Tetherow Golf Club

In Bend, Oregon you will find what is repeatedly called one of the most polarizing courses in the country--Tetherow. Designed by David McLay Kidd--who has done other awesome tracts like Bandon Dunes, Mammoth Dunes, Gamble Sands, and Nanea--I was pumped to play here, so I certainly went in with a good mindset. In other instances when I have played polarizing courses, I fell on the side of loving the course--namely Tobacco Road. Unfortunately, I fell on the other side of the fence with Tetherow. The holes are a bit crazy and often unfair. And it is really the latter part that sticks with you after the round. Let me elaborate.

Tetherow is a links-style course (though it is nowhere near the ocean). In living up to its style, the fairways are full of humps and bumps, as are the greens. However, unlike Bandon Dunes--also designed by Kidd--which has undulating fairways and links-style greens, Tetherow turns the dial up on these features, and the result often turns into mini-golf. There were countless shots where you were on the green relatively close to the hole (perhaps 30 feet), but you were on the wrong section of the green and knew that it was simply impossible to keep your putt on the green (as our caddy told us). Approach shots were equally penal. You might miss your line two yards to the right and your shot would funnel into some disastrous position. Now, to be sure, such features exist on other golf courses (coming up short at nine on Augusta comes to mind). However, these shots were everywhere at Tetherow. It felt like your were navigating a trick shot on every hole, rather than a strategic shot. I understand that one way a golf course can be great is forcing a player to employ positional golf whereby hitting the wrong section of a green makes a two putt unlikely, or hitting the wrong section of the fairway makes an approach more difficult. This concept is not lost on me. I am simply saying that Tetherow takes that to an extreme. Maybe you want a person who hits the wrong section of a fairway to have a tougher approach, but you do not want them to kick into a deathly bunker.

And I am certainly not the only one with this opinion. Apparently, the members/property owners complained to Kidd and he has apologized for some of these design errors (at least that is what the caddy told us). Since it was built in 2008, there have been some changes to the design to smooth it out a bit and take some of the edge off. I can't imagine seeing it when its edge was even sharper!

All of this being said, I think you can have a great time at Tetherow with a change of mindset (I would also note that I did have a great time at Tetherow--it is difficult to have a bad time golfing in beautiful weather on a stunning landscape. I am merely pointing out some shortcoming of the course). I would like to go back to play Tetherow and take it for what it is--a crazy, but fun round of golf where you will likely have a handful of eights. Get out there with someone who is a good match play partner and have at it. You will each get a bunch of bad breaks, a bunch of good ones, and someone will come out ahead at the end of the day. The last thing you want to be doing at this golf course is counting your strokes, so just take strokes out of it and play an opponent. Then, just enjoy the walk because the course truly does have some stunning topography and scenery. And, like I said, the greens are pretty wild. If no other groups are around, treat the greens like The Punchbowl at Bandon and try some crazy shots. My point being, this course is not a fair test of golf, but it can still be a fun outing in a marvelous setting. And, if you are vacationing out in Bend, it is definitely worth a play. However, if you only had time for one and had to choose between Tetherow and Pronghorn, Pronghorn is the clear winner.

But, the course is quite photogenic. So, onto some of the holes.

1st- 381 yard par four.

The first is a slightly uphill par four. The tee shot is not terribly hard, but the approach is difficult with a massive bunker on the right side. Find yourself in there and your day could be off to a rough start.

First tee.

2nd-534 yard par five.

The second is a really fun hole. After a blind tee shot, you get to the top of the hill and see a split fairway with the right half of the fairway significantly higher than the left half. Catch the correct chute and your drive can go for a mile. With a downhill second shot, this is definitely a reachable par five.

Approach to second.

Second green complex. Gives you some idea of the humps and bumps around this course.

3rd-146 yard par three.

Another fun hole. Big green with a scary bunker short. I do not remember this green perfectly, but am pretty sure it was diabolically fast from one direction to another. On the day we played, pin was back left, so if you miss to the right, you found yourself quite a ways from the stick.

Third tee.

Third green. On the right side of the picture you can see one of the humps in the green.

4th-391 yard par four.

The fourth may have been the best example of the maniacal greens. I remember one of us was on the wrong tier of the green and our caddy told us the only way to hold the green was to play a bank shot a few feet up into the fringe so that the ball effectively stopped in the fringe and then let gravity bring it down to the hole. Otherwise, unless the ball came to a stop and proceeded with nothing more than gravity, you would not hold the green. It was a fun shot at the very least.

Fourth tee.

Approach to four.

Fourth green. I think the play was to go above the pin into the fringe (in this photograph, to the right of the pine). Then, let the ball stop and come back to the hole.

5th-399 yard par four.

Quite a vista off the fifth tee here. Wide open fairway where you can whack your drive and the primary defense of the green is its multiple mounds.

Fifth tee shot.

Approach to five.

Fifth green.

6th-409 yard par four.

Pretty wild hole here with another split fairway with water along the left fairway. Unlike the other split fairway, there is danger with this one. If going for the lower fairway and hit it too far, you will find yourself in bunkers. The approach is then to a slightly elevated green over the sand dunes.

Sixth tee.

Approach to six.

7th-189 yard par three.

One of the more boring holes on the course. Straightaway par three with a small little pot bunker protecting the front.

Seventh tee.

8th-364 yard par four.

Uphill par four full of mounds and a tree right in the middle of this fairway. Pretty tough hole right here.

Eighth tee.

Tree in the middle of eight fairway with pot bunkers in background.

9th-499 yard par five.

Another stunning scene from this tee box. Expansive driving area. The primary feature of this hole is an enormous cross bunker that prevents you from running your second shot up to the green. Either fly it, or make sure your layup does not go too far.

Ninth tee.

Approach to nine.

Cross bunker on nine.

10th-289 yard par four.

This is a legitimately drivable par four. Knock it over the set of bunkers in the middle of the fairway and let it run up to the green.

Tenth tee.

11th-420 yard par four.

This is quite the difficult hole because of how long it is and how narrow the green is. Miss the green to the left and there is a collection area that leaves quite the difficult up and down.

Eleventh tee.

Approach to eleven.

12th-386 yard par four.

Great hole here--dogleg left with a ravine separating the fairway and the green. Only real danger is your drive going too far into the ravine.

Twelfth tee.

Approach to twelve.

13th-521 yard par five.

One of the best holes on the course here. Sand down the left and a lake coming into play around the green. This tee box provided some great views of the mountains. Nice problem to have, but the sun ruined the picture from the fairway because of how bright it was!

Thirteenth tee.

14th-157 yard par three.

Fairly straightforward par three here and the third easiest hole on the course. Unfortunately, am missing a picture of it.

15th-390 yard par four.

This was a confusing hole the first time you play it, even with a caddy. The tee shot is downhill, but in such a way that you cannot see the landing area. Moreover, because of the vantage point, the landing areas seems super small and enclosed by trees. Adding to the difficulty is a pond that juts out into the fairway, so you really should not hit driver, but hitting anything less makes the hole quite long given the uphill approach.

Fifteenth tee.

16th-424 yard par four.

Second hardest hole on the course here--dogleg right par four. Quite the contoured fairway where even a well-struck shot risks bounding into the waste area. Then your approach is down a funnel to the green.

Sixteenth tee.

Approach to sixteen.

17th-174 yard par three.

The most memorable hole on the course and one of the cooler holes I played all year. I have never played Pine Valley, but, based on photos, this hole reminded me of it. Anywhere but the green is dead. I don't agree that this is the easiest hole on the course, as the scorecard indicates. The green is fairly narrow (though deep), so missing it is quite possible and, if you do, it is a difficult up and down.

Seventeenth tee.

Looking back towards seventeenth tee.

18th-511 yard par five.

Solid finishing hole--not the best hole on the course, but a strong one. A dogleg left par five, uphill through hills framing the fairway. It's really the dunes surrounding the fairway that make the hole.

Eighteenth tee.

Approach to eighteen.

After having written this review, I am a bit more sympathetic to this course. Yea, it was a bit hard and crazy, but heck it was scenic too, had a bunch of unique holes, and some really fun ones. I think my advice above is correct--play this course, but don't care about your score. See how many birdies you can make, how many doubles you can make, and whether you can get the better of your playing partner. You will have a great time and play a course unlike any other.