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Trip Dispatch: Great golf is always around the bend in Central Oregon

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Click here for part one of Brandon Tucker's golf trip to Oregon in Portland and the Columbia River Gorge. 

BEND, Ore. -- On a clear day, you can see the 11,200-foot-high Mt. Hood from what seems like practically anywhere in Oregon. In order to make the trip from the Columbia River Gorge to the golf-loaded central region, I'd have to drive the Mt. Hood Scenic Byway: a winding, two-lane road that ducks through forest curves around the volcano. It eventually emerges along the Deschutes River, which heads past Redmond into Bend, the heart of this outdoor mecca home to 30-plus golf courses. 

Central Oregon is the perfect antithesis to Bandon Dunes: while Bandon's weather is infamously unpredictable, central Oregon's dry, sunny climate yields a long golf season and optimum conditions, not to mention a cycling, hiking and skiing-mad populous that's about as outdoorsy as anywhere. The area has numerous courses that warrant Top 100 consideration, and each is totally different from one another in landscape and design: Pronghorn's Nicklaus and Fazio courses, Crosswater at Sunriver, Brasada Canyons and Tetherow Golf Club. 

Day 4: 36 holes at the Lodge at Eagle Crest

Eagle Crest

The Ridge Course at Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond. 

As good as the top shelf is, Central Oregon's middle class golf scene has a steady roster of affordable courses that pack a punch for a little less cash. In the smaller, working town of Redmond just north of Bend, you'll find a sleeper pick for a fantastic golf-til-you-drop resort, the Lodge at Eagle Crest. Here, there are two wonderfully walkable, full-length 18 hole courses, the Ridge and the Resort. I played the Ridge, which features gorgeous holes hugging Juniper-dotted foothills that offers long views of the Cascades. It's a beautifully playable yet challenging course that epitomizes 'fun-for-all' resort golf. 

In addition to these two full-length courses, Eagle Crest features the par-63, 4,160-yard Challenge Course that I found to be the perfect three-hour round to help iron out some kinks in my game. There's also an 18-hole grass putting course, not to mention all sorts of other outdoor activities here the whole family can enjoy if you need away from the sticks. Unfortunately, my itinerary didn't have the time for a mountain bike excursion like my last trip here; duty called down in Bend: 36 holes on my final day.

Day 5: Widgi Creek and Brasada Canyons

Brasada Canyons

Brasada Canyons: one of Central Oregon's newest standouts.

Just up the road from Tetherow on the road to Mt. Bachelor is one of Bend's affordable mainstays for over 20 years now, Widgi Creek Golf Club (summer rates: $49-75). Play someone who has a season pass at Widgi Creek and chances are they know how to hit a reliable tee ball. Tall pines line every hole, making the Robert Muir Graves design one of Bend's toughest tests, particularly off the tee. The pines also make for a shady, peaceful round entirely different from what the more high profile Tetherow offers just a mile away, and from the par-3 16th tee you can see the Deschutes River Canyon tumbling well below. Hopefully by the 18th you've honed your driver, because the finisher begs for you to take a rip at the green just over 300 yards away, but trouble lurks everywhere. 

For my last round of the trip, I had to see a course that's received loads of buzz in recent years. Having stay-and-played at Pronghorn twice already, i drove past it and out to Brasada Ranch, an isolated former ranch set on slopes of Powell Butte overlooking the valley below. I stayed in a suite, but guests can rent out full cabins or groups can even take over the entire ranch. 

The course, Brasada Canyons, is an absolute joy. A recurring theme on this Peter Jacobsen design is cart paths that wind uphill between green and tee. The result is lots of elevated tee boxes played to spacious fairways, plus greens with surreal settings with either long views or mountain backdrops. Despite playing most of the round from the 6,500-yard black tees, I couldn't help but let it rip from the signature Jacobsen tees on a few holes whose views were simply too appetizing. 

So is Brasada better than the Top 100-rated Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn? That's hard to say (Pronghorn is my favorite Nicklaus course I've played thus far), but Brasada's terrain and scenery is more varied to the lower-lying juniper forest at Pronghorn. Either resort is a more than fitting climax to a golf trip in Oregon.