Central Oregon has long been known as an outdoor recreation paradise, offering activities such as skiing, rafting, fishing, hiking and cycling. And with more than 300 days of sunshine -- and a much drier climate than people think of when they picture Oregon -- central Oregon is an ideal spot for golf.
Ranked among the top 50 golf destinations in the world by Golf Digest, central Oregon remains somewhat of an unknown to golfers in other parts of the country. This area, however, should definitely be on their radar if they're considering a golf trip.
The weather -- you can actually play year-round -- the scenery and the quality of golf courses are all exceptional. The settings around Oregon mountain communities like Bend, Redmond and Sisters are stunning. Snow-capped mountains, even in the summer, surround them, and the courses are designed by some of the best in the business. Here's a look:
Eagle Crest, Tetherow and Widgi Creek in Bend
If you fly into Bend, there are several good choices close by, including Eagle Crest Resort, a great destination for families.
There are four courses, all with great views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains. Two of them are regulation layouts, and there are also the popular Challenge executive course and a putting course. Of the regulation courses, Eagle Crest's Ridge Course is probably the most scenic, while the Resort Course offers a little more challenge with tighter fairways, including the signature second, a par 5 that plays down into a deep ravine.
And because Eagle Crest sits low in the valley, the golf season is longer than at some of the other resorts.
One of the favorites in the area, though, has to be Tetherow Golf Club, designed by David McLay Kidd of Bandon Dunes fame. The course is seeded wall to wall with fescue grass, and combined with rugged bunkers, knobs and knolls, it has a Scottish heathland look. The par-3 17th hole plays to a green that sits within old pumice quarry walls. Forecaddies are also part of the experience.
Also in Bend is Widgi Creek Golf Club, another very affordable option. This Robert Muir Graves design is also one of Bend's toughest tests, particularly off the tee with tall pines.
Black Butte Ranch
Black Butte Ranch, a family-oriented resort located near Sisters, is probably one of my favorite golf locations in America for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the two golf courses, which have been expertly renovated the past two years.
But first, the resort. Once you get there, you don't really need a car (except to get your clubs to the courses); a bicycle (your own or the resort's) will do fine to explore the 1,800 pristine acres of breathtaking Oregon beauty. There's a spa, pools, tennis courts, horseback riding, great dining, fly-fishing, paddle boarding, a country store and plenty of accommodations.
And then the golf is really good. The Glaze Meadow Course was renovated in 2012. John Fought and associate Mike Gogel redid the original Gene "Bunny" Mason design, and it hardly resembles the original. Thousands of trees were cleared out to restore the meadows, and greens complexes were rebuilt along with bunkers, many of them moved to give this course a classic look and feel with modern agronomics.
Glaze Meadow is a great complement to the Big Meadow Golf Course at Black Butte Ranch, originally designed by Robert Muir Graves in 1972. It was renovated a few years ago by Damian Pascuzzo.
Both courses have incredible views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and, of course, Black Butte, which is the centerpiece of this 1,800-acre spread. And both courses are also easy to walk.
Pronghorn and Brasada Canyons
Simply put, Pronghorn is one of the most stunning resorts in the country, much less the Pacific Northwest. The resort has two outstanding golf courses -- a Jack Nicklaus signature layout as well as a Tom Fazio signature layout.
Pronghorn's Nicklaus Course is the more difficult of the two and is open to the public outside of resort play, while the Fazio Course is open to resort guests and members. Both are beautifully laid out and conditioned and excellent tests of golf. Forecaddies are required during peak season.
Pronghorn's Fazio Course, though visually intimidating, is actually quite generous off the tee. The highlight has to be the par-3 eighth hole, which is built over a lava tube discovered during construction. With temperatures often 20 or 30 degrees cooler than it is outside during the summer, the club sometimes holds special events underground in the tube, which can be accessed by stairs leading down from the green.
Just past Pronghorn, though, in the high desert is Brasada Canyons, set on slopes of Powell Butte overlooking the valley below. The Peter Jacobsen design has lots of elevated tee boxes that play to big fairways, with greens set in front of mountain backdrops. Pronghorn and Brasada Canyons make a great one-two punch.
Aspen Lakes Golf Course
Aspen Lakes Golf Course is Oregon's first Audubon International Signature course. Besides being extremely environmentally friendly, the course features bentgrass greens and unique red-sand bunkers, ground from the existing red cinders that occurred naturally on the property.
Designed by William Overdorf -- nine holes in 1987 and nine in 2000 –- the course stretches to 7,302 yards. Much of the construction was done by the Cyrus family, which owns the course located near Sisters.
Located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, it has played host to numerous national championships, both on the amateur and professional level.
The Bob Cupp/John Fought-designed Crosswater Club, for example, is situated on 600 acres of spectacular wetlands and woodlands, following the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers. It's been the host course of a major on the Champions Tour.
The Meadows Course at Sunriver is no less stunning. Bordering the Sun River, Fought paid tribute to great American holes of the early 20th century.
And then there's the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Woodlands Course, which features plenty of mountain views and beautiful water hazards.