By Grant Lucas

The Bulletin

On-par anniversaries

Need a gift idea to commemorate an anniversary? Try these suggestions for these longstanding Central Oregon courses:

Aluminum — 10 years

Tetherow Golf Club (2008)

Silver — 25 years

Broken Top Club (1993)

Meadow Lakes Golf Course (1993)

Awbrey Glen Golf Club (1993)

Pearl — 30 years

River’s Edge Golf Course (original nine 1988)

Ruby — 40 years

Crooked River Ranch (original nine 1978)

Gold — 50 years

Sunriver Resort Meadows course (1968)

Central Oregon’s rich history of nationally renowned golf courses dates back nearly a century — to May 3, 1925, when a familiar name posted the lowest round of Bend Golf Club’s opening day.

That Sunday, Joe Hixon, brother of Frank P. Hixon, then the president of the Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company that helped shape the area we live in today, carded a 10-over-par 44 while playing the new club’s only nine holes.

“While some members had thought previously that the course had not enough hazards to be interesting,” The Bulletin reported the following day, “this view was changed completely Sunday. Five out of the nine fairways are ticklish things to navigate successfully.”

So much has changed since then.

The once-sleepy lumber town of Bend has become a roaring destination for tourists and transplants.

Bend Golf Club, which upon opening on the city’s south end was actually well outside of town, was eventually renamed Bend Golf and Country Club and has now returned to its 93-year-old roots — a foundation that sparked a golfing revolution in ­Central Oregon.

More courses, particularly in the boom of the 1990s, have come to the region and thrived. They have gained national recognition and have joined winter recreation among Central Oregon’s leading attractions.

In fact, in a 2012 interview with The Bulletin, Central Oregon Visitors Association president and CEO Alana Hughson said that 60 percent of Central Oregon’s tourism business in 1993 had been generated in the winter. Nearly 20 years later, the tables had turned, as Hughson estimated about 75 percent of all visitor volume on an annual basis visited Central Oregon between June and September — the peak golf months.

And it all began on the southern edge of Bend, at Bend Golf Club, which was intended to feature two par-34 nines that would play at more than 3,000 yards each, a relatively long course at the time.

On that spring Sunday in 1925, Hixon posted the low round of the day in a competition between Bend and Redmond golfers. The day generated excitement about the course, designed by well-known architect and two-time U.S. Amateur champion H. Chandler Egan along with William Hanley, a head pro from Portland. Other attempts at golf courses in the area around that time — including one at the Hansen Resort near Camp Sherman in Jefferson County, and the nine-hole Central Oregon Golf Course just north of Bend — faded into the mist, according to reports by The Bulletin over the years. But Bend Golf Club continued to grow — paving the way for Central Oregon to become a golf hotbed.

Prineville landed its first golf facility, Prineville Golf Club, in 1950, but 18 years passed before the next meaningful addition to the area’s golfing landscape.

John Fought, who would later remodel the Glaze Meadow course at Black Butte Ranch near Sisters, laid out a design for the Meadows course at Sunriver. A tribute to the great American courses of the 1920s and ’30s with directional and fore bunkers, the Meadows course opened in 1968, followed two years later by Black Butte’s first course, Big Meadow.

Course growth in Central ­Oregon stalled soon after, however, due to a stagnant economy and credit crunch. Yet by 1982, there were two courses apiece at Sunriver (the Woodlands opened in ’81) and Black Butte (Glaze Meadow was completed in ’82) along with 18-hole tracks at Bend Golf Club and Kah-Nee-Ta in Warm Springs, and nine-hole courses at Crooked River Ranch, Juniper in Redmond, Orion Greens in southeast Bend, and Prineville Golf Club. The game had grown substantially on the High Desert. But the area had not seen anything yet.

In the mid-1980s, Gene “Bunny” Mason was the director of golf at Black Butte Ranch, where he had designed Glaze Meadow. Also the architect of Kah-Nee-Ta’s second nine holes in 1976, Mason was charged with designing a new project on a patch of old farmland west of Redmond: a plot now known as Eagle Crest Resort. Mason’s Resort Course opened in 1986, setting off the next phase of Central Oregon’s transformation into a golf mecca.

Like many courses that hit the market at the time, Mountain High in south Bend, now the Old Back Nine, was designed in 1987 as a way of selling real estate. The old Juniper course, on the east side of Redmond, added nine holes after operating for 35 years as a nine-hole course.

In 1988, Bend’s Riverhouse Hotel (now Riverhouse on the Deschutes) opened nine holes, known as River’s Edge Golf Course, and expanded to 18 holes three years later.

Another wave of courses came in 1991 with Quail Run Golf Course in La Pine and Seventh Mountain Golf Village (now Widgi Creek Golf Club), followed again by Eagle Crest (its Ridge Course) in ’92 and three courses the next year: Broken Top Club and Awbrey Glen Golf Club (yet another Mason-designed facility), both in Bend, and Meadow Lakes Golf Course in Prineville.

In 1995 came Sunriver’s crown jewel, set south of Sunriver ­Resort’s main lodge in a meadow that had been used as a grazing land. Situated on 600 acres of woodlands and preserved wetlands, Crosswater Club has been a mainstay on lists of the top golf courses in the nation. It was named by Golf Digest as the country’s “Best New Resort Course of 1995,” and it has since played host to a number of high-profile tournaments such as the PGA Professional Championship (four times since 2001) and, from 2007 to 2010, the Jeld-Wen Tradition, a major tournament on what was then pro golf’s over-50 Champions Tour.

By the turn of the century, four more courses had opened: The Greens at Redmond, Lost Tracks, Aspen Lakes and Eagle Crest’s Challenge Course.

Yet Central Oregon was still not done.

Smith Rock Golf Course, a pitch-and-putt facility in northeast Redmond, was completed in 2002 and was known as Missing Link Family Golf Center. It was followed by high-end resort courses at Pronghorn in Bend (the Nicklaus Course in 2004 and the Fazio Course in 2007), Brasada Ranch in Powell Butte (in 2006) and the par-3 Caldera Links and Golf Park in Sunriver (2007).

One final piece was left to complete the current golf landscape of Central Oregon, and it fell into place in 2008.

It was 10 years ago when a Scottish architect who was lauded for his design of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the southern Oregon Coast in 1998 teed up the first shot at Tetherow Golf Club. David McLay Kidd completed a Scottish links design on the west side of Bend just off Century Drive, the highway to Mount Bachelor. Rather than using bentgrass, the most common grass found on area courses, he put in fescue, giving the course a more brownish-green tint as opposed to the lush emerald green.

“I know that the whole objective with Tetherow was to create something different in Central Oregon. And I think that we achieved that in spades,” Kidd told The Bulletin in 2008. “Now we have to see if the golfers of Central Oregon will embrace it or not, because it is a huge departure from next door.”

Tetherow stands as the most recent course to open in Central Oregon, capping a span of some 30 years during which the region became a world-class golf retreat. When Golf Digest published in 2000 its list of the 50 greatest golf destinations in the world, Central Oregon was ranked 23rd and ahead of locations that are more synonymous with the sport, places like San Diego, Las ­Vegas, and Orlando, Florida.

At a meeting of the Bend Chamber of Commerce in 1960, Mason, the aforementioned course architect, proclaimed that Central ­Oregon would one day become “the Palm Springs of the Northwest.” Then a Salem resident, Mason had just won the 1960 Oregon PGA Championship at Bend Golf Club. At the time, Central Oregon was home to only four golf courses. Mason’s statement seemed bold, but he remained steadfast in his belief.

In a Sisters Country Historical Society autobiography, Mason recalled predicting in 1960 that there would be 25 golf courses in Central Oregon before he died.

He was correct, but not exactly. When he passed away in 2010, the High Desert was — and is still — home to 30 courses.

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com

19802955