Who knew that Oregon had a desert? I didn't until planning my Oregon golf trip. That's not something they teach you in elementary school geography. My brother and I landed in Portland and drove straight to Bend--a small city about three hours southeast of Portland. The drive started through beautiful forest that you would typically associate with Oregon. Then, fairly abruptly, the terrain turns to desert once your cross over Mt. Hood and you feel like you are in Arizona. Our trip in Oregon took us to forest, desert, and sea, and each was beautiful in its own way.
This satellite view shows you the abrupt change in terrain from forest to desert (Bend is the red bubble in the lower portion).
The Pronghorn Resort itself is located about 30 minutes outside of Bend in the middle of nowhere. Even upon entering the property, you still have a few miles drive to get to the clubhouse. It really did feel like a peaceful place away from it all.
A few things to note about the resort. There is the public Nicklaus course and the private Fazio course. This review is about the Nicklaus course. I would love to get back and get another shot at the Nicklaus course (for reasons described below) and get out on the Fazio. This was really the first time I played desert golf and I absolutely loved it. Another thing to note--the conditions were impeccable. We went at the end of June, so the course had already been open for play for a good amount of the season. The place looked untouched. I cannot think of another public course (and very few private ones for that matter) that was better conditioned. This perfect conditioning led to super fast greens--10 on the stimp on the day we played (there is a sign on the putting green noting the speed).
We decided to play at twilight and it was the absolute best time of the day. Nobody out there, catch the golden hour, and really just take in one of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever experience. Now, as to why I want another shot at the Nicklaus course. I simply played terribly. I am a fairly good golfer--nothing amazing, but entirely competent. On a great day I will break 80. On a bad day I will shoot low 90s. Even a low 90s day is fun because there will be some good scores thrown in there. But, at Pronghorn, I played utterly terribly. I stopped keeping score, but it was certainly not going to be a 90 on the card. It was like I lost my swing right when I was playing one of the best courses of my life. Making it even worse, this was the first course we played on our Oregon trip, so I was terrified that the rest of the trip would be full of atrocious golf. Happily, we went to the range the next day and I figured my stuff out and the rest of the trip was a dream. But, for those 18 holes, I just lost it. So, would love to get back out there and give this beauty another go.
Now, let us check out some of the holes.
1st-355 yard par four.
Not a ton to the first drive, but the green complex is interesting. To the left of the green there is a bunker and in the middle of the bunker is a large rock formation. I found myself on the other side of these rocks and chipping over them.
In the left portion of the picture you can see the rock formation by the first green.
2nd-524 yard par five.
Just another beautiful tee shot with a set of bunkers protecting the green and making it difficult to run shots up there.
Cool looking tree on the left side of the second fairway with the bunkers protecting the green pictured just behind.
3rd--203 yard par three.
Interesting hole because of the slope of the green (unfortunately no picture). There is a deep bunker to the right. The green that lies over that bunker is elevated such that the green slopes heavily from right to left. Hit it up on that hill and it may feed back to the hole, but, if it does not, it will be a hard two putt with the speed of these greens.
4th-300 yard par four.
Love short par fours and every Nicklaus course I have played has one. There is an annoying bunker in the middle of the fairway that makes it difficult to run shots up to the green and will create a difficult second shot for you if ya find it.
Approach to four.
5th-400 yard par four.
Fairly long hole with an uphill approach, but not a ton going on with this straightaway par four.
Approach to five.
6th-445 yard par four.
Again, not the strongest hole--just a long, straight hole with a few bunkers.
7th-173 yard par three.
Fun little par three here, especially with the steep bank in the front of the green.
8th-589 yard par five.
The eighth is one of my favorites on the course, but also the hardest. The drive has to avoid some bunkers, including one in the middle of the fairway. Then, on your second shot, a pond appears on the right side of the fairway and runs all the way up to the green. If you are a long hitter, the pond will come into play on your layup shot. If you are not a long hitter, then your third into the green will have to fly this water.
Second on eighth.
Approach into eight.
9th-392 yard par four.
Slight dogleg left with a fun green complex because of the shaved aprons around the green and a ghostly looking tree just over the back edge.
Don't go too far over the ninth green.
10th-419 yard par four.
Slight dogleg right with a bunker protecting the right that you have to carry if you want to cut some distance off this hole.
11th-407 yard par four.
Prior to this hole, most holes had a few bunkers scattered here or there. This is the first hole with lots of sand as opposed to bunkers. I think there is a distinction to be made here between sand and bunkers. There are some courses with lots of bunkers--like Bethpage. Then, there are courses with lots of sand, like Pine Valley, Tobacco Road, or Whistling Straits. This was a hole that felt more like sand than defined bunkers due to the large sand area in the fairway and up the right side.
Approach to eleven.
12th--281 yard par four.
Another fun, short par four. For me, there really is no drivable par four. But, to the extent there were to be a hole I'd consider drivable, this is not it. Though only 280 yards, the green is elevated and protected by deep bunkers in the front. So, to hit it in one, you really have to be able to fly your ball 280. The smart play is to hit a club off the tee that will leave you with a comfortable wedge because if you miss with your second and find those bunkers short of the green, then an easy hole just became pretty tough.
Looking back down twelfth hole.
13th-330 yard par four.
One of the cooler holes I played in all of 2017. Dogleg right with a pond protecting the dogleg. As always, cut off as much as you dare. The approach then has to fly the water to an amphitheater green surrounded by rocks.
Approach to thirteen.
From behind thirteen green.
14th-152 yard par three.
Again, lots of sand on this hole. In addition to a large waste area separating the the tee and the green, there is a horseshoe of sand surrounding the green. But, really, the only thing I could look at were those mountains in the background.
Looking back towards the fourteenth tee.
15th-498 yard par five.
Second hardest hole on the course and it felt like it. It is a tight fairway surrounded by inhospitable desert. Unfortunately, the sun was becoming a bit overwhelming as it was setting, so I do not have many good photos of this hole.
Looking back down the fifteenth hole.
16th-506 yard par five.
Yes, back-to-back par fives. There is a pretty great vista from this slightly elevated tee box. Though there is a pretty good amount of room for your drive, the fairway tightens where you want to be laying up, which is what gives this hole its challenge.
17th-177 yard par three.
Solid par three with an enormous bunker protecting the front left. Nothing really flashy here, but a solid golf hole.
18th-418 yard par four.
Strong finishing hole. Again, good amount of room for the driver, but the hole narrows on your second. Unfortunately, I only have pictures from the tee because I was too busy searching for balls on my second shot.
In my head, I have such fond memories of Pronghorn. However, after having written this review, I look back and there are not a ton of holes that standout to me--really, only the 13th hole. I think this contradiction exists because of the overwhelming sense of beauty this place exuded. There are not a ton of golf courses where I can think about the course in my head and associate a feeling with it. Cypress is a thrill ride from start to finish. Bandon is a sort of awe inspiring feeling as you look out from the towering cliffs. With Pebble there is a sense of gratitude because it is something you have been hoping to do your whole life. There are many courses I like better than Pronghorn, but not all of those courses have an identifiable feel to them. When I think about Pronghorn, the crisp mountain area, perfect temperature, quiet desert, and setting sun are all palpable to me. So, even if there are courses with more interesting holes, part of the reason we play this game is to absorb beautiful natural settings, and this is one of the finest such settings I have ever had the pleasure to experience.