BIRDIES FOR BEAVERS & DIVOTS FOR DUCKS
(or something like that): A Guide to Portland’s Great Golf Courses
By Jim Moore, for Oregon.com
Would you bring your golf clubs on a business trip to, say, New York City? I think not. Would you carry along the sticks on a jaunt to the Windy City of Chicago? No, no, no. Even Seattle has its distinct challenges when it comes to getting in a round of golf within the city limits. But leave your clubs at home on a visit to Portland? Ah, laddie (or lassie), that would be a tragedy of Scottish proportions, because the Rose City and its immediate environs have a wonderful selection of layouts that cater to golfers of all types.
Oregon is justifiably known for high-profile courses like Bandon Dunes on the southern coast and Sunriver in central Oregon, but Portland offers a diverse collection of great tracks that are well worth exploring. Big-name designers have plied their trades well here, and some big-time players have experienced what the rest of us duffers know well. In fact, Oregon is where Tiger Woods got his start, and pros like Peter Jacobsen and Fred Couples return here often for charity tournaments and events.
Check out some of these gems the next time you’re in the Rose City. And for goodness sakes, don’t forget to pack your clubs, your shoes and your rain gear: We play golf in all kinds of weather around here.
Eastmoreland Golf Course
Address: 2425 SE Bybee Blvd., Portland, OR 97202. Phone: 503-775-2900.
A terrific municipal course that dates back to 1917, making it among the oldest tracks in the state, Eastmoreland offers charm and history. Walter Hagen, that dapper golfing legend from bygone days, raved about the par-5 13th, but he hit it straighter than the rest of us. It can be reached in two, but that’s a dicey proposition, especially with a 220-yard layup required off the tee and bombs away on the approach to a green that is protected by a bunker right, hazard left and a swale guarding the front. Walter always liked to live dangerously.
The 17th is the signature par-3 that doubles as a photo op and round-wrecker with water and rhododendrons galore. But if you hit a good tee shot, a birdie’s possible because the 17th green is the flattest on the course. You won’t forget the back nine with water on eight holes, highlighted by Nos. 13 and 17.
Eastmoreland has been ranked as one of the top public courses by Golf Digest and it’s not hard to understand why. Take your pick on what you’ll remember most – good golf or natural beauty. The course is bordered by Portland’s Rhododendron Gardens and Crystal Springs Lake, a perfect environment for great blue herons and other waterfowl. Which is a great consolation when your own birdies decide to masquerade as bogeys in this tough, old bird of a golf course.
Heron Lakes Golf Club
Address: 3500 N. Victory Blvd., Portland, OR 97217. Phone: 503-289-1818.
There are two courses at this awesome municipal complex in north Portland, just over the Columbia River from Washington. The 6,902 Great Blue offers a supreme test in between its Scottish-style mounds, and the 6,615-yard Green Back features more forgiving conditions in a park-like setting. Both were designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., and with that name, you get built-in quality.
One thing you’ll always find here – a pair of manicured courses. Heron Lakes is known for being in great shape year-round. Nothing spoils a good round like bad greens, which is never a problem here. Heron Lakes’ greens are as fast and well-groomed as those you would find at resort courses and country clubs.
Your biggest difficulty is trying to determine which course to play. Great Blue was rated as one of Golf Digest’s Best Places to Play in 2008-09, and Green Back has six ponds, 86 bunkers and welcoming greens. Best advice: Make time for both.
Here’s how good Great Blue is – it hosted the 2000 USGA Public Links Championship. Like any good course, Great Blue can be a monster from the tips but playable from the forward tees.
Green Back has large greens, which is great for the average golfer, but it leads to plenty of three-putts if your accuracy’s lacking. I speak from experience here, because my accuracy has been lacking since about 1987.
When you’re on the 19th hole downing a cold one, you’re most apt to be talking about the par-3’s you played – four of the eight have tee shots over water. Since most golf balls don’t float, bring a lot of them.
Langdon Farms Golf Club
Address: 24377 NE Airport Road, Aurora, OR 97002. Phone: 503-678-4653.
If you’re driving south of town on I-5, you can’t miss this golf course – it parallels the freeway and stands out for many reasons. For three consecutive years (2005-07), Langdon Farms was ranked as the No. 2 public course in Oregon by the Portland Business Journal, behind only Bandon Dunes.
You know a course is championship-caliber if it has hosted a pro event, and Langdon Farms served as the site of the 2008 LPGA Safeway Classic. Even the big red barn clubhouse is laudable here, since it was named the best new clubhouse in 1996 by Golf Inc. magazine. It was modeled after the original barn on Mr. Langdon’s farm, which now resides along the left side of the 8th hole.
There are many neat features of Langdon Farms, and one of my favorites is its playful jab at exclusive country clubs. At the entrance to the property, you’ll notice a sign that says “PUBLIC ONLY.” The farm theme is nicely played through, with hanging baskets of flowers and other homey touches.
As for the golf, Langdon Farms has open fairways and deep bunkers around the greens. The signature hole is the par-3 3rd that plays downhill to a crowned green and is surrounded by tall pine trees and flowers.
Ghost Creek Golf Course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club
Address: 12930 NW Old Pumpkin Ridge Road, North Plains, OR 97133. Phone: 888-594-4653 or 503-647-2002.
Tiger Woods won his third consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship here in 1996 and turned pro the next day. Ghost Creek had star power then and still has it now.
Is this golf course, which lies in an agricultural area west of Portland, nirvana? You might think so from the rather lofty description that we found at pumpkinridge.com: “Imagine a place so serene it puts life into perspective. A place where you are completely at peace with yourself and with the world. Picture a highly acclaimed championship golf course designed to provide you with the golf experience of your lifetime. Now envision two such courses nestled side by side. Combine them with a private club atmosphere like no other and you have the world of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.”
That’s a mouthful. And although I’m not quite sure I’ve ever approached complete peace on a golf course, it may not be far from the truth. The Robert Cupp-designed Ghost Creek was voted one of the top 100 places you can play in 2005 by Golf Magazine. It’s sister course, Witch Hollow, is a private, members-only layout, but Ghost Creek is open to the public and well worth a visit.
Site of this year’s Safeway Classic, an LPGA Tour stop, Ghost Creek does not have a bad hole, and the 9th and 18th are two of the toughest par-4’s in Oregon. The ninth is a 469-yard beast from the back tees with water left. This will give you an idea of how difficult it is – when the Nike Tour was here, the average score for the pros was 4.5. Average score for the rest of us? You don’t want to go there.
The 18th is 454 yards and plays into a prevailing wind. You’ll find water bordering the right side of the green, beckoning slicers (and how I answer that call all too often). You’ll need a big drive and a long iron to master this one.
As he proved 13 years ago, Tiger mastered them all.
Rose City Golf Course
Address: 2200 NE 71st Ave., Portland, OR 97213. Phone: 503-253-4744.
If you need every blade of grass in its place, Rose City is not for you, but give it a try and you just may fall in love with this golf course. Trust me: It’s wonderfully funky. As one supporter put it: “Rose City has about as crusty of a clubhouse as you will find, but it adds to the lore of the golf course.”
Like Eastmoreland, this is an old-time Portland golf course that’s a little rough around the edges. No other course in the area has Rose City’s history. There used to be four race tracks and a landing strip for airplanes here. They also held an event here in which two locomotives collided in a head-on game of chicken, train-style. Now I would have paid to see that.
Rose City’s crazy past somehow evolved into a municipal golf course that’s a favorite of locals. The front nine is so-so, but the back nine is memorable, with long par 4’s framed by trees.
There’s good value here. And when you need a last-minute tee time, call Rose City; they can fit you in. Rose City won’t have many of the amenities you’ll find at some posher courses, but it is basic golf at its finest. Even if your own golf game, like mine, sometimes resembles two trains colliding head-on.
The Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club
Address: 4805 SW 229th Ave., Aloha, OR 97007. Phone: 503-649-8191.
Located in Aloha, a quick drive up Highway 26 from downtown Portland, The Reserve has two distinctly different courses that were designed by two of golf’s top architects.
The John Fought-designed South Course is a traditional Northwest tree-lined layout with 114 bunkers. Proof of its championship quality – for several years Peter Jacobsen held his Fred Meyer Challenge here, and the JELD-WEN Tradition, a Champions Tour major event, has also been played at The Reserve.
The toughest hole might be the 605-yard, par-5 6th where 16 fairway and greenside bunkers collect wayward shots. It is a major accomplishment to get from tee to green unscathed by sand.
The Robert Cupp-designed North Course is a links-style layout with grass mounds. A slope of 135 is an indication of its toughness from the tips. The signature hole is the 460-yard par-4 17th, which shares a 43,000 square-foot green with the 1st and 8th holes, an enormous expanse of putting surface to admire and navigate.
The huge chateau-style clubhouse is another attraction, as are the well-maintained courses. A perfect day would start with a round at one course followed by another at the second course, capped off with a cold draft on the patio.
Which is where you’ll find me as I finish another fine day of golf in Oregon and plot my next expedition to one of Portland’s great tracks. See you on the links.
Avid golfer Jim Moore is a sports columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s on-line newspaper and a frequent attendee of Northwest golf events.