BURNS, Ore. - The Hankins course is essentially the original course at The Retreat & Links at Silvies Valley Ranch, a 140,000-acre working cattle/goat ranch in remote eastern Oregon.
Oregon-based architect Dan Hixson started designing the par-73 routing in 2010 before approaching ranch owner, Dr. Scott Campbell, about the idea of making a section of the 7,075-yard course 'reversible'. After hearing how the Old course at St. Andrews can be played forward and backward, Campbell suggested making the whole thing reversible. The second routing, the 7,035-yard, par-72 Craddock course, was born.
It took seven years, but with July's soft opening, the duo now anchor golf's newest resort, located three hours from Roberts Field, the Redmond Municipal Airport near Bend. Silvies Valley Ranch has piqued the curiosity of golfers everywhere, much like another new reversible routing, Tom Doak's Red and Black courses of The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club in northern Michigan. While Doak's site was dead flat, Hixson used 27 greens, nine shared and nine new ones on each course, to complete the feat on rolling land with elevation changes upwards of 100-plus feet.
Hixson preferred to keep a rugged look, so the bunker sand is what was found on the property. It's got more of a dirty look and heavier texture, details that might bother some country club stiffs. To lighten the mood, every hand-made bunker rake is adorned with whimsical messages such as "Yeehaw", "Need a Drink?" and "Sand sucks". There's even one with a four-letter word out there somewhere.
The Hankins course starts off with two beautiful elevated tee shots (a par 4 at no. 1 and a par 3 at no. 2) and continues the theme with more soaring, downhill drives throughout the day at holes 8, 14 and 18. Back-to-back blind tee shots over ridges at nos. 10-11 reveal more fun holes.
More grow-in time will help certain fairways, although the greens already putt nice. The long-range views of the Oregon frontier last for miles, both from the courses and the "Hideout at the Links", a clubhouse sitting atop a hill overlooking the nine-hole Chief Egan par-3 course. Guests receive their own golf carts to make the short drive from the main hub of the resort to the courses, the range and another seven-hole short course, McVeigh's Gauntlet, that will open next year.
The resort's epicenter surrounds Otter Lake. Its new log cabin are anything but rustic, plush with bedroom sky lights, copper bathroom sinks, spacious rain showers and more. The main Lodge, home to a Saloon adjacent to a grand dining hall, is decorated with antler chandeliers, Old West paintings and a chuck wagon. More cabins will open soon with the spa and fitness center scheduled to debut in 2018. A fire pit near the lake beckons guests to gather after feasts of premier cuts of beef and Chevon goat meat for incredible stargazing and after-dinner drinks served from another wagon.
Cue the catchy tune, because golf's new "Home on the Range" is unlike anything most players have ever seen, a place where cowboy boots are just as welcome as Footjoys.
Staff rating of the Hankins Course: Review by Jason Scott Deegan