: Crosswater

Hit the Links on the Central Oregon Golf Trail

Top-rated courses and hidden gems abound in the high desert.
June 14, 2022

Traveling golfers thrive on variety. In Central Oregon, linksters will find so many quality options, they may never wish to leave. Here, the Central Oregon Golf Trail links top-100-ranked bucket-list courses, economical municipal gems and playable resort tracks. 

Each of the courses share the dramatic scenery that’s made the high desert just east of the snowcapped Cascade mountains one of the West’s most desired vacation escapes. And all 30 courses are within an hour of Bend, which sees the most sunny days of any city in the state. Here’s what to know to make the most of every moment of green time in Central Oregon.

A green golf course at sunset with mountains in the distance

Mountain Vistas, River Crossings and More

Just south of Bend in Sunriver, you’ll come upon Crosswater, which put Central Oregon on the world golf map when it opened in 1999. The course wanders through the wetlands formed by the Deschutes and Little Deschutes rivers, the water that players must cross up to seven times during a round. Like many courses on the southern section of the trail, Crosswater’s fairways are watched over by Mt. Bachelor to the west. It’s even possible to ski and golf on the same day in April and May. Crosswater remains in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Public Courses. (Open only to Sunriver Resort guests.) 

For a little less challenge but similar mountain views, consider one of the three other courses at Sunriver Resort: Meadows, Woodlands or the par-3 Caldera Links. Many types of lodging options at the resort are available, from large homes to smaller cabins. Like many area resorts, Sunriver has been working to limit the environmental impact of its courses. For instance, effluent water from Sunriver’s water-treatment plant is used to irrigate the Woodlands course.

Two people stand on a balcony overlooking a swimming pool
Pronghorn Resort

Rolling back to Bend, another must-play is Tetherow. The proximity of the Three Sisters lends it a mountain feeling, while the sweeping eastern views and fields of wildflowers hint at the desert…the best of both worlds. To add an extra element of excitement to your game, pass on a golf cart and rent a Finn scooter or GolfBoard. Stay-and-play packages are available. 

Tetherow has taken many steps to minimize its footprint on the region’s ecosystem. “We’ve left half of the course in its natural state, including rock piles and downed trees that provide shelter for native animals,” says Tetherow’s director of golf, Katie Burnett. “We’re also working to improve nesting potential for the Lewis’s woodpecker, a threatened species.”

Another must-stop on the Central Oregon Golf Trail for serious players is Pronghorn, just northeast of Bend. Here, two more “Top 100” venues await — the Jack Nicklaus Signature and Tom Fazio Championship courses, both high desert gems.

A green golf course with a lake and mountains in the distance
Aspen Lakes

Great Golf Values…and a Chance to Fly the Gorge

Now it’s decision time. You could linger in Bend proper for a few more rounds — perhaps River’s Edge  or Widgi Creek . Or continue on the trail and head further afield, where several treats await. 

In Sisters you’ll find Aspen Lakes, notable for its in-your-face vistas of South Sisters and distinctive red bunkers made of pulverized red cinder. Ten miles west, the two classic mountain courses at Black Butte Ranch Glaze Meadow and Big Meadow — mark the trail’s western terminus. Here, the fairways wind through stands of ponderosa pine and quaking aspens, offering up jaw-dropping vistas; the view of jagged Three Fingered Jack on the par-4-14th at Big Meadow will linger long after the round is done. Stay-and-play packages are available.

A group of people cheers with glasses of beer at an edge of a lake with snow-capped peaks in the background
Black Butte Ranch

Rambling east toward Redmond, you’ll come to Juniper, the trail’s newest addition. Juniper takes full advantage of the rolling high-desert terrain, with the omnipresent Cascades looming to the west. A bit farther east in Prineville, you’ll reach Meadow Lakes, a very walkable course dotted with nine ponds and intersected by the Crooked River. Operated by the city of Prineville, Meadow Lakes is one of the region’s best golf values. Another great value awaits in La Pine at Quail Run, which winds through thick stands of ponderosa pines with views of Mt. Bachelor..

At the northern end of the trail in Terrebonne, the Crooked River has formed the defining feature of Crooked River Ranch Golf Course — a gorge along the course’s eastern edge that plunges 400 feet to the river below.  On the fifth hole, long hitters can opt to go for the green on their tee shot by cutting the corner and flying their drive over a portion of the gorge.  This  attribute has made this par-4 one of Oregon’s most celebrated holes, and a perfect encapsulation of what makes Central Oregon golf such an adventure. Stay-and-play packages available.

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.

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