Wow what a fantastic nine day golfing vacation to Bend Oregon - we played 9 excellent courses, went white water rafting, tried several outstanding craft beers, rode bikes, ate way too much, stayed in 3 very different resorts, went to a music festival, hiked to some waterfalls, visited one of Oregon's 7 Natural Wonders, and lots more. Once a frontier logging town called Farewell Bend, this picturesque city of 80,000 is a perfect fit with our love for good food, cold beer, outdoor activities, and golf.
Within minutes of downtown Bend there are over two dozen courses, including three of the country's top 100 (Tetherow, Pronghorn, and Crosswater) and there are another 30 courses, several of which were designed by some of the best golf architects in the World within 45 minutes of Bend. As such, it's no surprise that Golf Digest ranked Central Oregon, of which Bend is the center point, as one of the the "Top 25 Golf Destinations in the World!"
And according to CNN Travel, Bend is one of the "Best 8 US Beer Towns" with one brewery for every 9,111 residents. Hard to believe that the best place to go for two of my favorite sports was Bend. And after a little research I found out that most of the brew pubs have good food as well as a variety of craft beer. After reading all that, it didn't take long for us to book a flight and pack the clubs.
Our main goal was to stay at three different resorts and each day play a course that was on the Central Oregon Golf Trail. I got in touch with Ted Taylor at the Central Oregon Visitors Bureau to get some recommendations and told him about our visit and plans to play and review some golf courses. Two days later Ted sent me a detailed 7 page itinerary with tee times at 9 different courses, a room at Sunriver Resort plus a couple meals and a opportunity to play in the VIP Sponsor Tournament that was part of the Pacific Amateur Golf Tournament. I'm deeply indebted to Ted for all he did. Here is a link to our reviews of the Central Oregon Golf Trail courses we played.
After a three hour very scenic drive through the mountains from Portland, we checked into Sunriver Resort. Sunriver Resort is a planned private residential and resort community 15 miles south of Bend. The Resort is located at the base of the beautiful Cascade Mountains on 3300 acres with the clear Deschutes River meandering through it. Sunriver is home to three excellent golf courses plus a 9 hole par 3 course and a 9 hole putting course; a variety of lodging options from luxury private homes to condos to lodge style rooms overlooking the golf course; a retail area with restaurants, a market, and more; 35 miles of paved biking trails that twist and turn through the trees, along the river, and across the meadows; stables and trail rides; a marina with canoe and kayak rentals; several tennis courts plus horseshoes, bocce ball, and basketball courts; good restaurants and a couple bars; and lots more - all in a beautiful setting with towering pines, the river flowing through meadows and the golf courses, and stunning snow-capped mountain peaks in the background. To learn more, read our review of Sunriver Resort.
After a good nights sleep we were up at 7 for breakfast before our tee time - walked outside in my golf shorts and golf sandals to discover it was 42 degrees which is very cold after leaving the 100 degree Texas weather. I quickly ran back inside for warmer clothes. We drove a few miles to Redmond, Oregon for our first round of golf at Juniper Golf Course. Wow, what a way to start a golf vacation - Juniper plays through a forest of juniper trees and winds its way through the high mountain desert of native grasses, lava outcroppings, and colorful sage. And the back drop to the lush fairways and greens are the snow capped mountains! Read our review of Juniper Golf Course. By 10:00 it was 75 and we were back in shorts and short sleeve shirts!
Following golf we got our first taste of some local Bend craft beer - wow, very tasty and strong compared to Miller Lite. A good lunch, a dip in the hot tub, a change of clothes and we were off to the PacAm Classic banquet and games.
The Pacific Amateur Golf Classic took place during the first three days of our visit and while it was going on we played in a VIP Shamble (all members of a team tee off and the best drive of the four is selected, similar to a scramble but from that point, all four golfers play their own ball from the location of the best tee shot to the hole) - and we had a blast. I'll sum up my experience over the two days at the PacAm as follows: I let our team down in the VIP (don't know how I qualified for that) shamble as most of my drives dribbled down the fairway or got lost in the natural area; I looked like a lobster because I forgot to put on suntan lotion; of the several golfing skill contests (chipping, putting, longest drive, etc.) at the banquet I badly embarrassed myself but I did win at bean bag toss and in consumption of the local craft beer; and I restrained myself at the buffets (which were very good) and we met a lot of nice Oregonians. I noticed that the good golfers were wearing long pants and golf shoes, not shorts and sandals like me. So I went to Dick's Sporting Goods that night and teed off the next morning looking lovely in my new golf shoes and new golf pants - but I ended up with sand and dirt in the shoes and stickers and sagebrush all over the pants and thanks to socks my feet were wet from looking for my golf ball in the water and very smelly! Even worse was I spent $250 for something I wore once and it didn't help my game at all. Dick's Sporting Goods refused to take the sandy, dirty, sticker ridden shoes and pants back! Click on this PacAm Golf Classic link to learn more!
Over the course of the next 5 days while were staying at Sunriver:
Friday we packed the bags and checked out of Sunriver Resort and headed to Sun Country Tours in Bend for a white water rafting trip down a section of the Deschutes River. What a fun hour and a half raft trip with three series of class I to class III rapids with names like Big Eddy and Fluffy Bunny and some beautiful scenery. Here is a link to our article on White Water Rafting the Deschutes River.
10 minutes after returning to Sun Country Tours headquarters, we were teeing off on Tetherow Golf Course. Wow, wow, wow! What a unique, challenging, and fun course to play - or in my case try to play! I kept our fore caddy very busy looking for my golf balls in the native areas, raking the bunkers, and giving me advice on where to try to hit the ball, which was virtually impossible for me to do. Words and pictures can't begin to describe the experience of playing this Scottish Heathlands links style course by designer David McLay Kidd who also designed Bandon Dunes! Another course that is in Golf Digest's Top 100. To read why I wanted to bring this course home with me click on our link to the review of Tetherow. The sun was sinking as I missed my 3 putt on the beautiful 18th hole so the fore caddy calmly picked it up knowing it would probably take a couple more putts to get it in the hole and I sadly rode back to the pro shop hating for that round to end.
We checked into our room (very nice) at Tetherow Resort and walked over to their fine dining restaurant for a good dinner and and some well deserved drinks!
Tetherow is the newest and only luxury boutique hotel in Bend and it offers 50 well appointed luxury rooms and two very good restaurants. The lodge sits on a bluff and our room was fantastic - well appointed with a comfy bed and beautiful furniture, a spa style bathroom, a wet bar, a fireplace, and a balcony overlooking several holes of the golf course (I could easily see why I got a 7 on the first hole and how I should have played it differently) and the mountain ranges. To learn more read our review of Tetherow's Golf Stay & Play.
After a few too many craft beers at Tetherow's pub (The Row) the night before it was hard for me to focus on the ball wavering back and forth on the tee on the first hole of Wedgi Creek. Plus it was around 40 when we teed off but 75 by 10:00 - maybe the shakes were from that. I downed a couple Advil, chugged some water, took a long sip of coffee, swung, missed ball, and tried again only to dribble it 15 feet in front of me! But it got better and Wedgi Creek is an outstanding layout and for the last 14 years in a row it has been voted the Best of Bend. What a change from Tetherow's links style open fairways to Widgi's tight tree lined fairways and clear ponds that can come into play on 7 holes. Check out our review of Wedgi Creek.
A quick change of clothes (it gets chilly at night once the sun sets) and we set off for a music festival in downtown Bend close to the Deschutes River. 6 stages in three different areas with music ranging from country to blues to folk to rock and jazz. Plus Deschutes Brewery craft beer and some tasty food. Unfortunately by 9:30 our warm blooded bodies were freezing (most of the locals had shorts and a long sleeve shirt on - (bet they would have trouble with our hot Texas summers) so we headed to a local brewery to warm up.
Sunday morning we were back at Sunriver Resort to play the Woodlands Course. Robert Trent Jones Jr designed an outstanding 6912 yard layout that puts a premium on shot accuracy thanks to tree lined corridors, very challenging shots to the greens, an abundance of water, outcroppings of lava rock, and the scenery and views of Mt Bachelor are magnificent. Here's a link to our review of Sunriver Woodlands Course.
After golf and a flight of craft beer from Twisted River Tavern in Sunriver we drove a few miles to check out the Lava River Cave. About 80,000 years ago a major volcanic eruption covered a large portion of the Bend area and the lava flowing downhill from a volcanic vent began as a river of lava flowing in an open channel. Eventually, a lava crust solidified over the top of the flowing lava and formed a roof over the river creating a lava tunnel or tube. When the eruption from the vent stopped, the lava drained out of the tube leaving a lava tube cave behind. After the cave cooled, a section of its roof collapsed. This collapsed section provided the entrance to the cave. Today you can descend 55 steps into the mile long cave with a flashlight on a self guided tour. On a hot day it's great because the average temperature is 42 degrees. The average width of the cave is 50 feet and the height gets up to 58 feet tall. An interesting way to spend a couple hours.
From the Lava Cave we drove about 50 miles south to the sleepy laid back western themed town of Sisters to Black Butte Ranch for a couple days of golf and fun. Black Butte Ranch sits on 1800 acres of stunning mountain property with glistening clear lakes, giant strands of Aspens and Ponderosa pines, jaw dropping views of seven of the Cascade's high mountain peaks, and open meadows with deer, cows, and horses grazing. When you're not enjoying the scenery you can play either of the two championship golf courses, enjoy a new infinity pool and hot tub, work out in the fitness center, add a few pounds from the fine dining restaurant, try kayaking, ride 18 miles of paved hiking and biking trails, try stand-up paddle boarding, ride a horse, or get a relaxing spa treatment. Following any of that you'll get a comfortable nights sleep in a private lodge room, a two or three bedroom condo, a charming cabin, or spacious custom home. Here is a link to our review of Black Butte Ranch to learn more about our very enjoyable stay.
The next day we were up early to play Black Butte Ranch's Glaze Meadow Golf Course. Architect John Fought completed an extensive $3.75 million renovation in 2012 that reflects the spirit of a classic golf course design from the 20's and 30's. In a true mountain setting with rolling hills, towering Ponderosa pines, clear ponds, meticulously groomed bluegrass-rye fairways, and spectacular vistas of the snow-capped Cascade peaks (including North Sister and Mt. Washington) you'll find slightly elevated greens, square tee boxes, deep grass-faced bunkers, and some fun and demanding golf holes. Read our review of Glaze Meadow to learn more.
After playing 8 days of golf, hiking, white water rafting, hanging out at the brew pubs, listening to some music, and more I was ready for more Advil and a long soak in the hot tub at Black Butte Ranch with a spicy Bloody Mary. An hour or two later, all wrinkled and relaxed we changed and headed to a good dinner at the award winning Black Butte Ranch Lodge Restaurant. For once we were in bed and sound asleep by 11!
Another 36 degree morning and an extra layer of clothes as we set off down the road to play Aspen Lakes Golf Course in Sisters. What a special and unique way to end a spectacular golfing vacation! Aspen Lakes is very scenic with views of several of the Cascade peaks (the three sisters, Broken Top, Three Finger Jack, Mt Washington, and Mt Jefferson), near perfect conditions from tee to the cup, excellent service, some very fun and challenging holes, and unique blood-red bunkers. After playing Aspen Lakes, our rental car now had a pile of white and red sand - the rental car agency is going to think I spent a week at the beach and was collecting sand for a sand box! Here is a link to our review of Aspen Lakes.
Oregon is known for it's "7 Wonders of Oregon" which include: Crater Lake, Painted Hills, Smith Rock, Wallowas, Mount Hood, Columbia River Gorge, and the Oregon coast. Aspen Lakes was only 40 minutes from Smith Rock and several Bend locals told us not to miss it! Wow, very impressive and unique. Smith Rock is fantastic for hiking, climbing, or fly fishing on the Crooked River, or a meal at the Terrebonne Depot which is housed in a renovated 100 year old train station. In the 70's climbers from Europe descended on this little known treasure bringing it world acclaim and a legacy for classic sport climbing routes. Smith Rock is a sanctuary of majestic rock spires that rise above the winding Crooked River and it's home to several miles of trails that descend down from the parking lot at the top of the hill to the river, follow the river for miles, or lead to the top of some towering steep peaks or to popular climbing areas like Monkey Face (the easiest of the climbs) or Just Do It which is Smith Rocks hardest route. Its amazing to watch climbers ascending the sheer cliff walls (see the middle picture) - how do they do it, I could barely make it back up the trail to the parking lot!
After all that hiking we were ready for some more craft beer in Sisters. And then we had to head home to pack and depart early the next morning for the Portland airport.
Speaking of craft beer, in addition to great golf Bend is home to my second favorite sport - drinking beer. Bend, which locals are starting to call "Beer City, USA", is home to over 20 craft breweries with a dizzying variety of beers and most of the brew pubs serve a variety of very good food. There is even a Bend Ale Trail (which we plan to explore on our next trip) that includes 16 breweries and you can collect stamps from each brewery to win a prize and there's a Bend Ale Trail iPhone app with a guided tour map, a test of your beer knowledge, and a stamp passport. You can walk or bike the trail (most of the breweries are within a few square miles), take a shuttle, ride a Segway, take a guided tour or a horse drawn carriage tour, or Cycle Pub offers several fun and unique ways to tour the pubs - one of which is a ten passenger pedal bike! We tried several breweries in Bend, Sunriver, and Sisters and a wide variety of craft beer at different restaurants and at each stop we typically sampled a flight of beer which is 4 to 6 4 ounce to 6 ounce glasses of different beers, all of which were unique and very good.
We had hiked along the Deschutes River, white water rafted down it, lost several of my golf balls in it, and had appetizers and drinks overlooking it as it meandered through downtown Bend. Everywhere we went we ran into Deschutes Brewery beer - at the PacAm, at the music festival, and at a local restaurant - so it was only fitting to head to Deschutes Brewery to sample more of it! We enjoyed a good meal, outstanding beer, a lively and fun crowd, and good service. Liked it so much I even bought one of their tee-shirts. The next day we tried to sign up for a tour of the brewery but they were booked!
You may think it's easy to drink craft beer - but it's a lot of work. Craft beer is rated by ABV (alcohol by volume), IBU (international bitter unit which measures bitterness), OG (Original Gravity which is the specific gravity of the unfermented wort - what the heck is that?), FG (final gravity is the density of the beer after fermentation), and SRM (standard reference method is used to specify the beer color). And then no two ingredients are same, we found beers with: hints of raisins, toffee, pomegranate, hibiscus, dried fruit, and chocolate; roast malts, carmel and sweet crystal malt; bitter and aromatic hops; floral aromas; spicy, herbal, citrus, and German Noble hops - and that is just a few of the ingredients. Since I didn't have time or the brain power to study all of that, I would pick the lowest IBU beer (keep in mind we normally drink Miller Lite which tastes like water compared to these craft beers) or I would have the bartender pick a flight or I'd pick a flight with weird names and try to figure out why they named it that. Some of the names included: Blonde Bombshell (Cascade Lakes Brewing Company - one of our favorites), Hop Smack, Check Your Head Imperial IPA, D'Bomb Amarillo Fresh Hop IPA or Vicious Mosquito IPA or Little Willie Belgian Pale Ale from Sunriver Brewing Company, Hoodoo Voodoo IPA, Five Pine Chocolate Porter, and the Gourd, the Bad, and the Malty from Three Creeks Brewing.
Wish we could have found the time to take the Bend Ale Trail or try any of the three distilleries, 3 cideries companies, or 4 local wineries - next time.
The Deschutes River, which is French for waterfall, runs through downtown Bend and you can float it in a tube, paddle it in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard, dip and splash in it, fish it, peddle it, hike/run/jog it, Segway it, or dine and drink overlooking it! You can rent bikes, SUPS, tubes, and kayaks. Bend just built a new whitewater park with natural boulders visible and 25 bladders that form four distinct waves and are engineered to change shapes with just the push of a button. The Deschutes River has also created lots of waterfalls around the Bend area and the River provides water for white water rafting as well as fishing.
There seem to be two lively areas of Bend - one is around the Old Mill District and the other is few blocks around Bond Street. The Old Mill District was home to timber mills in the early 1900's which used the Deschutes River to get timber to the mills. Today The Old Mill District is a huge shopping, dining, and entertainment complex. We enjoyed some appetizers and drinks on the outside patio at Anthony's as we watched some stand-up paddle boarders casually head down the river. In the summer the river is packed with tubes and kayaks and trails along both sides which are loaded with runners, walkers, and bikers.
The Bond Street area is the older part of Bend and it's loaded with a wide variety of excellent restaurants with outdoor seating, colorful flowers hanging from lampposts, several shops, musicians on some corners, and several brew pubs and bars.
We did a lot while we were in Bend and we barely scratched the surface - so next time we plan to play less golf (easy to say now when there are still several excellent courses we haven't played) and do some other fun things. Bend tops the list of the "Best Towns for Sportsmen" according to Outdoor Life and with 300 days of sunshine there is plenty of time to hike (trails for hiking range from flat paved or gravel trails to strenuous hikes to the top of 10,500 peaks - waterfalls, wildlife, snow-capped mountain peaks, colorful fauna, towering trees, and clear flowing rivers and creeks, golf, rock climb, fly fish, bird watch, bike (300 miles of single track mountain bike trails suitable for mellow cruisers to some technical trails for experts), raft, or horseback riding.
Bend is also home to several yearly events ranging from music festivals to plays to major concerts to film and beer festivals. We were very impressed with the variety of unique and interesting restaurants serving everything from Asian to Pizza to gourmet zucchini. For lodging you can choose from standard hotels downtown, to mountain or golf resorts, to bed and breakfasts or cozy mountain cabins. We travel quite a bit and Bend has some of the friendliest and most outgoing and adventurous locals we've found. Reminded us of Texans.
Bend is also named "one of the world's 25 best ski towns" by National Geographic and Mt Bachelor is only 21 miles east. In the winter there are 3700 of lift accessible terrain - from the peak you can ski 360 degrees of mountain and 500 acres of new glades, bowls and natural features. There is 462 inches of average snowfall, 88 runs, and 10 chair lifts to get you up the mountain. During the summer you can play disk golf up and down the mountain or rent bikes and ride the chair up and bike down. And around the Bend area in the winter you can cross country ski, go snowmobiling or snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice skating, tubing, or enjoy a sleigh ride.
In summary - Bend is perfect for a golfing and adventure summer vacation - the weather is cool in the morning and night and in the 70s to 80s (no rain during our visit) during the day in September, the golf courses and scenery are spectacular, the locals are friendly and outgoing, the craft beer is excellent, there are lots of unique options for dining, and there are hundreds of things to do outdoors from hiking or climbing to white water rafting to fly fishing or horse back riding. But as one local said to me, "we're glad you're visiting, just don't move here!"