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’).
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’.
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 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.