Kevin Duke

Golfweek Oregon course rankings

All courses modern (opened after 1960)

1. Pacific Dunes, Bandon

2. Old Macdonald, Bandon

3. Bandon Dunes, Bandon

4. Bandon Trails, Bandon

5. Tetherow, Bend

6. Pronghorn (Nicklaus), Bend

7. Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek), Cornelius

8. Aspen Lakes, Sisters

9. Black Butte Ranch (Big Meadow), Black Butte

10. Sunriver (Crosswater), Sunriver

Visit www.golfweek.com to see state-by-state rankings

As the golf writer at The Bulletin, I get this question a lot:

“What’s your favorite course?”

For an avid golfer like myself, it is an impossible question to answer.

I am not being politically correct when I say I do not have a favorite Central Oregon course. I have loved every one that I have played, appreciating each for their unique scenery and the challenges they present.

How do I quantify my enjoyment at any of our awesome golf courses — over my enjoyment of another course?

Fortunately, I don’t have to.

The editors at Golfweek have done it for me — partially, anyway.

In Central Oregon

When the Golfweek state-by-state course rankings came out at the first of this month, five Central Oregon courses made the top 10 in the state.

Tetherow (No. 5), Pronghorn’s Nicklaus course (No. 6), Aspen Lakes (No. 8), Black Butte Ranch’s Big Meadow (No. 9) and Sunriver’s Crosswater (No. 10) all made the list. The four courses at Bandon Dunes on the southern Oregon Coast occupied Nos. 1 through 4, also making the top 20 in the magazine’s Top 100 Modern Courses in the Country. In January, the Bandon courses were all named to Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses in the Country. Because I have a hard time ranking any of these courses over others in the region, it got me thinking: How does Golfweek determine these rankings?

So I called the magazine and got the lowdown from the man who makes it all happen.

Brad Klein is the architectural editor for the magazine and he probably has the greatest golf job on the planet, playing and rating golf courses all over the country and beyond.

“I get to write more about golf course architecture than anyone else in the world,” Klein told me in a phone interview last week.

Of course, he cannot do it alone — the magazine has 580 raters across the country who play the courses, submit ratings forms on a number of different factors, and summarize those ratings with one vote on a scale of 1 to 10.

Among the 10 different criteria are routing and sequence of the holes, the way a golf course sits on the site, variety and memorability of the par 3s, 4s and 5s, conditioning and tree management, a “walk in the park” test and more.

How well the natural site characteristics come through on the course is a particularly important factor.

“A really manufactured course that looks like it was created by a bulldozer won’t do very well,” Klein said.

The “walk in the park” test, or how “cool” a course is, may be one of the primary influences for raters when they play a course.

So it really comes down to an overall impression a player has when he or she completes the round, explained Klein.

“It’s not about difficulty or memorability or beauty, it’s about how much fun, variety and intrigue there is on the golf course,” Klein said.

“You have all the criteria, but you just have the one vote. We want people to think about a qualitative evaluation, not a mathematical formula, so it’s kind of a feeling when you get off the course.”

The magazine compiles those votes, and the courses with the top scores make the list.

In Oregon, more than 2,200 votes were submitted for the 50 courses in the state that were on the Golfweek ballot.

“Oregon gets a lot of play,” Klein said. “All (50) of these courses were played by a rater.

“I’ve been to Bandon 22 times, and the people that go there will also hit the other celebrated courses in the state.”

A quick check of the state-by-state rankings (at www.golfweek.com) shows few new courses on the lists, and the reason for that, Klein explained, is simple.

“When we started the lists in 1995, we had a lot of change because there were 300 to 400 courses being built every year,” he said. “It used to be new golf courses that were a source of change. Now it’s mostly renovated courses, because there aren’t as many courses being built.”

The courses that typically appear in the rankings today have one distinct advantage over others, Klein said — money.

“The successful courses still have a lot of money to invest,” he explained. “The midtier courses don’t have quite as much to invest, so the successful courses are kind of differentiating themselves. Stand-alone courses, without other money coming in, don’t have the revenue stream.”

Klein cited casino courses and resorts which offer other types of recreation as examples.

Despite the slowdown on new course construction, Golfweek’s lists, which started with simply the best 100 classical and modern courses in the mid-1990s, have grown substantially.

“We have a publication schedule all year long for the lists and have branched out to about 20 or so different ones now,” Klein said.

The Top 100 rankings have become the Top 200, and rankings are also published for Britain, Canada, campus, casino, and resort courses, among other categories.

Last year, I managed to get out on three of the five Central Oregon courses that made the list: Tetherow, Pronghorn (Nicklaus) and Aspen Lakes near Sisters.

The variety of those three courses epitomizes my struggle with ranking one over the other here in our region.

The links style at Tetherow, high desert golf at Pronghorn, and the wooded mountain course at Aspen Lakes could not be more different.

Ranking these courses, to me anyway, is like comparing apples to oranges. They are so unique when compared with each other, that it seems an impossible comparison.

But that is the beauty of playing golf in Central Oregon.

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

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