It’s been a few years since I last played my “home away from home” course of Salmon Run in Brookings, Oregon (southern coast, about 1.5 hours south of Bandon). I don’t think I’ve posted a review of it since back in 2011, which is when I started this crazy blog. After playing here again during my recent Christmas trip, I figured it’s about time to do an updated review.
No matter what this course goes through, I will always have a soft spot for Salmon Run. It’s only about a half hour from my hometown of Crescent City, CA. It didn’t exist when I was growing up and playing golf as a youngster, but I was excited when it opened in 1999. With only two 9-hole courses in Crescent City, it was cool to get a full 18-hole design to play when I was back home—at least one that was closer and much more affordable than Bandon Dunes!
To say the idea of Salmon Run was a bit too ambitious for this region is a massive understatement. They built a really beautiful and unique golf course in a secluded setting, but the local economy just couldn’t support something this nice. Initially, they set the prices too high and had bold plans for this as a destination course like Bandon Dunes. That never came to fruition and it struggled year after year. Eventually, it closed down for some time a few years back as the owners tried to sell it. The city of Brookings took it over and have been working to improve it since. That said, it will probably never be what it was originally meant to be as a top-notch course.
As for the course itself, Salmon Run offers a really fun design. It is quirky at times and is the epitome of “target golf” with narrow fairways, lots of trees and tricky natural slopes. It’s not the type of course everyone will enjoy playing, but it suits my game nicely. It features a beautiful setting with no houses around and a wonderful natural feel. I’ve seen deer grazing on the fairways most times I’ve been here over the years.
The signature hole is the par-3 4th, which features a large island green that you pass right after you enter the gates and work your way back to the small clubhouse. It used to be known as “Lombard Street” because of the zig-zagging cart path that took you up to the top of a steep hill. That path is still there and you always have the option to walk up (carefully, I might add) and hit a tee shot from one of those original upper tees. However, the “normal” tee boxes are now off to the side and not nearly as spectacular. The path was just a bit too slippery and dangerous, so they decided to alter the primary tee locations permanently.
Another more recent change came in the form of shortening what was a short and super tight par-4 2nd hole. It now plays as a mid-range par-3. It’s a bit awkward now in terms of the routing, but it is probably a better hole as a par-3 as it features one of the more interesting green complexes on the course (multi-tiered, though the shelves aren’t as pronounced as they once used to be). They’ve taken out a number of sand traps over the years and made some other slight modifications like moving the 8th green further right than it used to be.
I should note that Salmon Run is a course that is best played in the summer when things are drier and better maintained. Unfortunately, I typically only get to experience it in the winter when things are usually sloppy wet. I don’t think they built this course with the proper sand base for the amount of rain this area gets every winter. Then, there are also a lot of low spots and shaded areas because of the hilly/wooded terrain. The tee boxes and greens hold up for the most part, but the fairways and rough areas just become mud and mush in the winter months. You can almost always expect it to be cart path only this time of year, but it is what it is and I’ve become used to it.
Honestly, this course needs a complete ground-up restoration with a better sand base throughout to stand up to the wet season. The layout is fun and funky, so I wouldn’t change what I’ve grown to love. I would find a way to make the path up to the original 4th tee boxes safer, so all players can enjoy that awesome signature view of the island green. There is so much I’d love to do with this course if I had unlimited time and money. As it is, Salmon Run will probably always be a “cool course” with “so much potential to be greater” kind of place.
Another issue is the pricing. They still charge more than they probably should considering they don’t really draw a lot of traveling players (the types willing to shell out a bit more for a destination course) and most locals aren’t looking to spend so much for golf. The closing of Del Norte Golf Course may have helped a little in recent years, though rumors are that it has been bought and will reopen eventually.
Despite the fact there was hardly anyone there on a Monday in December, they still wanted $45 (cart included) for 18 holes. My brother and I waited for the twilight rate of $25 to start at 1:30, which is kind of late when it’s dark by 5:00 and they want carts in by 4:45. Still, we basically had the course to ourselves and had no problem finishing. I think an earlier twilight time in winter would be better for business. Really, they should be happy getting any business they can this time of year.
With all these factors, it’s easy to understand why Salmon Run has struggled so much and will probably always be fighting to stay alive. At the same time, I love a lot about this course and it will always be a sentimental favorite of mine. I don’t want it to close down, but I do hope for some serious improvements to be made someday.
Some pictures from Salmon Run Golf Course (12/23/19):
(Click on any picture below to pull up a gallery slideshow.)