BEND, Ore. -- With an elevation at 3,000 feet, plus 300 days of sunshine a year, it's a whole new ball game in Bend compared to Oregon's other golf mecca, Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the rugged, windswept coast.
The best part about the Bend golf scene, in addition to the climate, is the variety. High desert courses are minutes from pure mountain courses. Updated classics straddle modern standouts.
Whereas Bandon's rise has been slow and methodical, from one course to now five over the course of nearly 20 years, Bend is a destination that epitomized the golf and real estate boom in the 2000s, cranking out high-end golf courses and residential communities throughout central Oregon.
These developments were hit hard when the economy crashed, but despite the fact foreclosure rates in Bend were among the region's highest, the courses have all survived thus far.
Despite a deep golf scene, that just scratches the surface in terms of outdoor activities here. Bend is a good destination for the group that wants to play 18 holes in the morning, followed by an afternoon of fishing, cycling, mountain biking or even skiing at nearby Mt. Bachelor, culminated with an evening at a downtown microbrewery.
With 30-plus area courses, the Bend golf scene is loaded. Here's where to start:
Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn
One of the great Jack Nicklaus designs of the 21st century, the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn has vaulted into the top 100 thanks to a mix of Nicklaus' signature challenges and a lot of exciting holes golfers can attack. No stretch is more fun than two back-to-back short par 4s and par 5s on the back nine. Nicklaus certainly gives you a fighting chance while walking along this gorgeous stretch of juniper high desert.
Brasada Canyons at Brasada Ranch
Northwest of Bend on the slopes of Powell Butte, Brasada Ranch delivers spectacular scenery to go with its stellar new ranch-style resort that features a mix of suites and guest houses. The Brasada Canyons golf course, which is available to members and guests of the resort, is a hoot to play. Step back to the signature "Jacobsen" tees and you're in for a real treat: big fairways, panoramic views and fantastic hole variety that plays both up and down the slopes of the butte. The course gets tougher closer to the greens, which are large and undulating but mostly provide gorgeous vantage points to gaze out across central Oregon.
Crosswater Course at Sunriver Resort
The top play at Sunriver Resort, the Crosswater Course is a brawny, heathland-style Bob Cupp design played along wetlands and a meandering river. It hosted the JELD-WEN Tradition on the Champions Tour and is as tough as any course in the state for those who want a piece from the 7,683-yard tips. Vistas of the Cascade Mountains are serene, but what's in front of you can often appear daunting.
Ridge Course at Eagle Crest Resort
The Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond, just north of Bend, is a sleeper pick as one of the area's great golf resorts. The best of the three 18-hole courses at Eagle Crest is the Ridge Course, which showcases gorgeous scenery from its elevated perch on the slopes of a juniper forest. At a shade less than 7,000 yards, the Ridge Course has hosted two Northwest Opens and the 2006 Oregon Open. Certainly a challenge from the back tees, the design of the Ridge oozes playability for all.
Widgi Creek Golf Club
A local favorite and convenient pick in Bend amid the shady pine trees on the road leading up to Mt. Bachelor, Widgi Creek Golf Club is infamous for its narrow fairways framed by pine trees and challenging, well-protected greens. While five sets of tees allow for a playable round, low-handicappers will really need to test their tee ball if they step to the back tees, which have multiple long and narrow par 4s, not to mention a 651-yard par 5.
Tetherow Golf Club
It's been a bit of a bumpy ride out of the gate for Tetherow Golf Club (the course opened around the same time of the area's real estate crash in 2008). But the dramatic David McLay Kidd design, which is the area's most polarizing, has several picks for Bend's signature hole, like a unique par 3 set within an old pumice quarry.
Big Meadow at Black Butte Ranch
Black Butte Ranch sports 1,800 acres and features two 18-hole golf courses set through a smattering of mountain pines. Both courses (Glaze Meadow and Big Meadow) stretch to just more than 7,000 yards. In particular, Glaze Meadow was recently renovated by John Fought in 2012 and sports new irrigation, bunkers and widened playing corridors.