written by Bob Woodward
Mention golf and most Oregonians will conjure up images of the state’s impressive woodland and seaside eighteen-hole courses known regionally and worldwide.
But there’s another side to Oregon golf, and it’s closer to Caddyshack than caddies when it comes to relaxed dress codes and overall informality. These are the dozens of par-three and executive courses, with a few par-four holes added in for flavor, across the state that are open to those who love golf but who may be short on time, money, skills or any combination thereof. These are courses where you don’t have to lug around a hefty bag full of a wide assortment of clubs. They measure between 800 and 3,200 yards in length, with most holes 60 to 300 yards. Green fees, meanwhile, cost between $5 and $20 per round, less than what you’d pay in tips or to wet your whistle at most courses.
Character begins at Kinzua Hills Golf Club near the town of Fossil in Eastern Oregon.
The town where the club lies is officially a ghost town, deserted. An annual influx of avid golfers, however, bring living spirits back every year. They park their motor homes, campers or tents near the first hole for a few weeks, even months at a time.
Constructed in the 1930s as a recreation asset for employees at the Kinzua Corporation logging company, the course eventually fell into disuse and disrepair and became the home field for a semi-pro baseball team. Revived for golf in 1951, it was eventually sold to a group of avid golfers known as the Kinzua Hills Golf Association.
There’s no clubhouse pro, club rentals or driving range at Kinzua. The course is, as it always has been, composed of six holes. It costs $5 per six, and you pay simply by slipping the money into a drop box on the first tee. There’s an old story that cows and rattlesnakes once held the right-of-way. Course manager Don York laughs at the notion, though he’d never heard that before. “But if I see a rattler out there, I’m going after it with a golf club,” he reckons. “Me and rattlers don’t get along.”
Though wildlife didn’t pose a problem when he first played Kinzua, Bend High School teacher and former Bend mayor Steve Stenkamp fondly recalls an experience there fifteen years ago.
“A friend and I made a pilgrimage up there, put our five bucks in the box for six holes of play and off we went,” says Stenkamp. “When we finished that six, we decided to play another six. So we teed off, planning to pay when we got back. We hadn’t walked more than thirty yards down the first fairway when the course maintenance man at the time—a gent well into his eighties—came out and accused us of thievery for not paying before playing. It took some time to convince him that we were going to pay. Nevertheless, he followed us for the six holes and made sure we put money in the box at the end of the round.”
Leaving the rural confines of Wheeler County, those interested in the combination of golf with craft beer, a tasty meal, a movie, an outdoor concert or a dip in a soothing soaking pool at the end of a rigorous round of pitch-and-putt golf should consider playing one of two three-par, nine-hole “pub” courses at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale.
A former county work farm was converted to a lodging and dining property with the distinctive McMenamins’ flair, Edgefield’s golf experience is the sport at its most civilized. Make a shot, have a quaff. Repeat as needed per nine holes.
When it comes to downing a celebratory drink, perhaps a mint julep might be the appropriate choice at the Bayou Golf Course in McMinnville. Built in 1964, the course could have received its name from its lush tree-canopied, Natchez-like setting along the banks of the South Yamhill River or its antebellum clubhouse set on a hill above the course like a Gone With the Wind replica.
In truth, the course name comes from the fact that the course floods once a year, transforming it into a bayou. The floodwaters recede quickly, leaving a challenging nine.
Going south, as in the southern Oregon Coast, Bandon is the home to several of the best eighteen-hole courses in North America and, as many golf writers claim, in the world.
Instead of fighting corporate jetters for tee times at the nearby world-famous resorts, consider playing at Bandon Face Rock Golf Course. Nestled into the countryside next to the Inn of the Face Rock, the course is 2,222 yards long with a par of thirty-two. It is reminiscent of dozens of small-town links courses in Scotland and Ireland—rough hewn, cut through sandy soil, breezy but not far from libations at the inn after dropping a quadruple bogey.
For those who want a feel of what golf was like in the 1920s, Bandon Face Rock offers “Hickory Golf.” That’s play with hickory shaft clubs, such as those used by the greats Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen in their heyday. Consider dressing in the formal “plus-fours”—white business shirt and tie, tweed jacket and slicking down your hair—before embarking on your round of hickory golf.
Heading north along the coast, try the Bay Breeze Golf Club in Tillamook. At the intersection of Highway 101 and Latimer Road, the course is adjacent to the famous Tillamook cheese factory.
Production water from the factory issues into a man-made stream and eventually flows into the Wilson River. En route, the stream cuts through the Bay Breeze course so frequently that players have to hit over water six times in any round. One of the greens is—save for a sliver of connecting land—essentially a rare Oregon island green.
If nine holes aren’t on the agenda when visiting Bay Breeze, there’s a covered driving range and a manicured eighteen-hole putting course.
Heading even farther north along the coast, Highlands Golf Club in Gearhart is laid out so it meanders through sand dunes with views out over the Pacific Ocean on several holes. Highlands is a classic links course with four par-fours to augment five three-par holes.
This is a classic walk-up-and-play course. It’s also one where it’s good to know how to shape shots and play out of the sand to score decently.
Away from the coast and over the Cascades, just outside of Klamath Falls, is Round Lake Golf Club—notable for its location within an RV park. That’s right. Pull in, hook up and then go play nine.
All of the nearly 1,700-yard, par-thirty course is nestled in a pine forest and is designed “for middle- and older-aged folks,” says Round Lake pro Chuck Michielsen. More than likely, these golfers will be traveling in their own overnight lodging accommodations.
A couple of hours north and into different terrain, Desert Peaks Golf Course on the mesa due west of downtown Madras arguably has one of the most spectacular views of any course in Oregon. To the south, the view encompasses the snow-capped Three Sisters. Swinging north are the white peaks of Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson.
Often referred to as “a local track anyone can play,” Desert Peaks is noted for its Friday evening couples tournaments, and the annual “Duffers and Dolls Tournament” held every June. This event dates back to the early 1960s.
Back over the Cascades along I-5 in Southern Oregon, Red Mountain Golf Course in Grants Pass is named for a nearby peak. This was a par-three course until 2005, when five holes were lengthened into par-fours.
Red Mountain is noted as being testy, especially its eighth hole, which is dubbed the “Volcano.” It has a steep-sided, bowl-like caldera shape that confounds even the best golfers.
“It’s a really tight, short hole with no room for error, and people either love it or hate it,” notes course owner Brad Vandehey. “The eighth hole is a real test of nerves.”
Just a few exits north of Grants Pass and not far off I-5, Laurel Hill Golf Course near Gold Hill has been open for thirty-seven years. The attraction is the narrow pine-lined fairways and small greens. In short, it’s tough golf.
Laurel Hill is proof indeed that you don’t have to play a full eighteen at a long course to experience the game at its toughest. Thankfully the clubhouse snack bar is well stocked with beverages for post-round liquid rounds.
No matter which course you play, keep close to mind the words of actor—and avid golfer—Sean Connery who said, in the book Good Golf Guide To Scotland, that all golfers are “certifiable: the mutterings to no one in particular, with a whine in the voice that loving parents would not permit in their own children; the numbing disbelief at the lack of justice; glazed eyes, somehow hissing ‘what luck’ through clenched lips and teeth; not to mention the calisthenics on the course in search of that elusive swing.”
Kinzua Hills Golf Club
Length: 1,463 yards
Holes: East course 12 | West course 20
Length: East course 670 yards | West course 1,200 yards
Cost: East course $12 | West course $18
Bayou Golf Course
Length: 3,103 yards
Cost: $17.50 ($14.50 seniors)
Red Mountain Golf Course
Location: Grants Pass
Length: 2,000 yards
Cost: $12 ($11 seniors)
Bandon Rock Face Club
Length: 2,200 yards
Round Lake Golf Course
Location: Klamath Falls
Length: 1,670 yards
Highlands Golf Course
Length: 1,794 yards
Bay Breeze Golf Course
Length: 1,942 yards
Cost: $15 ($12 seniors)
Laurel Hill Golf Course
Location: Gold Hill
Length: 1,900 yards
Top 11 Oregon Little Gems
Tokatee Golf Club
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,245 yards | Par 72
Bandon Crossings Golf Course
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,170 yards | Par 72/71
Sandpines Golf Links
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,602 yards | Par: 72
Meadow Lakes Golf Course
18 holes| Blue tees: 5,849 yards | Par 72
Chehalem Glenn Golf Course
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,572 yards | Par 72
Manzanita Golf Course
9 holes | 2,192 yards | Par 32
Alpine Meadows Golf Course
9 holes | Blue tees: 3,078 yards | Par 36
Club: 5,392 yards | Par 72/71
Wildhorse Golf Club
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,335 yards | Par 72
Quail Point Golf Course
9 holes | Blue tees: 3,034 yards | Par 35
Indian Creek Golf Course
18 holes | White tees: 5,413 yards | Par 72
Top 10 Oregon Golf Courses
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
18 holes | Green tees: 6,221 yards | Par 72
18 holes | Green tees: 6,142 yards | Par 71
Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club
18 holes: | Blue tees: 6,386 yards | Par 71
Pronghorn Club, Jack Nicklaus Signature Course
18 holes | Rust tees: 6,533 yards | Par 72
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,811 yards | Par 72
Eugene Golf & Country Club
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,854 yards | Par 72
The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club, South Course
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,809 yards | Par 72
Glaze Meadow Golf Course
Black Butte Ranch
Blue tees: 6,506 yards | Par 72
Tetherow Golf Club
18 holes | Tan tees: 6,111 yards | Par 72
Trysting Tree Golf Club
18 holes | Blue tees: 6,674 yards | Par 72