Earliest Golf Courses In Central Oregon

Oregon Courses
Golfing in Central Oregon can be pretty amazing

As the popularity of golf and the number of golf courses in Western Oregon were expanding in the early 1900s, the much smaller population areas of Eastern Oregon were not immune to wanting places to play golf. There are reports of Pendleton locals gathering in 1902 to lay out a course, with a course opening no later than 1903 (and probably as early as 1902). The course in Pendleton (the original home of the Pendleton Country Club) was the oldest course in Oregon east of the Cascades, and one of the earliest courses in Oregon. Following Pendleton, courses opened in La Grande at its original location in 1916 and in Enterprise (a four-hole affair) as early as 1917. (Interesting to note, that of these three early courses, only the one in Enterprise, Alpine Lakes, is still sited at its original location.) Golfers along the Columbia River soon followed suit with The Dalles Country Club course opening in 1922 and the Hood River Country Club course opening in 1923.

Golf in the Bend/Redmond area was a little behind because they were not towns as of the turn of the century. Bend was not incorporated until 1905, when it had a population of about 500 people. Redmond was not incorporated as a town until 1910, when it had a population of 216. But the area’s population grew quickly with the arrival of the Oregon Trunk Line Railroad from the Columbia River in 1911 and the building of two large sawmills, one by Shevlin-Hixon and the other by Brooks-Scanlon (the latter having a substantial impact on the development of the Bend Golf Club). By 1920, Bend had over 5,000 people and was ripe to have a golf course.

Bond Street in Bend in 1920. Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society.

But the first course established in the area was not in Bend. The Bend Golf Club, fka Bend Golf & Country Club and fka the Bend Golf Club, opened as a nine-hole course with dirt fairways and sand greens in 1925 (on property donated by the aforementioned Brooks-Scanlon company). Before the Bend Golf Club opened, there existed at least two golf courses in Central Oregon. (Before 1925, some ranchers and farmers in the area built a hole or two on their property. Also, by 1924, there was a chipping and putting course at the famous Pilot Butte Inn in Bend, which originally opened in 1916 [not exactly sure when the chipping course was installed]. I am not counting the foregoing as golf courses.)

Martin and Lena Hansen moved to the upper Metolius River in 1916. In 1923, the couple bought 80 acres at the headwaters of the Metolius River. There, they developed “Martin Hansen’s Metolius River Resort.” (The area now hosts Lake Creek Lodge, whose website has a very nice history page.) Wanting an attraction for his guests, Mr. Hansen decided to build a golf course across the road along Lake Creek, with the first five holes north of the creek. By May of 1924, the course was open for play, with the Bend Bulletin declaring it “the first course to be constructed in Central Oregon.” There is some confusion as to the configuration of the course when it opened. The Bend Bulletin declared it a five-hole course “with hole distances from 350 to 270 yards.” But less than a month later, The Oregonian stated that the course had six holes. Before the course opened, Mr. Hansen said that he planned to build a nine-hole course, but I found no reference that the course ever contained that number of holes. When it was opened, the Bend Bulletin reported that “Local people who had gone over the course consider it ideal and say that it is in better condition on which to play the game than are [sic] other courses which have been in use in many parts of the state for a number of years.” Given the lack of development in the area, it is surprising that it did not take that long for a golfer to go from Bend to the Resort; people would drive up for the day, play, and then return on the same day. I am not sure when the course closed, but it was probably closed by the time that the Hansens sold the property in 1935.

At about the same time the Hansens were building a lodge and golf course, a more substantial course was being developed by Fred Stanley in the now former town of Deschutes. Deschutes (not to be confused with the earlier towns of Deschutes, which became Miller, or Deschutes Junction, which became Ainsworth), was located just north of Bend, and was previously known as Centrallo, Laidlaw Junction, and Deschutes Junction. Mr. Stanley was a very successful businessman and owned buildings in Portland and extensive interests in Columbia Gorge timber lands. Mr. Stanley was introduced to the Bend area in 1907 as a member of the caravan that traveled from Shaniko to Klamath Lake, a route so new that axe men cleared the route allowing the cars to move south. Mr. Stanley subsequently became the owner of the Deschutes Irrigation and Power Company, and the Central Oregon Irrigation Company. He formed the Deschutes Townsite Company, and platted the town of Deschutes in 1911 near the headquarters of the Deschutes Irrigation and Power Company. Mr. Stanley owned a ranch that made up most of the town and, probably in an effort to attract people to the town, designed and built a nine-hole golf course on his ranch referred to as the “Central Oregon Golf Course.” The course opened no later than June of 1924, and for a while did not charge for play (no word if you had to take a tour of the townsite before you could play). By 1925, the course had a clubhouse. It is unclear when the course closed, but it probably stopped operating soon after the completion of Bend Golf Club and the death of Mr. Stanley in 1928. The property was sold in 1931.

In doing the research on these early courses in Central Oregon, two things came to mind. First, how high on the priority list was having a golf course as soon as a town reached a certain size and level of economic activity. The rail line brought in population and new businesses, and within 14 years, there was a country club. The second thing that came to mind as I researched this was that the earliest courses were tied to either a resort or property development (as opposed to simply a place to play or a social club). This matching of courses to resorts or property development certainly has continued in Central Oregon.

Golfing at the Bend Golf Club in the old days. Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society.

The author would like to thank the folks at the Deschutes Historical Society and Museum for their assistance in the research for this article.

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The Highest Golf Course In Oregon

The Highest Golf Course In Oregon

 

Mt Hood. Not a hazard on a course.

Most Oregon golfers know that Silvies Valley Ranch, which has a golf complex of four courses, has recently opened. Silvies is located just outside of Seneca, in a wide valley within the Blue Mountains just southeast of the Strawberry Mountains.  It is also part of the northern edge of the Great Basin, a geological formation that covers most of southeastern Oregon. The combination of elevation and desert provide a beautiful and diverse natural area – a stunning place to put a golf course.  Also good for playing golf, the Great Basin has one of the driest climates in North America. But, it also has a climate that can have cold nights followed by warm days.  Indeed, Seneca has recorded Oregon’s coldest official temperature of 54 degrees below zero in 1933.

The location of the courses at Silvies Valley Ranch made me wonder – what Oregon golf course sits at the highest elevation?

Due to Oregon’s geography, the answer is not as simple as one might think. For example, when you look at the map of Oregon courses, the delightful 9-hole Alpine Meadows Golf Course rests just outside of Enterprise, Oregon, among the tall Wallowa Mountains.  Its placement far in the northeast part of the state makes it look like it should be the highest course in the state. The elevation of Alpine Meadows is 3,694’ (most elevations referred to in this article are taken from Google Maps).  Other courses in the area (Wallowa, Union, and Baker Counties) are slightly lower.  The Quail Ridge course in Baker City sits at 3,520’, Buffalo Peak in Union is slightly lower (at 2,828’), and La Grande Country Club is lower still (at 2,739’).  

Alpine Meadows

What about the courses that edge up the Cascades?  On the west side, the courses sit much lower than those in the northeast. Circle Bar in Oakridge, surrounded by ridges with tall Douglas Fir trees, is at 1,490′, slightly higher than Tokatee (at 1,450’) and higher than the courses at The Resort at the Mountain (at 1,355’), and Elkhorn (at 1,070’).  On the east side of the Cascades, the courses are at a much higher altitude. The courses at Black Butte sit at about 3,340’ and Aspen Lakes at 3,130’.  South of Bend, the courses that creep up the Cascades are higher still; with Quail Run, just outside of La Pine, sitting at 4,199’, the two courses at Sunriver sitting at about 4,209’, and Crosswater sitting slightly lower at 4,170’.  To the north, Widgi Creek is slightly lower still at 3,924’.

As you drive down from La Pine on Highway 97 towards the Klamath Falls Basin, you actually rise in elevation.  The group of courses within the Klamath Falls area are higher than those around Bend.  The 18-hole course at Shield Crest has an altitude of 4,170’. Running Y is at 4,160’ while Reames Country Club is close behind at 4,108’.

Other than the areas near Oregon’s noncoastal mountains, is there be another area that could provide a higher elevation for golf courses?  Surprisingly (at least to me), yes.  As mentioned before, the Great Basin in Oregon is a high desert plateau, built up by repeated lava flows and rising fault lines.  The 9-hole course in Christmas Valley which sits almost in the center of the state (and may be the most remote course in the state, but that is a subject for another column) sits at 4,314’, surprisingly high because the closest mountains to the course, the Cascades, are far away.

The closest course to Christmas Valley is the 9-hole course several miles to the south, very close to the California border, just outside of Lakeview.  LakeRidge Golf Course sits at 4,754’.

LakeRidge Clubhouse

 

LakeRidge Golf Course

But does that make LakeRide the highest? Unlike LakeRidge, the reversable courses at Silvies wander up, down, and around hills. At one point, the 7th tee on the Hankins Course reaches an elevation of 4,887′.  The 13th hole on the companion Craddock Course shares that elevation. Although there may be portions of the courses at Silvies that are lower than LakeRidge, it appears that the courses that reach the highest altitude in Oregon are the Hankins and Craddock Courses at Silvies.

The Hideout, Silvies’ Clubhouse and Goat Caddy Shack
Craddock 12, Near The High Of Oregon Golf

The elevations at Silvies and LakeRidge are a far cry from the highest courses in the world. The La Paz Golf Club in Bolivia, sits at 10,800’ making it the highest altitude golf course in the world. In the United States, there are several courses that are twice the elevation of LakeRidge.  A group of courses in Summit County, Colorado, exceed elevations of 9,000’ with the 9-hole Mt. Massive course in Leadville being the highest in the United States at 9,680′ (although the course claims an altitude of 9,950’).

Because Silvies and LakeRidge are the highest courses in Oregon, golfers should play Silvies and LakeRidge not only to visit those scenic parts of Oregon, but to hit their longest drives. Indeed, the 18th hole at Silvies Hankins course invites you to hit your Lifetime Longest Drive because of, among other things, the hole is downhill, is downwind, is at a high elevation, and has a long-rolling well-trimmed fescue fairway.  Golf balls do fly farther at higher elevations. The higher the altitude, the less air density there is.  The less air density, the less drag force on a golf ball resulting in greater distance.  The general rule is that a ball will carry an additional 10 percent in yardage for every 5,000’ of elevation gain (although the scientists at Titleist have worked this down to a more precise 0.116 percent for every 1,000’ in elevation gain). So the 200-yard carry for my drive on the coast will almost be a 211-yard carry at Silvies or LakeRidge (yippee).  Other factors, however, will have a greater effect on whether you get additional distance or not: wind, temperature, moisture in the air, and length of shot (the shorter the shot the less it will be affected by altitude). The run of the ball will of course be affected by the length of the rough, the size of the sand trap, and the depth of the water.

Altitude carries other issues as well.  Because LakeRidge is pretty flat, I did not huff and puff that much walking the course.  But walking the hills on Silvies, you can be very short of breath.  With less air density, there is less air for you to breathe. Although 4,887’ may not be considered high altitude, people can experience shortness of breath, can fatigue faster, and can dehydrate quicker at that altitude.

On a warm, cloudless, summer’s day in Lakeview, Seneca, Klamath Falls, or Bend, you could see some of your longest drives.  Just remember to take and drink extra water and maybe take a cart.