Exploring the best of Oregon in fall

Trip Dispatch: From Bandon to Mt. Hood, nothing like fall golf in Oregon

BEND, Ore. -- In eight days, you can get a tasty sampling of golf in Oregon. In my case, my recent trip to the Beaver State already has me thinking about planning a return trip.

From the coastline of Bandon Dunes to the Resort at the Mountain near Mt. Hood, my recent golf trip to Oregon was near perfect both golfwise and weatherwise. The only glitch was the first day's rainstorm on the Bandon Dunes Course at Bandon Dunes Resort on the first day.

After that, it was picture perfect on some of Oregon's best during what is arguably the best time of year. Fall colors were in full bloom not only on the golf courses but the surrounding landscape as well during my 500-plus miles of driving. Whether it was Oregon's beautiful rivers or the mountainous terrain of central and northwest Oregon, fall colors were vivid throughout, more pronounced by the abundant sunshine.

Nothing better than fall golf in Oregon, beautiful Resort at the Mountain near Mt Hood

A photo posted by Mike Bailey (@mstefan.bailey) on

Begin at Bandon

Arguably America's best golf resort, Bandon Dunes has the potential to regulate the remainder of a golf trip like this to into letdown status. I got Bandon's best shot certainly, but the rest of this trip more than held its own. But back to that later.

It had been 14 years since my last visit to Bandon, so I hadn't yet experienced the newer Bandon Trails, Old Macdonald, Bandon Preserve or the Punchbowl putting course. Of course, Bandon Dunes Course and Pacific Dunes remain bucket-list golf courses for most players, but the additions round up what might be the best lineup in the United States.

I caught the original David McLay Kidd-designed Bandon during heavy rain, but Pacific was had on a spectacular day. The varieties of shots and strategies are endless, all the while pausing every so often to take frame-worthy photos of the Oregon coastline. And this came in the afternoon on the same day I play another course that brought out the camera on every turn -- Bandon Preserve.

If you go to the expense and trouble of making it all the way to the Pacific Northwest to play the courses at Bandon, don't skip this par 3. There are Pacific views on all 13 holes of the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed gem, which might be the best short course in America. It's also very challenging and serves as the perfect warmup to the rest of your stay.

Which leads me into the other two regulation courses at Bandon Dunes: Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald. Trails is a wonderful Coore/Crenshaw design that combines links elements with more traditional golf, coastal pines and generous fairways. Elevated tees provide plenty of dramatic views; they just don't include ocean views. I wouldn't go to Bandon just to play Trails, but it complements the other courses nicely and is certainly a top 50 course in America.

The biggest surprise for me is how much I liked Old Mac, which is Tom Doak and Jim Urbina's tribute to the classic architecture of Charles Blair Macdonald. This is one huge golf course with giant greens and lots of movement, humongous bunkers and more great ocean vistas than I expected. There are a couple of vantage points -- near the 15th green, in particular -- that rival anything at the resort.

And the putting at Old Mac is a game unto itself. One golfer asked my group as we finished, "Did you birdie any of the greens?" What he meant by that is, "Did you have anything less than a four-putt?" And, yes, I did witness a couple of those -- four putts, that is. So, here's a bit of advice if you're planning a trip to Bandon: Start with the two-acre Punchbowl putting course. It's free, it's 36 holes, and you'll get to practice all the difficult putts at the resort, especially Old Mac, and then some. Great training for what lies ahead.

Sunriver and Bend, Oregon

After three days at Bandon Dunes, I made my way east toward Bend, stopping at the resort/retirement community of Sunriver. This is where four PGA Professional National Championships have been conducted (and counting) as well as a Champions Tour event. The crown jewel of the resort is Sunriver's Crosswater Course, which might be architect Bob Putt's best work ever. Opened in 1996, it combines golf and nature at its best.

"We couldn't build this course today," said Josh Willis, director of golf at Sunriver Resort, referring to the stringent environmental regulations in place that would make it difficult for such a project.

The Big and Little Deschutes river crosses holes no fewer than seven times. Wildlife (including an osprey nest) is evident around every bend, and this near-7,700-yard golf course is championship caliber. Like its sister course a couple of miles away, Crosswater was also the recipient of new bentgrass greens a couple of years ago, and conditioning is perfect.

As for the sibling Meadows Course, which is open for daily fee play (Crosswater is only open to members and resort guests), it's no slouch either. Because there are a few condos and homes along it, the scenery might not be as stunning as Crosswater, but it's not far behind. It's a little easier, but if you play this 7,012-yard par 71, John Fought design from the tips, it's plenty tough. And once again, it certainly shines in the fall with a rainbow of colors in the background of fescue grasses, mountains and arbor variety. Both courses are Audubon International Certified.

In addition to the two championship layouts, Sunriver Resort offers two more courses -- the Woodlands Course and another great short course, Caldera Links -- but both had already closed for the season. Sunriver also has a putting course, excellent practice facilities and plenty of other activities, including biking, hiking, horseback riding, rafting and fishing, just to name a few. Accommodations include the main lodge and spacious condos for rent.

After a couple of days at Sunriver, I then headed north just 15 miles to Bend and Widgi Creek Golf Club. Located just a mile or so down the road from the much-heralded Tetherow Golf Club, Widgi Creek is a tight shot-maker's course, which was also in great shape. A favorite among locals, visitors should consider adding Widgi Creek to any golf vacation to central Oregon.

Simply put, this Robert Muir Graves design, which is certified as part of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, has lots of character. One of the most memorable holes is the par-3 sixth, where the green wraps around four tall pines affectionately known as the "Widgi Palms." A nice restaurant, bar and well-stocked golf shop complete the experience.

Last but not least: Resort at the Mountain

Before flying home, I spent a couple of nights at the Resort at the Mountain, about 45 minutes southeast of Portland. This updated sanctuary is about as peaceful as it gets. Located just 15 miles from Mt. Hood (though you can't see Mt. Hood from the resort because of the closer mountains), the Resort at Mountain is an unpretentious, full-service, reasonably priced resort that offers a couple of restaurants, spa, tennis, lawn bowling, croquet and 27 holes of golf (including foot golf). The golf, which can trace its roots back nearly a century, is well above average and very enjoyable.

The Resort has three nines redesigned by John Harbottle. Two of the nines (Pine Cone and Thistle) combine for 6,300 yards are fairly player friendly with wider fairways and less length. The third nine (Foxglove) is tight and requires players to be able to work the ball or, at the very least, manage the course well from the tees by hitting shorter clubs. Longtime Course Superintendent Tony Lasher had all 27 holes in tip-top condition, and the views of the surrounding mountainside make nearly every hole postcard worthy.

Best of all, after playing all three nines in one day, this journey ended as I prefer to end all golf trips -- with a massage at the spa. Like the golf, it was low key but also exceeded my expectations.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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Trip Dispatch: From Bandon to Mt. Hood, nothing like fall golf in Oregon