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 Dechutes County 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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