three of the turf greens, so they had temporary real grass greens cut. You could at least get a ball to stop on them, but they were really shaggy and slow. The one thing I can say about the fake turf greens is that they were pretty nice to putt on once you finally got your ball on the surface.
The only other exciting thing that happened here was a wildlife sighting. There’s a bigger creek along the 7th hole and I saw a critter by the tee box as I made my way over from the 6th green. However, it skittered into the water before I could get a good look. Being that I was in Oregon, my first thought was that it was a beaver. After watching it and another one swim around in the water a bit, I think they might actually have been small river otters or possibly just muskrats. I am no water rodent expert. They didn’t look like they had the flat beaver tails, though it was hard to see with the tails mostly underwater. Either way, it was fun to watch them swim around the creek for a bit.
As I mentioned, the grass throughout this course was pretty decently taken care of. It was pretty lush and green. It wasn’t too shaggy, so they must have mowed somewhat recently. However, there were definitely some big muddy and mushy spots to avoid.
Unless you want to torture yourself on the tiny turf greens, this is not a course I would recommend. Best to leave it to the RV park guests.
Some pictures from Lewis & Clark Golf & RV Park (12/26/17):
I spent the next few days visiting my friend in Toledo, which is just inland from Newport. It rained hard the whole time there, though I really wasn’t expecting to play any golf during this leg of the trip anyway.
On Saturday, I got back on the road and continued down the coast toward my hometown of Crescent City. This is where I normally spend Christmas because it’s where my dad lives. I just came down to stop for the night before continuing all the way home from there. Thankfully, this day was the best weather of the entire trip and it led to some great golf…
Watson Ranch Golf Course • Coos Bay, OR • 12/30/17
Having already played all the Bandon courses that are currently open, this course was highest in priority for the southern coastal region. I actually tried to play here last year, but I was frosted out that morning and had to move on. This time, I purposely showed up a bit later to avoid any frost delays. The course was open for play and I teed off by myself around 10:45. I played through a few people along the way and finished fairly quickly.
The winter price felt a bit steep at $55, and that’s with them giving me a slight discount on the solo cart rental ($15 instead of the usual $17 for a single player). I will say the guy in the pro shop was super nice and one of the more friendly course workers I’ve encountered in some time. He welcomed me, gave me a few pointers and got me set for my round.
I’m not sure how this course eluded me all these years because I certainly should have already played it by now. Outside of the Bandon Dunes Resort, which still isn’t that old, there are only a handful of regulation 18-hole courses along the entire Oregon Coast. And as it turns out, Watson Ranch is easily one of the best in this category.
I do know the course used to be called Coos Country Club and I’m pretty sure it was private then (at least I assumed that to be the case at the time). I believe the name didn’t change until 2006. Also, up until a few years ago I thought it was just another 9-hole course. I wondered if I may have had it confused with another course in Coos Bay that was called Kentuck, which unfortunately closed before I could play it.
It turns out I had some reason to be confused. The back nine was not added until 1998 according to their website. The original 9 was constructed in 1923 by H. Chandler Egan while the second nine was designed by Bill Robinson.
However this course came to be what it is today, they certainly live up to their own billing as the “Best Kept Secret on the Oregon Coast.” This is a really neat course that truly deserves more attention. Now I’m sad I didn’t play it sooner, but I am glad I got to experience it on such a beautiful clear winter day.
The two nines here definitely have a different vibe. The front is tighter with more trees and doglegs in play. The back opens up somewhat as you play through a marshy area early on before getting back into the hills and woods again. There are some great water hazards in play, a number of elevated greens and the changes in elevation are used well throughout the course.
Each nine has several memorable holes. The 7th, 14th and 15th are a few that come to mind. However, it’s the collection of par-3s here that really stands out. They are all cool holes in their own ways.
The 4th is a downhill hole lined by rows of tall trees on either side. It looks really nice. The 6th is in a back corner of the property with a short iron/wedge shot directly over a water hazard to a green perched up on the other side.
The 13th is a fun uphill par-3 playing over the marsh to an elevated green. Last but certainly not least is the signature 16th hole. Though the slick cart path was sketchy, the pro shop guy insisted I head up to the back tees when I reached this hole. I would have anyway for my pictures, but I like that he made the suggestion so clearly.
This hole features a huge drop-off from tee to green as you hit over a water hazard, especially from the back blue tee boxes that are set way up on the hillside. I was playing the white tees, which were about halfway back down the hill and still quite fun. The tee set up definitely reminded me of the “Lombard Street” hole down at Salmon Run. In fact, the layout and terrain of this course made Salmon Run come to mind a lot. Bandon Crossings also has some comparisons to be made.
Unfortunately, Salmon Run has struggled a lot in recent years. That course is still special to me, though, so I am always rooting for it to do well. In some ways, Watson Ranch felt like what Salmon Run could be again with an economic recovery and maybe some renovations. Neither will or should try to compete with the world-class level resort, but they are great courses for locals that can also benefit from the out-of-town golf traffic that Bandon Dunes creates. Watson Ranch is only about a half hour north of the resort and would be a great add-on for any Bandon golf trip you are planning.
Even though Watson has been there all along, Oregon Coast golf continues to get more and more exciting for someone like me. Salishan, Bandon Crossings, Watson Ranch, Salmon Run, Sandpines, Gearhart and Ocean Dunes (ranked in that order for me) are all worthy 18-hole courses to complement the special place they’ve created at Bandon Dunes. Now, it seems the once-secret Bally Bandon Sheep Ranch course will be developed by Gil Hanse as another course for the resort. The much-anticipated Pacific Gales also seems really close to breaking ground about a half hour south of Bandon. I still hold onto the hopes that the Crook Point (with a proposed Perry Dye design) course happens someday, too. That one was slated to be somewhere in between Brookings and Gold Beach.
And, as you’ll see later in this post, there are some 9-holers along the coast that are also pretty enjoyable. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sunset Bay, Forest Hills, Cedar Bend, Crestview, Olalla Valley or Agate Beach as good 9-hole regulation options to consider. There are still a handful further north I need to play, but I won’t be surprised if some of them are also decent.
Sorry, I got sidetracked there. I love talking about Oregon golf, but back to Watson Ranch. Conditions were quite good overall. There were definitely some soggy sections after a few days of heavy rain. Otherwise, things were nicely conditioned. The bunkers I was in all had different types of sand. However, they were all pretty nice to play from. The greens were excellent. They were receptive due to the dampness, though still not super soft. They were rolling quite smooth at medium/fast speeds. Downhill putts were especially challenging!
If you couldn’t tell, I really loved Watson Ranch and it’s a secret that needs to get out.
Some pictures from Watson Ranch Golf Course (12/30/17):
This is a picture I took last year in the frost:
This is what I was greeted with this time:
The 16th from the top tee view:
From a little further down the hill:
Not a great shot because of the sun, but I wanted to show looking back at how the tees are stacked. The back/blue tees are about ¾ of the way up the picture on the right between the two tallest trees.
Next comes the last course I would play on this trip—or should I say slip? I was hoping to play in Northern California as I continued my way home the next day. Unfortunately, I had a bit of an accident at this next course and it ended up being my final round of 2017…
Sunset Bay Golf Course • Coos Bay, OR • 12/30/17
Though not far as the crow flies from Watson Ranch, it’s about a 20-30 minute drive along some winding back roads as you make your way to Sunset Bay. I drove over there and the course was pretty wide open despite being such a nice day. There was a threesome on the first tee and another group out on the course that I could see.
I checked in and paid my $20 to walk nine holes. The pro shop is atop a hillside and the first tee is down at the bottom. I maybe should have taken the long way around using the cart path, but there were steps leading right down to the tee box. With just a few steps left, my soft spikes slipped on the very slick wooden steps. My right ankle bent very awkwardly underneath me and for a few minutes there I actually thought I may have broken something. I just laid there in pain for a few minutes before attempting to move.
After limping around a bit, I was pretty sure nothing was broken, but walking nine holes with my bag on my back was surely out of the question. I hobbled back up to the pro shop and the guy was super nice. I asked if I could rent a cart and he ended up letting me have it for free. I definitely would not have made it around the course otherwise as I basically played on one foot (actually played better than I would have expected).
I ended up playing through that threesome and getting around as quickly as I could. The drive down to Crescent City was uncomfortable because it was my driving foot. With any hopes for golf scrapped on Sunday, I ended up driving all the way home (about 14 hours to Rancho Mirage) with the bad foot. That was fun! I am happy to report that it’s feeling much better now, though it will be tender for at least a few more weeks. I have some great golf coming up soon, so I’m gonna have to wrap it up and power through it.
The injury took away from some enjoyment of Sunset Bay, but I was still impressed with the course for what it is. This is a 9-hole regulation layout with slightly different tees for front and back nine play. Both sides measure out to just over 3,000 yards on either side and it’s a standard set of five par-4s, two par-5s and two par-3s.
The course was designed by John Zoller, who is one of the main men behind the development of Poppy Hills. The terrain here is very flat and pretty open. There are some creeks running throughout that essentially shape the holes and provide some natural hazards to avoid. Some trees come more into play in the last few holes, as well.
The course was lush and green, and it looked fantastic in the late afternoon shadows on a pretty clear day. As expected, there were some wet spots to avoid, but overall things were pretty well maintained from tee to green. The greens were soft, spongy and slow, however, and the bunkers were washed out and/or compacted.
Sunset Bay isn’t anything overly exciting and it doesn’t hold a candle to its crosstown neighbor. However, it is yet another better-than-average 9-hole course along the Oregon Coast.
Some pictures from Sunset Bay Golf Course (12/30/17):