Golf: The Old Back Nine at Mountain High

Zack Hall

Breaking down the course

A closer look at The Old Back Nine at Mountain High. For more information on the items below, see B9.

Difficulty

The course’s narrow fairways make the layout much more difficult than its relatively short length and bunkerless setup might suggest.

Strategy

Play conservatively off the tee to avoid a run-in with a ponderosa pine, then be aggressive into the mostly roomy and defenseless greens.

Verdict

The much-improved conditioning and course tweaks make the nine-hole course a decent value, especially during summer afternoons when the price dips.

Editor’s note: This is another installment in a seasonlong series in which Bulletin golf writer Zack Hall visits each public and semiprivate golf course in Central Oregon.

Not long ago, a 20-foot par putt would mean a nearly guaranteed bogey on the formerly choppy greens at The Old Back Nine at Mountain High.

Desperate for a par after a horrendous stretch of holes at the southeast Bend course during a round last week, I stood over such a putt on the par-4 14th hole.

This time I just KNEW I had the perfect right-to-left path. A well-executed putt later, and I had my par.

In the first few years after a court order forced The Old Back Nine to reopen in 2009 — it had been an 18-hole layout until developer Jan Ward shut down the course in 2002 over a water dispute with the city of Bend — such a satisfying result would have been pure luck.

Not now.

“I’m trying to get them to where (the greens) are on par with the best courses around,” says Justin Fincher, the course’s superintendent, who has worked at the course since it was resurrected.

Those are some lofty ambitions in a region with some of the most heralded courses in the nation. And the Old Back Nine, which numbers its holes 10 through 18 to match Mountain High’s former back nine, is not there yet.

Still, the improvement is clear after the maintenance staff spent the past few years establishing a more professional method of caring for the course, as I saw firsthand last week.

The maintenance staff now mows the greens at a more typical eighth of an inch instead of its former (and brutally slow) quarter-inch height, and the maintenance schedule includes verticutting (dethatching) and rolling the greens regularly.

All have helped give The Old Back Nine trustworthy putting surfaces.

“Last year for the very first time I had a guy walk in here and say, ‘The greens are too fast,’ ” Mark Reisinger, The Old Back Nine’s clubhouse manager, said with a smile. “I said, ‘They’re perfect.’ ”

The course’s fairways and roughs are also in above-average condition compared with many budget courses. And a tree-removal program has opened the fairways of the par-4 10th hole, the par-5 13th, the par-4 14th and the par-4 16th holes, as well as opening the greens on the 13th and 18th holes.

“That has helped a lot,” says Reisinger, who has been with The Old Back Nine since it reopened. “It really has.”

The Old Back Nine at Mountain High still has some design quirks. That was made obvious on the second hole, the 131-yard, par-3 11th, when my playing partner and I both hit terrible wedge shots.

Both short, our wayward wedges should have been punished. Instead, our two golf balls sat just off a green that is far too large for such a short hole.

But the nine-hole course does not necessarily cater to experienced golfers like me. Then again, there are plenty of courses in and around Bend where good golfers can find an elite 18-hole test of golf.

Instead, The Old Back Nine is best for novices, junior golfers, seniors and families — anyone who might typically shy away from the area’s championship layouts.

Says Reisinger: “It’s really the only nine-hole course close by, so it’s an alternative for people who don’t want to go out on an 18-hole course.”

The only difference now is that The Old Back Nine finally seems to be a worthy alternative.

Difficulty of course

Despite the fact that the The Old Back Nine caters to lesser-skilled golfers, it is not the easiest layout. The course features some of the tightest fairways in the region, including the par-5 13th hole, where the ponderosa-lined fairway dares golfers to pull out driver.

The Old Back Nine’s three tees — ranging in distance from 2,295 yards to 2,882 yards — are short by just about any standard. That keeps the course playable for novices. In addition, the course has no bunkers, and water only rarely comes into play.

In fact, it could be that with its tight setup and occasional quirky hole designs The Old Back Nine is harder on long hitters who struggle with control than it is on beginning golfers who lack the distance off the tee to find too much trouble.

Favorite hole

Once the most unfair hole on the course — and perhaps in the entire region — the 440-yard, par-4 16th hole has been turned into a long, mild dogleg left that is fun to play.

The hole begins with a wide fairway to freely hit a driver, though players will want to avoid drifting left into a patch of ponderosa pines. The Old Back Nine’s work on the hole becomes obvious on the approach shot. Removal of some key trees has opened up the approach, which once had to be played over towering ponderosa pines even after a solid drive down the middle of the fairway.

Now most golfers will play a midrange iron for a tough, but fair, second shot into an accepting green.

How to approach the course

Carefully. Skilled golfers see the short length and a layout void of bunkers and might think that they are due for a birdie binge. But some holes — in particular, a stretch that begins on the par-4 12th hole — can be troublesome for those who are overly aggressive off the tee.

The best strategy is to be conservative off the tee and play more aggressively into what are typically massive greens.

Off the course

The Old Back Nine offers few extras. The course does have a practice green near the octagonal clubhouse, which is stocked with drinks and snacks, including free popcorn.

Golfers will find the closest driving range across Knott and China Hat roads at Lost Tracks Golf Club.

Verdict

The Old Back Nine still has some issues in the form of some quirky holes, but it has come a long way since it reopened in 2009.

The turf conditions are generally good and the quality of the greens has been dramatically improved, which makes it a better value than it was in years past.

Golfers who are looking for an easily walkable course for quick nine holes, novices, seniors, or a family wanting to play a relatively inexpensive round (at least by Bend standards) without leaving Bend, The Old Back Nine offers a decent alternative.

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

Scorecard

Hole 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 In

Par 4 3 4 5 4 5 4 3 4 36

Yards* 332 131 310 462 330 470 440 174 233 2,882

* All distances from the back tees

Andy Tullis / The Bulletin Andy Elliott of Bend putts on the 13th green at The Old Back Nine at Mountain High in Bend on Wednesday morning.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin A view of the 10th green with water flowing by at The Old Back Nine at Mountain High in Bend.