Known in its early years as a private, upscale residential development, Pronghorn is also emerging as a stay-and-play resort destination in Bend, Oregon.
BEND, Ore. -- Mountain West golf destinations usually have tantalizingly short summers, while desert spots have cruelly hot summer months.
Both issues are solved in the high desert town of Bend in central Oregon. Anchored by Pronghorn Club and Resort, a 36-hole golf club, residential community and resort, it's emerged as a golf and outdoor getaway where the season is long and rain checks are few and far between.
Mike Palin, who worked at Sunriver Resort before coming to Pronghorn to take over the PGA Tour Academy in 2011, dubs Pronghorn's parcel of high desert and juniper forest as the "Banana Belt" for its balmy, dry climate.
"It can be 50 or 60 degrees out here in January," noted Palin. "It could be better weather than what you'd get in the spring."
That's a stark difference compared to the villages of Sisters or Sunriver, both of which are less than 25 miles away, where the golf season is a more predictable mountain range of May-October. At an altitude of about 3,500 feet, Pronghorn's rare climate offers the off-season playability of Arizona or Nevada but without the intense summertime heat.
The climate, mixed with a wealth of outdoor recreation options, has made Bend one of the west's most coveted summer spots. Not only can you fly fish or go mountain biking, you can ski on the mountains near the town well into the summer months.
Or for a more leisurely afternoon activity, the Deschutes River flows right through town and makes for pleasant canoeing or tubing, and it's within walking distance to downtown's many brew pubs and restaurants, perfect to cap the night off.
Around central Oregon, the things to do outdoors are seemingly limitless 12 months a year, a big reason why it's become such a coveted second-home market.
The resort experience at Pronghorn
In Pronghorn's early years, the primary focus was selling real estate and developing its club facilities.
A 55,000-square-foot clubhouse with full locker rooms, multiple dining options and meeting space was erected. Across the street they built the two-acre Trailhead building, a family-focused activity center with a huge outdoor pool.
Now with its courses and facilities matured, Pronghorn has moved forward with its original vision of offering a top stay-and-play Bend experience. Luxury golf-management company Troon Golf came aboard in the spring of 2010 and applied its expertise in the destination-golf market.
Guests of Pronghorn won't feel like they're in a larger, brand resort but rather a smaller, club getaway. The clubhouse has a concierge who checks in guests and also assists with tours. Accommodations are made up by a variety of fully furnished villa units, spanning from one to four bedrooms.
While you could certainly spend your whole time on property, you'd be a fool not to get out and experience the surroundings. Guests can take a courtesy shuttle from Pronghorn to and from downtown Bend and Mt. Bachelor as well as transfer to and from Redmond Airport.
Pronghorn's concierge can also help arrange fishing, biking and other outdoor expeditions. In fact, Pronghorn offers a package that includes golf, skiing and fishing -- all in the same day. (To which you'll also want to add "after-dinner steam room.")
Golf at Pronghorn and around Bend
The original Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn is the primary play for resort guests.
As the course has become more outwardly known as a public access, the course has shot up the Top 100 rankings and is one of the finest public-access courses in the Nicklaus portfolio. Shaped naturally through high desert and juniper forest, the course presents a variety of different looks.
But the back nine steals the show with a flurry of dramatic, risk-reward holes: back-to-back short par 4s, followed by back-to-back par 5s.
Resort guests and daily fee play on the Nicklaus are accompanied by forecaddies, who can come in handy on some of the course's more strategic holes. Guests have limited access to Pronghorn's Fazio Course, most well known for the par-3 eighth that sits atop two lava tubes. Guest play is limited to after 2 p.m.
The most recent addition to Pronghorn is the PGA Tour academy. Pronghorn's new partnership with the tour brand now hosts destination golf schools and also specializes in corporate retreats.
For those who want to see even more of Bend's golf scene, start at Sunriver Resort's Crosswater Course, a Bob Cupp design that hosted the Jeld-Wen Tradition on the Champions Tour for many years.
For something more low-key, check out local-beloved Aspen Lakes Golf & Country Club in Sisters. Family-built, it's an affordable, fun, high juniper-forest course that is a lot of fun to play and a real bargain.