PART 1: Travel Editor Brandon Tucker discovers scenic, affordable, walker-friendly golf courses between Portland and along the spectacular Columbia River Gorge.
HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- An Oregon golf trip is done best by putting on a little mileage. This is a state so ecologically diverse, from mountains to oceans to high deserts, you're never too far from a change in scenery.
Since Bandon Dunes opened on the southern Oregon coast, many golfers have beaten the path from Portland along the Umpqua River Basin, as I've done twice before. But heading east from PDX also make for a gorgeous drive along the Columbia River Gorge that takes you past some of the west's finest inland scenery.
Not only that, the courses are a steal. Consider this: a rack rate tee time at Bandon runs $235-280, yet I played four courses between Portland and Hood River whose rates were under $200 combined (and if you're up for walking it's closer to $150). No, this route never brings you to the Pacific Ocean or experiences pure links golf. But it does includes playing walker-friendly set of courses in a variety of settings.
My six-day trek that included Portland, the gorge and central Oregon, runs about 350 miles. Should you choose to replicate it, rubber-necking is likely, so drive slow and trade off driving duties equally amongst your group.
Day 1: Reserve Golf Club in Portland
No. 18 of the South Course at Reserve Golf Club in Portland.
As I've done every time I come to Oregon, I flew into Portland with the idea of dusting off the clubs at a metro area course. I made the journey west of Portland to the South Course at Reserve Golf Club, located in the shadow of Nike HQ. It's one of the area's best semi-private clubs and formerly hosted the Fred Meyer Challenge and the JELD-WEN Tradition. The John Fought design is one that smacks of tour-worthy pedigree with 103 bunkers. Many are enormous and deep with white, flashed faces, and I seemed to have found most of them. It sounds like I'm not alone, because the club is planning a bunker renovation which will also remove some in the coming years.
Day 2: The Resort at the Mountain
High school matches tee off on the first hole of The Courses at the Resort at the Mountain.
Before heading east along the Columbia River too far I made a detour down south off I-84 into the mountains towards The Resort at the Mountain in Welches. The Resort stakes claim as the first golf resort in Oregon, when nine holes were laid out here in 1928 beside the original hotel, and the setting makes for a scenic and secluded mountain retreat only about an hour from Portland. The Courses at the Resort at the Mountain features 27 classically-designed holes along a valley floor accented by some John Harbottle-designed touch-ups in 2008, most notably bunker reshaping and some new greens. A river runs along the first three holes of the Foxglove nine and steep, green mountain slopes with cloud cover halfway up surround the course.
Along with upgrades to the course, which went as far as to restore a wild fish habitat in the Salmon River that runs through the property, guest rooms were remodeled as part of an extensive hotel renovation, and I can attest to the fact the bed was the comfiest I rolled up into all week.
Day 3: The Columbia River Gorge: Elk Ridge and Indian Creek
No. 18 at the new and improved Elk Ridge Golf Course in Skamania County, Washington.
I'd neglected the drive along the Columbia River gorge on my first two visits to Oregon, instead heading south towards Bandon Dunes. I had no idea what I was in for: Multnomah Falls, a drive over the Bridge of the Gods and other postcard-worthy spots that made me wish I had time to put a rod in the water. Drive across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington and you come to Skamania County and hot springs country, where hotels like Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa have lured guests to their natural mineral waters since the late 1800s. Up into the mountains is one of the area's newest golf courses, the revived Elk Ridge Golf Course. Formerly Carson Hot Springs Golf Course, it originally opened in the 1980s and was redesigned in the mid-2000s before going into bankruptcy within a year of reopening. The course sat dormant for years, but is now 18 months into its new life and is sporting stellar, dry conditions to go with million-dollar views.
'Easy, it's rock beneath us,' explained Greg Pedersen, Elk Ridge's head professional as to why it's always dry. 'Even after a torrential downpour you won't get mud on your shoes. We're the driest course in the northwest.'
More remarkable is the fact most of the prep work getting Elk Ridge reopened was primarily done by two people. This summer, it makes for one of the country's most spectacular sub-$50 rounds of golf anywhere (walking rates are currently as low as $25 right now).
My last stop along the Columbia River was in Hood River, a hotspot for wind surfing, so it's to be expected you'll deal with the elements a fair bit on nearby golf courses, which is what I encountered on a brisk morning at Indian Creek Golf Club, a shortish 18-hole layout with a mix of gorgeous par 3s and short, target-style par 4s and some brawny par 5s.
Prior to my visit, numerous golfers mentioned to me that Indian Creek is always in prime shape no matter how much rain hits the gorge, and that's exactly what I encountered on my morning round. It makes sense though, considering the General Manager, Tyson Jacobs, is also the Superintendent.
Mt. Hood, despite being 13 miles away, still towers over Indian Creek on a clear day, and it served as my beacon for making my way down towards Central Oregon.