With more than 200 golf courses to choose from in Oregon, many award-winning, it was not an easy task to whittle them down to just three. The purpose of our planned trip, though, was to test our skills on links-style courses, as well as to review the associated lodgings and restaurants. So, eventually, we made our selection and plotted a route from eastern Oregon to the coast, with an average drive time of three and a half hours between stays.
We had read many favorable reviews in golf magazines of our first stop, Silvies Valley Ranch. Located in central Oregon, the ranch dates to 1883 and was purchased in 2007 by Scott Campbell, a successful veterinarian with deep local roots. He and his family restored the property to health after years of misuse, and it is now a 140,000-acre working ranch specializing in organic beef and goat. In 2017, the Campbells decided to add a resort and built 34 cabins and lodge rooms. In addition to the usual dude-ranch activities, Silvies has a large spa and four golf courses.
The drive to Seneca from the Boise, Idaho, airport takes slightly over three hours, and en route the landscape changes from desert to a mix of sagebrush and ponderosa pines. (Private aircraft can also fly in and out of the resort’s paved airfield.) On arrival, we exchanged our car for a fancy golf cart with camouflage paintwork. The package we booked included unlimited golf, spa access and meals (to which a 20 percent service charge is added to discourage tipping). Check-in was rather chaotic, as new staff were being trained, but eventually we were provided with laminated ID tags on lanyards and instructed to leave our luggage on the sidewalk near the lobby. We then loaded our cart with golf gear and headed straight to the clubhouse.
Perched high on a hill, it proved to be a beautifully designed barnlike structure, with a spacious bar and a terrace affording glorious views over the remote surrounding landscape. (There is no cell service — although Wi-Fi is available in the rooms — and walkie-talkies are provided for those who require them.) At the clubhouse, a friendly golf pro explained our options: a rare reversible course (that is, a layout that can be played in either direction on alternating days) with two 18-hole tracks, called Hankins and Craddock; Chief Egan, a nine-hole, par-3 course; and McVeigh’s Gauntlet, a fun seven holes that run through the hills, on which you have the option to be assisted by goat caddies.
That day, the main reversible course was set in the Hankins direction. The links-inspired tracks share 16 fairways and 27 greens and are the work of Dan Hixson, best known as the creator of the Bandon Crossings course in Oregon and the Wine Valley Golf Club in Washington. While Hankins was designed to require placement shots, most of the tee boxes were high enough for a confident swing, and the fairways were wide enough for my alternating slices and draws. However, the large greens were fast, which ultimately added several strokes to my score. And there were, it seemed, a hundred sand traps to avoid (though no water hazards). The last hole has markers to measure your drive, and thanks to a high tee box, a wide downhill fairway and an elevation of 4,500 feet, it provided a feel-good end to the round.
The links-inspired, reversible tracks share 16 fairways and 27 greens, and are the work of Dan Hixson, best known as the creator of Bandon Crossings in Oregon and Wine Valley Golf Club in Washington.
Back at the resort, we plugged our cart into an outdoor socket and discovered our luggage in the entryway to our Luxury Cabin Suite (there are eight). Constructed with log and wood paneling and a stone floor, our accommodations featured a great room with floor-to-ceiling windows, through which several pronghorn antelope could be seen grazing in a meadow below. The décor was Western throughout, with Native American blankets and antler chandeliers. In addition to casual leather seating around a stone fireplace, a more formal couch and armchairs faced the landscape, while a third area contained a six-person dining table. A fully equipped mini-kitchen came with a Keurig coffee machine and a stocked wine cabinet. The two bedrooms provided king-size beds and modern baths with copper faucets and rainfall showers. Outside was a small deck with a two-person hot tub. The resort also offers 18 Ranch House rooms, which are attractive but lack uninterrupted views.
Dinner is served in the Lodge promptly at 7 p.m. The evening begins with guests gathering at the long bar, where shelves are stocked with every spirit imaginable. We found our designated table and, famished after a day outdoors, headed immediately to the buffet. Although the presentation is informal, and the dishes little more than elevated comfort food, the quality was impressive. We enjoyed a delicious meal of barley-vegetable soup, smoked chevon (goat), carne asada, garlic roasted potatoes, a freshly baked sourdough loaf with rosemary and olives, and housemade huckleberry ice cream and oatmeal cookies. Afterward, we retired to an adjacent saloon with a pool table, a seating area with a large stone fireplace and a terrace with a fire pit and lounge chairs.
The following morning, we awoke to pouring rain, but since wildfires were still burning elsewhere in Oregon, we felt quite relieved. Also, it would likely mean smoke-free skies for the rest of our trip. We thoroughly enjoyed a substantial breakfast of Herder’s Rancheros with chorizo sausage and slices of Silvies steak. Suitably fortified, we headed out to play the reverse course, Craddock, this time in full rain gear. After nine holes, the sun struggled out and we were greeted by a double rainbow. Even though we had covered exactly the same tract of land the day before, the experience felt entirely different: There were only two instances where we were able to recognize the hole in the reverse direction.
Our exercise accomplished, we headed to the new 17,000-square-foot Rocking Heart Spa building. No one was at the front desk when we arrived for our appointment, so we explored on our own. The impressive facility features a lengthy lap pool, a rock-climbing wall and ample locker rooms with saunas. Back at the lobby, we found the spa manager. Our spa experiences were uneven. My stone message was very good, if a tad vigorous, while the other was rather clumsy, with a cold face towel not being replaced even after a specific request.
Fortunately, we had other opportunities to relieve some stress. One afternoon, we took a scenic 15-minute ride through the working side of the ranch to the gun range. There, we tested our skills with Japanese ninja throwing stars, axes and pistols, including a 9 mm, a .357 and a Colt 45, along with a .50-caliber handgun. The experience was safe and surprisingly exhilarating. A long-rifle range will open soon.
On our last morning, we were greeted by sunshine and elk in the meadow below our cabin. Before checkout, we had plenty of time to take on the short Gauntlet course. The goats (accompanied by guides) that serve as caddies can carry only seven clubs — and a few drinks. It proved to be an absurdly challenging par-3 course with one long putting hole and lots of hunting in the sagebrush for lost balls. To be honest, talking to the two guides and feeding peanuts to the goats provided the real charm.
The friendly staff; the remote location; the well-appointed accommodations; the limited number of guests; the all-you-can-play golf option.
The resort needs to hire additional staff, particularly in the spa.
Cabins are preferable to Ranch Rooms, due to their superior amenities and view; packages are a great way to experience everything for a reasonable price; be sure to book spa appointments well in advance.
Central Oregon has so many golf courses that the city of Bend has been dubbed “the Palm Springs of the North.” A few years ago, we enjoyed the remote Crosswater course, with its bentgrass fairways threaded by the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers, and other well-maintained courses like Meadows and Woodlands. The highest-ranked track in the area is the Jack Nicklaus course at Pronghorn Resort, which features steep canyons, as well as views of the Cascades from fairways lined by lava rocks and juniper trees. However, sticking with our links-style theme, we headed to Tetherow, designed by David McLay Kidd, whose other links courses include the Castle Course at St. Andrews and Machrihanish Dunes, both in Scotland, and the original track at Bandon Dunes.
Located 4 miles outside Bend, Tetherow has 50 rooms divided between two three-story lodges that flank its clubhouse, plus several private lodging options. Overall, it feels more like a residential golf community than a traditional hotel. Check-in took place in a small building that also contained a sales office. The front desk staff were very professional, however, and offered to help with our luggage.
Although the architecture of the lodges is unremarkable, we were impressed by the Owner’s Suite. Beyond the entryway, which provided space for our golf gear, we found a large room with two leather club chairs and a coffee table facing a gas fireplace, plus a king-size bed, an armoire and a tall chest of drawers. I also appreciated the small fridge and Nespresso machine. A modern bath, screened by a sliding opaque glass door, provided a Jacuzzi tub, a large shower and dual vanities. The suite’s best feature, however, was a terrace overlooking the golf course backed by the peaks of the Cascades. Alas, only half of the guest rooms have this view, so if you cannot reserve the Owner’s Suite, you would be well-advised to opt for one of the new two-bedroom Cairn Cottages.
We had planned on enjoying some poolside relaxation, but since it was too crowded for our taste, we explored the facilities at the Clubhouse. On its upper level, we found an expansive fitness complex with large windows facing forested hills. We enjoyed a soak in one of the two hot tubs, followed by glasses of wine beside a fire pit that was set on an adjacent patio lined with cabanas.
The next morning, after a satisfying breakfast of a Florentine omelet and avocado toast at The Row restaurant, we checked in at the course. Instead of a cart, we found that two golf scooters were available for our use. They were a sensible and fun option. (Those with the requisite balancing skills can opt for a GolfBoard instead.)
The course at Tetherow proved to be both intimidating and thrilling. The deceptively wide fairways, which wind through a mix of sagebrush and pine trees, were fast and, like true links courses, followed the (extremely undulating) terrain.
Built in 2008, the course at Tetherow proved to be both intimidating and thrilling. The deceptively wide fairways, which wind through a mix of sagebrush and pine trees, were fast and, like true links courses, followed the (extremely undulating) terrain. Even if my ball was heading down the middle, it usually didn’t stay there. The tiered greens were even faster and, being covered in “buried elephants,” extremely hard to 2-putt. Indeed, I had to mark an 8 on one par 3, even after I hit the green with my first shot. Several greens were atop steep plateaus and required skilled pitch shots, which, if missed, would helpfully deliver your ball back to your feet for another try. In general, the Tetherow track is as close to a true links course as is possible without being on a coastline. Each shot needed to be thought out. The fescue-lined bunkers seemed to be everywhere, as did water features, and wind was also a consistent factor. My favorite hole was a par 3 with a tee box high above an island green completely guarded by sand traps. From it, you could see the magnificent Three Sisters peaks jutting up over a sea of pines.
After an intense round, we settled our bets over IPAs and plotted dinner plans. Due to the pandemic, Tetherow’s fine-dining option, Solomon’s, was open only Wednesday through Saturday at the time of our stay. Being a Monday, we headed to Bend. There, we enjoyed dinner on the atmospheric patio at 900 Wall restaurant, located in the center of town. Starters of steak tartare with blue cheese-horseradish cream, and oysters from Netarts Bay, Oregon, were followed by duck confit with honeyed pistachios and balsamic-vanilla figs and a wagyu sirloin with a red wine-mushroom sauce and charred leeks. After dinner we walked around the pretty town, its streets lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques.
The challenging golf course; the glorious views of the Cascades; the proximity to downtown Bend.
The lack of a spa.
The Owner’s Suite can be reserved only by phone or through the Andrew Harper Travel Office. Scooters are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
The 260-mile drive from Bend to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort lasted almost five hours, but time passed quickly as we cruised from small town to small town through a picturesque landscape of lakes, rushing rivers and pine-covered hills. Bandon Dunes has five main courses, which promise golf in its purest form and provide an experience similar to the famous sandy links courses of Scotland. The original Bandon Dunes is now complemented by Pacific Dunes (the highest ranked of the five), Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald and, the latest addition, Sheep Ranch, which boasts a mile of ocean frontage. Each 18-hole track has its own clubhouse and restaurant. In addition, there is a short course, the 13-hole Bandon Preserve, which helps fund the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, a conservation group on the southern coast of Oregon, and a wild putting course called the Punchbowl. A 30-acre practice center is also available.
Bandon Dunes has five main courses, which promise golf in its purest form and provide an experience similar to the famous sandy links courses of Scotland.
There are five places to overnight: The Lodge, The Inn, Lily Pond, The Grove and Chrome Lake. We had hoped to stay at The Lodge, but it was full, so we reserved The Inn. This choice proved to be extremely disappointing. On opening the door to our room, we were astonished to find ourselves in the bathroom! Beyond it were two queen beds, a blond-oak locker and a matching oak table. A leather chair and ottoman were set near a bay window, through which we could plainly see the front desk clerk. Certainly, there were no “golf course or forest views,” as had been promised by the website. We headed back to The Lodge to see if better accommodations were available elsewhere. The woman at reception was gracious and suggested that we might be more comfortable in a recently renovated Lily Pond room. Thankfully, it was much bigger, with a fireplace, a significantly larger tiled bath and a little terrace from which you could hear the ocean.
For dinner on our first night, we had booked Trails End, an Asian-inspired restaurant, which overlooks the first fairway of the Bandon Trails course. We watched the sun set over the ocean as we enjoyed Korean short ribs with gochujang (red chile paste) and sesame, and beef tenderloin with udon noodles, mushrooms, bean sprouts and cilantro.
Since our tee time for the Pacific Dunes course was not until the early afternoon, we had plenty of time beforehand to hike down to the beach on a trail that winds through parts of the Trails and Preserve courses. Bandon Dunes is spread out on a glorious stretch of coastline with fine sand, shaggy dunes and heavy surf. We had the entire beach to ourselves.
All the courses are walking only, unless you have a medical waiver, and traversing the Pacific Dunes course can feel more like a workout than a round of golf, thanks to the steep dirt paths that lead to the elevated tees. Several holes run along cliffs, and the wind is always a factor at the tee box. Sloping and fast, the greens proved particularly rigorous, with each putt requiring some strategy. A snack shop was located along the way, with a full bar and restrooms, one for men and one unisex, but none for women. In fact, I saw only three women during our entire stay, which struck me as a shame. Everyone who loves the game, male or female, should not miss this extraordinary experience.
We arrived for our dinner at the Pacific Grill in the clubhouse only to learn that they had lost our reservation — which they admitted happened quite a lot. Nevertheless, the host arranged for a table on the terrace overlooking the Punchbowl putting course, which was preferable to being inside anyway. As a reward for our day’s exertions, we treated ourselves to a bottle of Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and ordered an appetizer of Dungeness crab with cucumber, avocado, tarragon and citrus. This was so good, we promptly called for another. It was followed by delicious clam chowder and outstanding grilled steelhead trout with risotto, asparagus, Broccolini and pear-pepita chutney. After sunset, we headed to McKee’s Pub for a whiskey nightcap. From a lengthy digital menu, we chose a small-batch Kentucky straight bourbon called Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea. It reportedly matured in a barrel that had stopped on five continents and crossed the equator four times! It seemed a perfect capstone to our epic day of golf.
Although I am unable to recommend the resort at Bandon Dunes — it was comfortable enough but fell short of a full endorsement — I would rate the golfing experience a 99. The magnificent courses were exceptionally laid out and maintained; the staff were friendly and efficient; and the restaurants and pubs were extremely enjoyable. If only the accommodations had been equally top-notch.
The magnificent location; the cheerful and helpful staff; the quality of the food and the variety of dining venues; the incredible golf experience.
Most rooms lack views of either a course or the ocean; baths are in need of an upgrade.
Book tee times well in advance, especially if you want to play the new Sheep Ranch course. The Oregon coast can be cool even in the summer and is often foggy or rainy throughout the year. The period from September through mid-October usually enjoys the best weather, with stretches of sunny and windless days.