Bend and central Oregon: An emerging golf vacation destination with many faces

Pronghorn, Tetherow, Sunriver Resort's Crosswater Golf Club and the Aspen Lakes Golf Club highlight Bend and central Oregon's stellar golf pedigree.

BEND, Ore. - Full of different little destinations, central Oregon is like a Russian nesting doll.

One minute you're driving over a snowy mountain pass in the Cascades. Just a few miles later, you're in lower altitudes in the forested foothills. Then head down the road and find yourself in the region's epicenter: Bend and the high desert.

Bend has become central Oregon's high desert boomtown. At an elevation of over 3,000 feet, it's just a short drive to skiing at Mt. Bachelor. The bustling downtown district, though still easily walkable from one end to another, has brought in trendy restaurants and festive microbreweries.

Its outskirts have seen posh new real estate communities, and it's also become quite a golf hotspot. Golf course architect David McLay Kidd, known for his Bandon Dunes design down the road and as designer of the new Tetherow Golf Club in Bend, moved his stateside office here.

"We really loved Bend," said Kidd, who had vacationed at the Sunriver Resort and its renowned Crosswater Golf Club for years. "So when the opportunity came along to do a project here, we decided to piggyback off it."

Golf is a year-round sport here. Winter months are on the cool side, but the dry desert air brings only a couple snowfalls every year. In the summer, there is no need to check the forecast for about three months. It's that predictable: warm and clear skies.

Golf in the Bend high desert

There are more than two dozen golf courses in Bend and central Oregon, from more traditional clubs to modern and striking golf and real estate developments like Pronghorn, home to two desert tracks ranked among the best golf courses in Oregon. Designed by Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus, the Pronghorn courses play through arroyo deserts. The signature hole of the resort, the par-3 eighth on Pronghorn's Fazio course, features a delicate tee shot over ancient lava tubes.

The most remarkable thing about Pronghorn may not even be its golf courses but the Nicklaus Academy, one of six state-of-the-art facilities of its kind in the nation. It's complete with a variety of tools and technology that dissects swings in a variety of ways, from holistically (one program plays music that abruptly stops should your swing fall out of harmony) to data oriented.

Pronghorn is private but does offer reciprocal playing privileges to members of other clubs or guests of its Residents Club villas on the Nicklaus Course.

But Pronghorn will soon have competition as the Top Dog in town, thanks to the newly-opened David McKlay Kidd course, Tetherow Golf Club. The centerpiece of a 700-acre resort community, this Kidd design in some ways is the bizarro-Pronghorn, substituting manicured bent grass for a more natural fescue style.

"It's going back to that 'old world' feel," said Martin Chuck, director of golf at Tetherow Golf Club. "We've got a course unlike any other in Bend."

Forecaddies are included in the $170 green fee, and walking is encouraged.

Accommodations: If you want to stay in the heart of all the action in downtown Bend, check out McMenamin's in the Old St. Francis School (www.McMenamins.com). This is a one-of-a-kind property with a pool.

Sunriver Resort

Central Oregon really hit the golf map when the Sunriver Resort's Crosswater Golf Club debuted in 1995 about a 20-minute drive from Bend. Now one of three 18-hole courses at the resort, the Bob Cupp design hosts the Champions Tour's JELD-WEN Tradition and is a mainstay on many publications' top 100 lists.

Though Crosswater has championship pedigree and then some, Sunriver is a family-oriented resort, with spacious accommodations, tons to do and even a new executive golf course, Caldera Links, designed with the little ones and beginners in mind.

Laid back Sisters and Aspen Lakes Golf Club

Central Oregon golf isn't all high-end residential golf communities and resorts. In the tiny village of Sisters just around the corner is a more low-key course, Aspen Lakes Golf Club. It's a casual atmosphere, family-owned and easier on the wallet - not to mention a joy to play, weaving up and down rolling hills through tall aspen pines. It offers tremendous hole variety.

Accommodations: Sisters, just minutes from Aspen Lakes and about 15 minutes to Bend, is the Five Pines Lodge (www.fivepinelodge.com), a modern but secluded hideaway that features spacious, two-story rooms.

For more information on central Oregon, see VisitCentralOregon.com

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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Bend and central Oregon: An emerging golf vacation destination with many faces