It’s both what you think — anticipation of what awaits — and what you might not think of a place that will deliver on that anticipation, many times over.
Welcome to Central Oregon. Bend to be exact.
The watchword for a Bend-area golf getaway — and let’s stress that getaway aspect — is diversity. Bend has its toes in pines and Cascade foothills, its fanny in “Gunsmoke” territory. Off the front porch lunker trout abound, out the back antelope most literally play. And it carries over to the golf.
“From a pure golf perspective, all the courses are so unique, so different from each other,” says former NFL quarterback and decade-plus resident Drew Bledsoe. “Look at Scottsdale, there’s great golf but it all looks the same. The same with mountain golf, the pines are beautiful but that is all you get. Most places you change courses it doesn’t really change. Here you go from one style of golf to another style of golf. All are spectacular, all are unique.”
Two rivers and a meadow: Crosswater Club is the late designer Bob Cupp’s cuddly, raucous 7,700-yard romp across 600 (yes, 600) acres of seasonal wetlands and meadows at Sunriver Resort 20 miles south of town. For those who ingest a steady diet of cactus-and-rock or swamp-and-gator or most whatever kind of golf elsewhere, pegging it below snow-capped volcanoes and cavorting with two rivers and multiple water hazards that exist because that’s where nature damn well sought to put them is like, well, closing out your best bud 8-and-7. A top-10er on my personal list for the simple reason, as Cupp told me years ago, “The design is what the land tells you.”
Lava links: Tetherow Golf Club, just west of town, is a Spinal Tap moment, the type of course where the difficulty scale deigns to stop at 10 only because this dial doesn’t come with an 11, and so be it — they’ve even backed it down a few times over the years. Golf isn’t inherently fair, and the beauty of the place is a perfect palliative. A few region-signature pines dot the course but most left some time back during a burn, and the land exposed — lava, clumpgrass, accretions of sand and, when compared to Crosswater’s pancake-ness, elevation leaps that mirror in scale the Cascade backdrop — put a linksy moonscape into the hands of designer David McLay Kidd.
Open range and a range full: Brasada Ranch Resort northeast of town does “Western” with all the flair and trappings of a John Ford movie set, from near limitless panorama to clapboard and iron on the bunkhouse and mess, except no mess nor bunkhouse of the Old West ever came with this level of quality and refinement. The Canyons Course staked a claim to an ancient volcanic prow robed in the juniper and sage of the Great Basin. Peter Jacobsen and Jim Hardy took full advantage of the rifts and ridges to etch a massive-scale — Big Sky, Big Land, Big Corridors — layout with a freshly friendly disposition.
“What’s really cool about Central Oregon is that it is so diverse in the way of activities,” adds Bledsoe, whose post-NFL pursuits also include a rather acclaimed winery in Walla Walla, Washington. “Biking, the Deschutes
[River], mountain lakes, golf, skiing — everything you want to do outdoors is at your fingertips.”
A river does run through it: The Deschutes most literally is the town’s aorta, flowing through the middle, placid here, tumbled there, a civic asset that on the importance-to-the-local-psyche scale is up there with Central Park and the Golden Gate. The Deschutes simply cannot be ignored and during the warm-weather months it almost seems you can step from canoe to kayak to raft to stand-up paddleboard to reach the other side; don’t smoosh any of the pooches hitching rides.
Higher up: Hop in your rental car, drive 20 minutes west of town and you are in the mountains. These are the Cascades, not the Rockies, not the Sierra. Most peaks around here reach to 9,000 or 10,000 feet, but some in the chain rock past 14,000. That’s tall, like we grow ’em out West. But they’re volcanoes, so they pop up like so many lava snow cones from an otherwise mid-height backdrop of hills. Anywhere you turn you’ll find a lake or a stream, harboring some of the nation’s best trout fishing. Experienced day hikers can summit a peak. Regular hikers can find misty falls or emerald-tinted lakes fed by permanent snowfields. The moral of the story is to get out, you’re not in Kansas, Toto.
“The thing to me that is most unique about Bend is that most everyone who moved here make a conscious decision to move here,” adds Bledsoe, rather wisely. “They want to live the lifestyle. And when you have people who have chosen to live someplace they are happy about that choice because they picked it. They are happy and it gives this town its fantastic vibe.”
Hop(s) on it: Beer Town USA, they call themselves. Deschutes Brewery put Bend on the map years ago with its still signature Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, plus a kajillion other regular and seasonal and experimental offerings since. At the other end of the spectrum there are true garagistes in the mix. The total right now is 23 breweries. Size doesn’t matter; beer fuels Bend.
Plate it: For its decades of acclaim as a skiing and outdoor haven, when it came to food, Bend didn’t exactly stand tall. But as happens, over time the food scene morphed, and it now resonates commendable and diverse. There’s all the pub-grub, of course, sushi, Thai and southeast Asian, Italian, coffee shops, Middle Eastern, bakeries, something called vegan, beef — remember all those ranches and cattle? Our go-to spot is Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails, where Pacific Northwest producer-to-plate freshness meets NOLA attitude.
“We saw a lot of the U.S. while I was playing football, and for us we really felt like Bend was the best spot to be,” says Bledsoe, the Washington State University alum. “And that remains true.”
It’s true for you, too, even if just for a week.
Getting there: Bend-Redmond airport is served by several major carriers, with seasonal flights from Portland, San Francisco and other points around the West. If you have the time to drive, however, do it — the vistas coming in from the south via Highway 97, from the west over the Cascades (Eugene is about a two-hour trek) and from the north (about three hours to Portland with a close-up of Mt. Hood along the way) are rife with stop-and-snap moments.