Golf the 7 Gems of Oregon

April 10, 2015 (Updated June 7, 2015)

With nearly 200 public golf courses ranging from surf side links to desert oases, Oregon attracts traveling foursomes by the thousands to test their skills against the world’s greatest architects … and good old Mother Nature. If you’re planning to explore Oregon’s 7 Wonders this coming spring and summer, throw your sticks in the car, because some of Oregon’s finest golf experiences (we think of them as the 7 Gems) are conveniently on the way.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
Bandon, on the Oregon Coast
When developer Mike Keiser announced his plans to build a golf resort on the southern Oregon Coast in the late nineties, many golf insiders laughed. It was too far away. And the architect selected to design the first course — David McLay Kidd — had never built a golf course.  Sixteen years later, no one’s laughing, except with joy. Bandon Dunes is now home to four world-class courses, plus a 13-hole par three track and an 18-hole putting course, and is perennially ranked among the top golf resorts in the world. The courses have it all — challenge, beauty and at times, a sense of impish fun; and the resort’s quiet attention to detail and the friendly staff make off-the-course time equally enjoyable.  888-345-6008,

Indian Creek Golf Course
Hood River, in the Columbia River Gorge
Many go to Hood River for water sports. You could say the same thing about linksters teeing off at Indian Creek tucked into the hills of Hood River, as water comes into play on 11 holes. Though relatively short at 6,130 yards, the layout demands thoughtful shot making. Finesse is rewarded over brute strength. Indian Creek also rewards players who remember to look up from the field of play from time to time with astounding views of the monoliths that sit astride the mighty Columbia — Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.  541-386-7770,

Meadow Lakes Golf Course
Prineville, near the Painted Hills
In 1988, the City of Prineville needed a new way to deal with its wastewater. Funds weren’t available to construct a treatment plant, and a golf course was suggested. The result — Meadows Lake Golf Course — has been a boon for Central Oregon golfers. The course meanders past rock-rimmed buttes and green meadows, punctuated with 10 evaporation ponds (that double as water hazards). Plentiful water means premium conditioning, even with all that central Oregon sun. Meadow Lakes has hosted several Oregon Amateur State Championships and was a recipient of  Golf Digest’s National Environmental Leaders Award.  541-447-7113,

Pronghorn Golf Club, Nicklaus Course
Bend, near Smith Rock
The last recession was tough on luxury vacation developments, but one bright side has been that top shelf tracks like the Jack Nicklaus-designed Pronghorn are now open for public play.  Pronghorn unfolds over austere high desert terrain crowded with sage, lava outcroppings and juniper. Though it’s a desert course, it’s much more less punitive than most desert layouts, with generous landing areas and accessible paths to the green. Many holes are blessed with postcard views of the snow-capped Cascade Mountains to the west. A second course, designed by Tom Fazio, is only open to residents.  866-320-5024;

The Courses at The Resort at the Mountain
Welches, on Mt. Hood
Resting in the picturesque Salmon River Valley in the shadow Mt. Hood, The Resort at the Mountain is Oregon’s very first golf resort, established in 1928. Today, players can piece together 18 holes from three separate nines — Thistle (more forgiving), Pine Cone (moderately difficult) and Foxglove (the most challenging). All three nines are great for walkers. If you visit in the fall, be on the lookout for spawning Coho salmon in Wee Burn, the stream that runs through the valley. 503.622.3151;

Running Y Ranch
Klamath Falls, near Crater Lake
Running Y can lay claim to Oregon’s only Arnold Palmer design; the King, who has designed courses in 26 countries, places it among his 16 favorite designs. A regular on Golf Week’s “Oregon Top 10,”  Running Y plays like two very different courses. The front skirts meadows and flirts with an extensive wetlands area, where several water carries are required; the back winds through lake-dotted woodlands typical of the “Oregon Outback.” The course is exceptionally inviting in the fall when the aspens are in vibrant display. 541-850-5580;

Wildhorse Golf Course
Pendleton, near the Wallowas
It’s big country around Pendleton, and you’ll experience that sense of open spaces at Wildhorse Golf Course (part of Wildhorse Resort & Casino). This inland links-style layout is nestled against the western foothills of the Blue Mountains, and plays over 7,128 yards from the tips.  (The distance is even more apparent when the wind is up … which is often!) The course rolls up and down and around several lakes, which attract abundant birdlife. Looking west across the seemingly endless agricultural fields, Wildhorse seems to against a vast sea … of wheat.  541-276-5588;


Editor’s Note: Looking for even more golf? Explore all of Oregon’s golf courses here.

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.