The Lane County Golf Guide: Tokatee
When you drive to Tokatee, which is situated on the eastern edge of Lane County, you first wonder why someone decided to build a beautiful golf course close to exactly no one. Then you arrive, and immediately understand why the course is where it is. All that’s left is to wonder why no one lives there.
Tokatee’s location is both an advantage and a disadvantage.
The course is nestled in an isolated valley well into the Cascade Mountains. At that altitude the winters are long and harsh: impossible weather for golf. The conditions dictate that Tokatee close completely for four months out of the year.
When the course reopens each year in late February the maintenance crew is faced with an incredible challenge: prepare a course that has been lying under feet of snow for months for a new season of play. Anyone acquainted with the exacting specifications for a course with expectations as high as Tokatee’s understands the Herculean effort this task requires.
New Superintendent, Akoni Ganir, has brought a renewed energy to maintenance of the course and he appears more than up to the task of preparing Tokatee for yearly play. However, his goals are not just to prepare the course for play, but to get it in the best shape possible.
Ganir came from Pebble Beach last July to take over the head spot at Tokatee. He has a rich pedigree, having worked at several prestigious golf courses and tournaments including Augusta National, where he volunteers yearly during the Masters. “He [Ganir] has a wealth of knowledge: he knows what a course should look like, and he knows how to make his vision a reality.” So far so good, the course looked beautiful when I played.
So, why is Tokatee located where it is?
Famed local lumberman, Nat Giustina, had a passion for golf. It was his quest to find the best, most picturesque and breathtakingly perfect spot of land to build a golf course. He wanted to find a location with all of the mountain views without the elevation changes.
In what was a true “if you build it they will come” moment, the course has received, and continues to receive, numerous accolades from multiple golf periodicals. Because Tokatee has been rated highly the golfing population at large has sought it out. Any course published in magazines typically is. These accolades helped Tokatee become a place of golf pilgrimage.
Tokatee is remote. Very few people live nearby. Nearly all of Tokatee’s players travel a significant distance to play. This leads them to cater to what Dan King, PGA Golf Pro at Tokatee, called a “transient clientele.”
When I spoke with Dan I asked him, with the remote location, who is Tokatee’s customer? Obviously they weren’t appealing to a daily fee crowd.
Dan told me “the real beauty is the variety of people who consider the place special. There are people who came here for the first time on a long road-trip with their fathers. People who played the course during a hunting or camping trip and those who played their high school district golf tournaments here.”
The vivid memories created at Tokatee create an urge to return. The players at Tokatee are people like these. There aren’t many of the typical “once a week on Tuesdays” customers. The core clientele play once a year, every year.
“Many of our players are players who have played in the past, maybe with a dad or grandfather, and they come back once a year because of the memories associated with playing the course.”
Tokatee understands that their client makeup is atypical, so they take special care to connect with their clients through multiple media outlets. You can register for their monthly newsletter or be made aware of promotions at their website. Also on the website are cameras which allow you to see conditions at the course from anywhere in the world. They have a very active Facebook page where “pilgrims” often meet to share experiences or stay up-to-date with the world of golf.
Tokatee is a unique in many ways. Although it’s located high in the mountains the course is nestled in a valley that is really very flat. Elevation changes are seldom at Tokatee. The course is well maintained. There is little high grass. This leads Tokatee to play very forgivingly, with playable lies from nearly every spot on the course.
Golf at Tokatee is a surreal experience. I played my round early in the morning. Misty clouds ringed each of the surrounding mountains. The grass was still wet with morning dew and many of the holes had yet to be dug.
Tokatee isn’t tricky. There are mature trees on most holes, but mostly they frame your shot rather than being a cause for dread. There are ponds and bunkers, but none of the trouble is hidden. The layout is very straight forward, which allows the player to focus on the view.
Being away from people is part of what makes the course special. There are no homes lining the fairways at Tokatee. There is no out-of-bounds. When you play you are asked to not worry about your game, to have fun and enjoy your surroundings.
All of this because of where Tokatee is located.