Buddies, Birdies, Brews and Bend

September 9, 2015 (Updated September 16, 2015)

Every two years, my college buddies and I (proud class of ’85) organize a golf trip. A few of us play with some regularity; for others it’s a once-every-two-years activity. While we appreciate experiencing some nice courses, these trips are more about our camaraderie and having an adventure in a new and inviting place — preferably one that serves beer.

Past trips have taken our group to such golf destinations as Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and Petoskey, Mich., in the north, as well as Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Mesquite, Nev., in the south. The venues we’ve enjoyed most have been those with good courses, pleasing scenery and a compact, walkable downtown. (This last part greatly enhances those off-the-course activities that might involve beer.) When I floated Bend to my motley crew as a destination, I received an enthusiastic response. It didn’t hurt that three of the region’s tracks — Crosswater, Pronghorn and Tetherow — are included among Golf Digest’s list of Top 100 Public Courses. (Note: Crosswater is only open to guests of Sunriver Resort.)

On a recent Thursday, I retrieved one visitor at the Portland Airport, drove around Mt. Hood and joined the remaining four members of our group, who had flown into the Redmond Municipal Airport. Then it was game on.

I should mention that we compete for a trophy — the Eastern Hemisphere Invitational. It was commissioned by one of my comrades and me on our first post-college golf trip to Ireland, in 1989, after an extended visit to the Guinness tasting room. Our tourney involves a complex handicapping system that tends to favor the least-competent players among us.

After lunch at Redmond’s Smith Rock Brewing Company, we teed off for round one at Juniper Golf Club, also in Redmond. A relatively new addition to the 30 quality courses in the Bend vicinity, Juniper sits in the sage- and juniper-dotted high desert that characterizes the landscape east of the Cascade Mountains. Snowy vistas are available from most holes, and interesting rock formations come into play, particularly on the par-four fourth hole, where you need to position your tee shot with enough room to fly over one set of boulders (or bounce off it, as one member of our party did) to reach the green.

After a clubhouse libation, we made our way south to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, near the heart of downtown Bend. The DoubleTree was a perfect base. The rooms were clean and well appointed, and the complimentary breakfast included several egg dishes, fresh fruit, oatmeal and pastries. And the central location meant that after golf, we could make our way around town on foot.

Bend is known to have a few breweries, and we started our exploration with the granddaddy of them all, Deschutes Brewery. Like the brewer’s distribution, the pub itself has expanded significantly since I first visited in 1996. Their food offerings are a notch above average pub fare, and their extensive in-house taps go beyond the ubiquitous Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter. A new release, Fresh Squeezed IPA, was a favorite among my group. After a few games of pool (and a few more ales) at nearby D&D Bar & Grill, most of us retired to the DoubleTree . . . and a couple became briefly lost.

Friday morning took us west to the town of Sisters and Aspen Lakes Golf Course. Aspen Lakes offers a more alpine setting and a closer perspective of the Cascades’ peaks, including the Three Sisters, Three-Fingered Jack and Mount Washington, plus the novelty of red bunkers (made from ground volcanic cinders). Aspen has a mix of intangibles that make it, in my opinion, one of greater Bend’s most enjoyable tracks. And though my round left me out of contention for the trophy, a fine alfresco lunch at the club’s restaurant (with a menu that included elk burgers and angel-hair pasta with scallops) and anticipation of a few hours on the Cycle Pub made the pain bearable.

The Cycle Pub — more mini trolley than bike, and powered by the peddling of its occupants — was the topic of many emails before our trip, and it didn’t disappoint. Riders are permitted to consume beer and wine onboard (no glass!), and during our two-hour journey around downtown Bend, we fueled (and refueled) three growlers at Crux Fermentation Project, Bend Brewing Company and Riverside Market & Pub. There’s a scandalous pleasure in lifting a pint in public, and most Bend folk seemed to share our joy, whistling or applauding as we slowly wheeled along, accompanied by a soundtrack that mixed the Who’s “Tommy” and Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” (don’t ask), which blasted from the bike pub’s sound system.

The last day of our tourney took us just west of town to the much-lauded Tetherow golf club. Tetherow is a visual delight, mixing a southern perspective of the Three Sisters with emerald fairways that slice through fields of wildflowers and fescue and gaping waste bunkers. Forecaddies come as part of the package, and some members of my group were horrified at the notion, anticipating their slices and hooks being met with snickers, if not outright laughter, from our supporters. Quite the contrary; Lewis Gehring and Lane Weidman offered good-natured humor, local lore, fine guidance around the greens and an incredible affinity for finding our wayward shots. (One of our group estimated that Lane saved us $50 worth of golf balls.)

In the end, it wasn’t even close. Ed O’Brien, assistant curator at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo (and one of our less-seasoned players), took home the trophy. We celebrated his victory with pizza and beer at 10 Barrel Brewing Company. After walking through Drake Park, we stopped by McMenamins Old St. Francis School for a pint by the fire pit and Velvet, which seemed almost too hip for outdoorsy Bend. By the time we reached JC’s Bar & Grill for a few games of Jenga, we were feeling a bit bloated from our regimen of IPAs. A $2 PBR pint seemed about right to toast the trip, as giant Jenga blocks crashed to the floor behind us.

Here’s a list of the author’s favorite beers from the trip:

Smith Rock Brewing Morning Glory IPA
Deschutes Brewery Fresh Squeezed IPA
Crux Fermentation Project Off Leash Session IPA
Bend Brewing Company Elk Lake IPA
McMenamins Old St. Francis School Well Noted IPA

For more award-winning golf in Central Oregon, check out the Central Oregon Golf Trail.

About The

Chris Santella
Chris Santella is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Portland. He is the author of 23 books, including the "Fifty Places" series from Abrams Books. The most recent title in the series is Fifty Places To Practice Yoga Before You Die. Santella is a regular contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post and Trout. When he’s not writing or fly fishing, he plays guitar and sings in Catch & Release.