Kevin Duke

So I have told this story to many people out and about in Central Oregon.

I came to Bend in April for this gig at The Bulletin, as the golf reporter of all things.

I had been sending out resumes and contacting publications all over the country from my home in southern Arizona, looking for the next chapter in my sports journalism career.

When I found the job listed on a national journalism employment website, my first thought was that it had to be some kind of mistake.

What paper was hiring a freaking golf reporter? My next question: Where the heck is Bend, Oregon?

Some research revealed that Bend was not on the west side of the state. I would not have applied if it had been; golf is no fun in the rain.

Twenty-six golf courses in or within a short drive of Bend? Sold!

I was fortunate enough to get the job, and 2015 has been a whirlwind of golf and stories about the sport I love.

Here are the golf highlights of this last year in Central Oregon, at least as your local golf writer sees it.

Knowing the subject

My first order of business was to read everything available about golf in the area prior to moving here.

So I was aware well before arriving in Central Oregon — the top story of 2015 had to be the mild winter and courses reopening for play weeks and even months earlier than usual.

While skiers were lamenting the lack of snow, golf courses were not.

While players, golf professionals and course owners had to be thrilled, the biggest beneficiaries had to be the superintendents, who were able to get the courses into magnificent shape long before usual. Rains in May also helped the superintendents out tremendously, and every course I visited was in fabulous shape throughout the summer.

But just visiting the courses was not enough. I needed to know my subject intimately.

Thus began my quest through the summer, to play as many of the courses as possible. It was a rough job, but somebody had to do it.

Never mind that as a rule the courses have generally kicked my butt.

Coming from desert golf in Arizona, I found that the courses here were generally tougher and tighter, the greens firmer and faster, the trees a new hazard to contend with as I hacked my way around them.

The question everyone asks: “What’s you favorite course?”

The answer? No favorite. I found all the courses to be unique in their topography, views, challenges and design. And all were in fantastic shape when I got out to play them.

A few courses are still on my get-to list, but the exploration of all the golf opportunities in Central Oregon was a huge highlight for me last summer.

Amateurs, pros

Another highlight? The array of juniors, amateurs and professionals I have covered in the last eight months.

Crooked River Ranch professional Pat Huffer was inducted into the PGA’s Northwest Section Hall of Fame in the spring, and during our interview about the honor, it was easy to see why he was chosen for the hall.

Professionals and amateurs in the region fared well competitively in 2015, as several local players had wins in high-profile tournaments in the Northwest.

Tetherow’s Justin Kadin won the Oregon Mid-Amateur in August. Black Butte Ranch professional George Mack Jr. won the Pacific Northwest Section PGA Senior title in September. And Bend amateur Jesse Heinly had several noteworthy finishes in amateur tournaments in the region and beyond.

Awbrey Glen amateur Rosie Cook won the 50th Bend Ladies Invitational in June, and she played extremely well in doing so. I was following her on the back nine at Bend Golf and Country Club as she reeled off three straight birdies to seal the win, a successful defense of the title she won for the first time in 2014.

I was also on hand for another tourney milestone at the 60th Prineville Invitational Pro-Am at Prineville Golf Club. The professionals I talked to there included Jim Wilkinson of Lost Tracks in Bend, Portland pro Jerry Mowlds and Prineville’s own Mark Payne (who passed away earlier this month). Those three represented more than a century of experience playing in the tournament.

But the most prestigious tournament staged in the area had to be the Oregon Open at Crosswater in Sunriver. Local pros and amateurs competed in the event, and several of them made the cut. I followed the lead group on the final day and was witness to some amazing golf, although the column I wrote on Tacoma, Washington professional Derek Barron’s rough back nine, and his frustration with his play after leading the tourney, spoke to several readers who took the time to let me know.

Junior golf also had a banner year in Central Oregon, as the Summit High boys won the state championship for the first time and crosstown rival Bend finished second at the state tournament in Creswell. The Summit girls won their seventh state championship in a row, led by Madison Odiorne, who won the individual title for the fourth year in a row and has gone on to play collegiately at Washington State.

One of the most interesting local golf stories this year was the trouble some area courses have in dealing with elk in the fall and winter. You readers must have thought so too — it was the No. 1 story on The Bulletin’s website for a week, surprising me and the folks at the paper who keep track of such things.

Finally, my job affords me the opportunity to take most of the photos that appear with my columns, of which you have seen maybe 1 percent. I took literally thousands of photos this year, always trying to get that one perfect shot.

I hope I have succeeded in presenting these stories and photos in a way that has effectively conveyed my passion for this game, and for this beautiful mecca of golf we call Central Oregon.

— Reporter: 541-617-7868, kduke@bendbulletin.com.

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