David McLay Kidd has been doing some soul-searching. Over a brick-oven pizza lunch and kombucha at Jackson’s Corner (845 NW Delaware Ave.; 541-647-2198; jacksonscornerbend.com), a cheerful neighborhood café in Bend, Oregon, the golf architect explains some of his ideas behind Tetherow Golf Club (rooms, from $230; greens fee, from $100; 61240 Skyline Ranch Rd.; 541-388-2582; tetherow.com), the course he designed and that we’d just played, and how his design philosophy has subsequently drifted away from those ideas. “I knew that I’d be settling in Bend”—a bustling town of 80,000 about three hours from Portland—“and I designed Tetherow to be my home course,” the 46-year-old Scotsman says. “I wanted something that would keep me interested for years to come.”
It surely will. Tetherow, which opened in 2008 as the centerpiece of a 708-acre resort community less than ten minutes from downtown, is perhaps the most audacious design of Kidd’s career to date. (He’s created 15 courses in 10 countries, from Machrihanish Dunes in Scotland to Laucala Island Golf Resort in Fiji.) The sward of pure fescue turf plays firm and fast, like a Scottish links in midsummer, and throws more features at the player—two-tiered fairways speckled with pimply mounds; sweeping, jagged-edged bunkers; greens defended by earthen ramparts that shrug away indifferent approaches—than the eye can take in at once.
Tetherow is an intimidating beauty, as Kidd’s architecture combines with the muted silver and sage tones of Bend’s high desert environment to dramatic effect. Its most famous hole, the par-three 17th, which plays through a scrub-filled pumice quarry, is actually the course’s most accessible; more typical is the demanding par-four sixth, featuring a thrilling drive to a fairway divided by a long ridgeline and a second shot that requires precise flighting in order to successfully negotiate a pair of ledges placed just shy of the green.
“With Tetherow, I wanted to show off all of the skills I’d learned, and so I applied every single one of ’em,” Kidd says, laughing. Though he doesn’t say as much, it’s possible that his everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach stemmed from a desire to stake out a wild style in contrast to that of minimalists like Tom Doak and Coore & Crenshaw, designers with whom he has been competing for more than a decade. In the fall of 2012, however, Kidd and his associates paid a visit to his first and most famous course, Bandon Dunes (and the eponymous resort, five hours from Bend), to review what has made the 15-year-old design so enduringly popular. “Bandon is just so incredibly playable,” Kidd says. “Back then I had a very simple logic: If someone wanted to hit the middle of the fairway, I was going to let ’em. I wanted the occasional golfer to be able to slap it around and never lose the ball. I look at Tetherow, and while it’s a great test for a good golfer, for an average one it can be pretty difficult.”
Given Kidd’s local residence and a managing partner (former European Tour player Chris van der Velde) with a keen eye for design, one can expect Tetherow to subtly and gradually evolve over time, becoming more playable, if not necessarily easier. If the course is too much, though, the locals haven’t gotten the memo––of the several courses we visited in central Oregon, it was by far the busiest. Tetherow mixes rounds from its private membership with resort play. For visitors, a pair of just-opened lodges offer 50 rooms with mountain views and a sophisticated, almost Scandinavian aesthetic. In keeping with its setting, adjacent to Phil’s Trail, Bend’s legendary network of mountain-bike runs, Tetherow has a freewheeling, youthful vibe that’s highly uncommon in golf.
Bend, whose golf communities are primarily a weekend getaway for Portlandia, is a town full of ectomorphs. Besides being one of those charmed places where one can ski and play golf in the same day, it seems to be a living laboratory of unorthodox fitness trends. It’s common to see retirees—buff retirees, that is—pedaling ElliptiGos on the county highways outside town. The adrenalized culture has even carried over into stodgy old golf. During one round at Tetherow, van der Velde’s teenage son, Mack, carved elegant fairway turns on a GolfBoard, a kind of oversized motorized skateboard developed by an Oregon company hoping to steal some market share from the golf cart.
“When I first moved to Bend,” says Spencer Schaub, general manager at the Pronghorn Resort, “people would ask, ‘What do you do?’ I’d start describing my job, and they’d stop me. ‘No, no—what do you do? Do you ski? Oh, great—alpine or cross-country?’ People connect here based on outdoor activities.”
The “discovery” of Bend as a sporting mecca saw the town’s population nearly double in the 2000s, but that rapid growth came with a dark side. The real estate gold rush led to shady and at times fraudulent activity—a 2009 article in The Atlantic indicated that Bend’s bubble had been driven in part by “mortgage brokers pressuring appraisers to overvalue properties for sale.” When the financial crisis struck, Bend’s was one of the most overinflated real estate markets in the country, which is really saying something. Today, though, the recovery looks real. Sensible lending practices are helping to stabilize values, and the bottom-feeding on foreclosures has mostly run its course. Led in part by a new wave of entrepreneurial transplants from Silicon Valley, a high-tech start-up sector is beginning to flower. As for the major golf resorts, two of the three properties included in this story changed hands in the last four years. All have seen significant new-build development in the last 12 months.
A half hour’s drive from downtown, Pronghorn Resort (rooms, from $190; greens fee, from $150; 65600 Pronghorn Estates Dr.; 866-320-5024; pronghornresort.com) is Bend’s best option for those seeking a quiet escape. The property is a perfect square mile (640 acres) surrounded on all sides by a vast, thousand-year-old juniper forest. Pronghorn’s air is literally perfumed.
Like most area properties, Pronghorn was hit hard by the burst of the housing bubble. While some of its facilities, like the 55,000-square-foot clubhouse, feel like relics from a more optimistic era, its new owner, the Honolulu-based Resort Group, is doubling down on Pronghorn’s potential as a destination resort and club. Scheduled to open in the summer of 2017, the Huntington Lodge will blend aspects of the classic Pacific Northwest lodge (gas fireplaces, exposed beams) with the cool, straight-lined modernist aesthetic of, say, Streamsong in Florida. At the moment, Pronghorn comprises mostly private homes and townhouses; the latter may be fractionally owned and part of the club-managed rental pool. The hope is that the Huntington will appeal to large groups (wedding parties, corporate outings) in search of a luxury hotel experience.
It should also boost the number of rounds played on Pronghorn’s courses: a resort offering designed by Jack Nicklaus and a private Tom Fazio track. One would be forgiven for guessing that the Fazio, as a members-only facility, would be the better design, but the truth is there isn’t much daylight between the two. Nicklaus’s course is far more strategic off the tee, with all kinds of well-placed fairway bunkers that better players can challenge in order to gain an advantageous angle for the next shot. It has an excellent Cape-style hole, the par-four 13th, which wraps around a lake, while the 15th, a narrow, wooded par five that seems like it was airlifted in from Bandon Trails, is one of those fascinating holes where the best position from which to approach the green is not at all clear.
The Fazio does have its advantages, led by the fact that it’s a “core golf” experience; there’s almost no housing to be seen from the course. It’s also in immaculate condition. And it’s home to arguably the two coolest holes at Pronghorn: the par-four third, which is defined by an undulating green that’s a radical 60 yards long and set on a devilish diagonal to the line of play, and the par-three eighth, where a lofted mid-iron is required to cross a ravine bisected by an enormous lava tube.
Over in neighboring Powell Butte, Brasada Ranch (rooms, from $230; greens fee, from $80; 16986 SW Brasada Ranch Rd.; 844-602-4808; brasada.com) is also well worth checking out. Its golf course, Brasada Canyons, is a notch below Pronghorn and Tetherow, but its long views and mountain scenery make it an easy place to enjoy the game. Designed by former Tour star Peter Jacobsen and golf instructor Jim Hardy, the first half dozen holes are a series of friendly handshakes, full of scoring opportunities. On the first hole, a par five, the architects somewhat inexplicably bunkered the outside of the dogleg, allowing bombers to take a fearless rip on the direct line to the green while threatening the more conservative player. On the plus side, many holes come with capacious bailout areas for shorter hitters to take advantage of. Brasada Canyons is nothing if not player-friendly, and there’s much to be said for that. Perhaps its most memorable hole is the 15th, an exciting, short par four that begins from a pinnacle tee. There’s plenty of room on the right to lay up with an iron, but few golfers can resist taking a crack at driving the green.
Built on the site of a former sheep ranch, Brasada occupies a broad slope overlooking the valley in which Bend is located. A rider on horseback (the resort boasts a world-class equestrian infrastructure) could spend days exploring the world beyond the property line. Dramatic views are clearly a major part of Brasada’s allure, and the community is currently doing a brisk trade—38 home sites were sold last year, and 20 homes are currently under construction. "Bend is like how Park City or Vail was 25 years ago," says Brent P. McLean, the resort’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We want to capture the essence of those places.”
The Northview Hotel Group, which now manages the place, is diversifying its lodging portfolio with suites intended for couples, families and, yes, golfers. As the basic unit of the golf buddy trip is the foursome, Brasada has opened several four-bedroom cabins. Each might have private balconies and a hot tub, but a communal fire pit draws people together to enjoy the long summer evenings. The social hub is the rustic-elegant Ranch House, where members and resort guests sip Oregon Pinot by a roaring fire and recount, one imagines, tales of all-day adventure on Bend’s manifold trails.
The challenge, though, is placing plenty of guests in front of that fireplace. McLean goes on to explain that at Brasada, as at destination resorts across the state, Oregon law requires that one overnight room be constructed for every two-and-a-half home sites platted. With this policy essentially harnessing the future to tourism, he seems focused not only on sales but also on marketing. “The real question,” he says, referring to the Bend area in general, “is will we be able to fill all these rooms?” Though it doesn’t seem as if Brasada (or the rest of the area) has much to worry about right now: Since Northview took over in 2010, the number of people staying at Brasada is up 500 percent.
The 800-pound gorilla of Oregon golf, of course, is Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (greens fee, from $75; 57744 Round Lake Dr.; 888-345-6008; bandondunesgolf.com). Despite the fact that the location is a five-hour drive from Bend, the magnetic pull of the seaside links courses is powerful enough to draw plenty of golf travelers across the Cascades. That allure is bound to only get stronger, too, as it recently came to light that the resort plans to develop at least one and possibly two new courses 12 miles south of its main property, near the town of Bandon itself. The working name is the Bandon Municipal Golf Links.
The deal is still subject to government approval, but in April the Oregon Parks Commission signed off on a land swap between the state and a resort subsidiary in which the latter would receive 280 acres of rolling coastal sand dunes.
For the design of Bandon Links, resort owner Mike Keiser has tapped Gil Hanse (who’s currently racing the clock to build the 2016 Olympic course in Rio de Janeiro). The goal is to provide Oregonians with 27 or 36 holes’ worth of truly affordable public golf (greens fees for county residents will be $20; kids play free), with nonresident resort guests paying the same rates as they would at the main resort. “It’ll be a lot like St. Andrews,” Keiser says.
The property’s boldly undulating landforms may be less reminiscent of the Home of Golf than they are of…well, Pacific Dunes, but that’s far from a bad thing. There’s no timetable yet for when Bandon Links will be completed, but it looks like the best golf resort in the country is about to get even better.
Photo Credits: Jason Hawkes