mark apker

LCGG: Diamond Woods Golf Course

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Diamond Woods is a fantastic course sprinkled with a bit of mystery cunningly hidden from the player’s view. The terrain has an element of illusion born from painstaking design. Diamond Woods is a fair course with a bewitching challenge embedded within its complex architecture. How can a course which, on it’s face appears very good, actually be much better than that?

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It starts with two brothers and baseball.

Jeff and Greg Doyle grew up in Junction City. Both were fantastic athletes and enjoyed all sports. While in their early teens their father did some work at Fiddler’s Green. As part of the payment for that work Jeff and Greg were allowed to play golf as much as they could during that entire summer. They took full advantage of the offer. At one point during that summer they played golf for thirty straight days. This experience hooked them both on golf and, unknowingly, helped chart the course their lives would eventually follow.

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Both Jeff and Greg attended Oregon State University with Jeff playing baseball and Greg earning a degree in landscape architecture. After college, Jeff would go on to play Major League Baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals and in Japan. Meanwhile, Greg was still focused on golf. He was working on the grounds crew at Shadow Hills and Trysting Tree, learning the ins-and-outs of irrigation systems and course design.

In 1986, after his contract in Japan had ended, Jeff moved back to Oregon and began making plans for his post baseball career. At this point the brothers had a conversation. Jeff was in a position to front some capital, and Greg up to the challenge of designing his own course.

In 1992, after an exhaustive search for a suitable piece of land, the brothers finally found and purchased the property that would become Diamond Woods. To keep the venture solvent, and to help with the necessity of clearing the land, they sold some of the lumber on the land. After the lumber was cleared, Greg spent the next five years sculpting the land with an old tractor while living in a singlewide trailer on the land. It was a true do-it-yourself venture.

During this five-year period Greg shifted an incredible amount of earth. This very personal, very intricate, process of building a course led to a course full of nuanced precision. I’ve never seen a golf course so lovingly constructed.

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While the course was under construction local curiosity was aroused. The neighboring farmers all wondered, “What are these boys doing”? Greg told the neighbors they were building a golf course. Because of their reputation and ties to the community, everyone offered to help in some way. Many brought farm equipment to mow grass or trenches or do whatever needed to be done. Their neighbors, the Strota’s, granted water rights and an easement for irrigation pipes to go through their land.

Near the end of construction the course still needed a name, but there was little agreement among the course stakeholders about what that name should be. Several ideas were floated and shot down. Eventually the name Diamond Woods was settled on. Why Diamond Woods? The name is evocative and elegant, but that’s only a small part of the story. Diamond Woods was chosen because those were the two means through which the course was financed: through the money Jeff earned while playing baseball (the diamond) and through the money they earned when they sold some of the timber on the land (the woods).

When the first nine holes opened in 1997 the results were spectacular. All of the meticulous work that Greg had done during those five years showed in the product. The course looked nice to be sure, but the golf was spectacular.

The course is long, varied, beautiful and constantly challenging your perceptions.

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During my round it took me awhile to understand how complex the course was. The front nine feels very open, the course is very beautiful. The tee shot at two was a fun intellectual exercise, with bunkers and rough surrounding the landing zone for what was essentially a forced carry. The course continued on with difficult holes, forced carries and rolling terrain into greens carved out hills and carefully shaped.

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Diamond Woods was intriguing. There wasn’t anything spectacular that jumped out at me. What makes Diamond Woods special is barely perceptible: but it’s there.

It’s things like the length of the long rough. It’s tall, but you have the opportunity to make a play from it. It’s like, instead of costing you one or two strokes, it cost you half a stroke. Sure, you made a mistake, and you’re going to have to pay for it. But, if you hit an amazing shot you can make it up.

Diamond Woods gives you so many opportunities to play above yourself, even, and perhaps especially, after a shot that was decidedly below your skill level. It wasn’t until about halfway through the back nine that I understood. The course wants you to play well, it wants you to score well, but it won’t just give you a score. You still have to earn it.

The back nine is fantastic. The elevation changes are drastic and frequent and the views from the top of the hill are expansive.

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If you want a round of golf that you will truly enjoy you should go.

Seriously, go.

I sincerely hope you appreciate Diamond Woods as much as I did. I’m sure you will.

 

LCGG: Oakway Golf Course

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A league is competing everyday at Oakway.

When I arrived at the clubhouse General Manager, Jamaal Was a blur of motion. He was greeting customers by name, working the register and preparing activities for the day’s league participants.

I rode with him in his cart as he prepared the course for closest to the pin and longest drive competitions. During our ride he related to me the volume of work he does each day to prepare for league activities.

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Golf at Oakway is all about leagues and having fun. The course is short, a mere par 61, so it isn’t the most challenging track. However; it is a great place for players to come and enjoy a relaxed round and for more experienced players to bring their less experienced friends. It’s a stepping stone course, a place where players can begin to hone their game and have fun experience which help a player improve.

Oakway has a lot of measures in place to help make new and improving players feel comfortable. There are no tee times, simply show up. The wait time before you can begin your round will be short. Also, don’t worry about the dress code, a T-shirt and jeans will be just fine.

Oakway offers a seemingly never-ending list of ways for players to improve their game in a fun, no stress environment. From leagues, to discounts, to tournaments and much more, if you like to play golf regularly, or want to improve your game, there is a league for you at Oakway.

When I arrived at the course it was 7:00 am on a Friday and Jamaal was preparing the course for the “Old Goats” league which meets every Tuesday and Friday morning. That league is mostly comprised former teachers and other retirees. During their round there are several closest to the pin and longest drive challenges for which an “Old Goat” may garner recognition.

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The “men’s league” meets every Tuesday anytime between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. In addition to the weekly meeting the Men’s League also sponsors “Major Tournaments.” On the Saturday of each PGA Major Tournament, Oakway hosts a stroke play tournament open to all comers complete with prizes and trophies. Entry fees for the tournament are actually lower than daily greens fees, so in addition to being a fun competition it’s also a good value.

On Wednesdays Oakway hosts a Men’s and Women’s “Senior Open” league. All players draw cards from a deck of playing cards and play with people who have the same number card as them (for example: if you drew a King, you play with everyone else who drew a King). Essentially, this gives the player the opportunity to get to know new people by playing with a random group each week.

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After 2:00pm on Thursday Oakway hosts its “Wine and Nine.” They close the front nine to accommodate the players. Players’ sample wine while they play their round with a different mix of wines is featured each week. 

During the summer Oakway helps to develop juniors by offering free lessons each Monday. There are four lesson sessions offered between 10:00-11:00 am, each of which runs for fifteen minutes. After the lesson participants may play a complimentary nine holes. The lessons are open to all players ages seven to seventeen.

On Monday Oakway hosts a “Working Women” league. Women are welcome to play their round anytime between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. After their round they input their scores which are tracked by the league and used to determine league standings and recognition.

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The last league at Oakway is actually the first. The Thursday Ladies Club has been established nearly since the course began operations in its current form in 1947. The league is huge, with between sixty and one hundred members participating each week.

The great thing about each of these leagues is that they are a true partnership between the course and the leadership of the league. The league presidents take ownership in the course and take great pride in helping the course improve in all aspects of its operations.

Oakway also hosts five-dollar Fridays. On the first Friday of each month the price for nine holes is five-dollars for all players. On the second Friday of each month Oakway hosts a five-dollar Friday for students only.

Oakway has been around for a long time. It began its life as a regulation length course in the early part of the last century. In 1947, with real estate prices skyrocketing to meet the post-war demand for housing, the course was shortened and much of the land was sold to developers.

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The course in its present state is all par 4’s and par 3’s. The holes run through mature trees planted in rows. Accuracy is at a premium, making your driver redundant. With so many par 3’s Oakway offers an excellent opportunity to work on your short game and dial in your irons.

If you’re looking for a course which will help you have fun and improve your game in a structured but low-key environment, Oakway can help you fill that need.

LCGG: Emerald Valley Golf Club

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Excellent players compete at Emerald Valley.

Emerald Valley is the ideal course for public players looking for great conditions at an economical price. It’s not the ideal course for the raw beginner; it’s challenging for even the best players.

The course, located about ten minutes south of Eugene, frequently plays host to some of the most prestigious and hotly contested tournaments in the region. When I visited Emerald Valley I spoke with Todd O’Neal, General Manager and Head Professional at Emerald Valley. Over the past few years the course has hosted the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Men’s amateur tournament, which is the largest amateur event in the Northwest. Said O’Neal;

“Last year this event brought the top three amateurs in the world, all Walker cuppers, to Emerald Valley.”

Emerald Valley also hosted U.S. Open sectional qualifiers, Oregon State men’s and women’s stroke play championships which brings in the best players in the state. This is in addition to the numerous prestigious junior and high school championships which take place at Emerald Valley every year.

To attract tournaments like this requires Emerald Valley to have a number of amenities in place. One of the first things that needed to be in place was an improved reputation. Emerald Valley has been around for a long time. In 2002 the course was purchased by Jim Pliska, former University of Oregon golfer and, along with his father, owner of the “Space Age Fuel” gas and convenience store franchise located in the Portland area. When Pliska purchased the course it wasn’t in very good shape, and he knew that a lot of work needed to be done. Since purchasing Emerald Valley, Pliska has been the driving force behind a number of changes that has helped the course conform to the expectations of tournament players and thus, attract some of the most prestigious tournaments in the region.

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In 2005 an entirely new irrigation system was added. Several new tees were added to give the players a better perspective as they sized up each hole. Additionally, bunkers have been added all over the course to aid in changing the shape of the fairway. These changes have improved play by forcing players to make tough decisions as they manage each hole. There are twelve new fairway bunkers which challenge players off the tee, as well as sixteen new greenside bunkers which make many approach shots much more difficult. The sum of these changes has refined the course into a track that is incredibly upfront with you about how difficult it is. There isn’t a lot of hidden information at Emerald Valley, nothing to really catch the player by surprise.

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The greens are well maintained, aerated often, and are rife with subtle movements; making them fast and challenging to read. According to O’Neal

“Greens are our number one priority.”

Though the greens are a reasonable size, the landing areas on the greens at Emerald Valley are much smaller than at the average course in Lane County. Many of the greens have either false fronts or multiple tiers. Even if your approach manages to land on the green, there’s no guarantee that you will two putt or even that your ball will remain on the green.

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Emerald Valley has an excellent learning facility.

“We have four PGA pros on staff. We turn out top quality players through our “get golf ready” program. Graduates of this program include Olympic gold medal decathlete, Ashton Eaton, who took lessons in advance of a Golf Channel special he appeared in.”

One of the holes which typifies a straightforward shot into a difficult green is number seventeen. The hole is a 182-yard par 3. There is a large pond in front of the green and two bunkers, one front left and the other front right. The green has a false front which runs back-to-front. You must land your ball on the back half of the green for it to say up. A shot that doesn’t make it to the back half of the green could run down the front of the green to a bunker, the rough just in-front of the pond, or, if disaster strikes, all the way to the water. However, with all of the incentives to play the ball to the back half of the elevated green a player needs to be careful not to hit over the green. The consequence of doing that is having an uphill shot towards all of the danger at the front of the green.

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The truly intimidating thing about the seventeenth hole at Emerald Valley, as well as many of the other holes, is that nearly all of the danger a player will face is apparent from the tee. You do not have the luxury of blissful ignorance at Emerald Valley.

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All of the improvements to the course, as well as the day-to-day maintenance, require a lot of labor. However, Emerald Valley attempts to keep costs relatively low, so the cost of a round is within reach of many. So, how is Emerald Valley able to keep costs low and course quality high? To keep labor costs low they speculate on young talent to maintain the course. They hire individuals fresh out of school who are solid golfers themselves. Because Emerald Valley has built a reputation as a course which fosters a high level of competitive play, and because of the exacting standards which they require their course to maintain, their young talent is able to improve their resume and move on to better positions after a few years. Said O’Neal,

“The theory we have is that this is not their last stop. After they leave Emerald Valley they will move on and up. We have three former employees currently with the OGA, everyone who comes here is trained well and works hard. There’s no sense of entitlement, all top management, everyone, makes a sacrifice.”

Emerald Valley puts so much work into the course because they want the player’s experience to be fun. And, at Emerald Valley, they believe for the course to be fun it must play fair. Emerald Valley is a challenging and fair course, perfect for the golfer who would like to evaluate their game against a test taken by some of the best golfers in the world.

LCGG: McKenzie River Golf Course

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It’s amazing how such a short drive up the McKenzie River can make such a big difference. McKenzie River Golf Course benefits a great deal from being barely removed from the city.

Located about 20 minutes east of Springfield on highway 126, McKenzie River Golf Course is a 9-hole course owned by Rod Omlid. The course was founded in 1961, opened by Rod’s dad and uncles. In 1979, Rod, along with his sister, purchased the course. In 1996 Rod bought out his sister and has been the sole owner since.

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McKenzie River Golf Course may not be the preferred course of single digit handicappers, but it is fantastic at catering to the needs of newer golfers and golfers looking to lower their handicap. McKenzie River Golf Course has all of the amenities necessary for a player to improve in all facets of their game. With three putting greens, places to work on your short game and a new driving range, McKenzie River has all of the tools to help you work on the shots that will lower your score.

Once you begin your round the course offers the opportunity for you to put those skills to practice. Also, the course gives you plenty of risky decisions which allow you to work on improving your mental golf game. McKenzie River has a lot of trees lining the fairways, but not many other hazards for a golfer to worry about. It requires golfers to hit the ball straight and punishes anyone who deviates from this formula. There are several par 4’s around 300 yards where the player is given a choice. If you feel you have full command of your driver you may have an opportunity to reach in one, or have only a short chip onto the green, giving you an almost certain birdie opportunity. However, if you miss with your driver and end up in the trees you will have a difficult, perhaps impossible, time salvaging a score.

If you’re not one hundred percent confident in your driver you may want to pull a longer iron or hybrid off the tee and leave yourself a mid or short iron into the green. This line may lead to more bogies, but it should help you to avoid any triple bogies. McKenzie River Golf Course provides a player with several opportunities to develop your game by appropriately evaluating and taking calculated risks. Regardless of how you actually decide to manage the course, McKenzie River will help improve your in-round decision-making.

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McKenzie River Golf Course is a few minutes outside of Eugene/Springfield, so why should you make the trip? I suspect that I am like many others who sometimes need a little decompression time before a round of golf. Maybe life and work have been a little stressful and before you play a game where frayed emotions can lead to an unpleasant experience you may need some time to wind-down and collect your thoughts. A short, pleasant drive may be just the thing you need to prepare you for your round.

Another reason to make the drive is weather. In the thirty minutes it takes to drive to McKenzie River the weather can change drastically. When I asked Rod he said that “it can be raining in the valley and it can be completely clear up here.” McKenzie River is just high enough in the mountains where it can be above the clouds. If it’s raining in the valley and you want to play golf you may want to give McKenzie River Golf Course a call, it may very well be sunny up there!

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You may also want to make the trip if you enjoy playing your round and experiencing a bit of wildlife. Like many courses there are lots of squirrels and songbirds. On the holes which play next to the river it isn’t difficult to find Osprey and Eagles wheeling around or a Kingfisher skimming the water, each looking for a fish to turn into their next meal. There are also foxes, beavers, deer and bobcats and many other animals which make their way onto the course.

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During my round at McKenzie River Golf Course I had my own unique interaction with wildlife. The ninth hole is a 462 yard par 5. I took driver off the tee and my ball drifted right, into an area of trees between the first and ninth holes. When I found my ball I was surprised to see it sitting up on what looked like an excellent lie. I had a lot of open space in front of me from where my ball was, a clear path back to an area of the fairway which would leave me with just a short iron into the green. Based on my lie and the low risk of hitting a tree, I decided to take the shot. As I made contact with the ball my club caught something fat under my ball. My lie looked so clean, I was shocked to have caught the ground that heavily. I looked down instantly to see what had caused what I thought was going to be and easy shot to go so awry. When I looked down I saw this:

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a bull snake. I had played my second shot off of a snake. The snake clearly didn’t appreciate having had a shot played off of it. I saw the mark where my club had made impact. Don’t worry animal lovers, though the snake was clearly not pleased I waited for several minutes to make sure that I had done no lasting harm. The snake was fine, only a flesh-wound apparently.

McKenzie River Golf Course is dedicated to being a reasonably priced place for golfers to improve their game. The course is in very good shape. The holes are challenging, but even a less experienced player can score well with a few decent shots. I recommend McKenzie River Golf Course to players looking to improve their game, relax and see some wildlife.

LCGG: Hidden Valley Golf Course

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There is not one ounce of pretention at Hidden Valley. The course welcomes all in true “come-as-you-are” fashion. I arrived early for my interview and was welcomed into owner’s Dan and Molly Nord’s home located just off the first tee. They offered me coffee and invited me to sit at their dining table.

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The course is a lean operation. They have one employee who sets the sprinklers in the evening. The rest of the work is done by owner Dan, Molly and the rest of their family. Operating and maintaining a course is a huge task. Before purchasing Hidden Valley, Dan worked in landscaping and irrigation. Like many of us, he began to play a lot of golf with clients and became addicted to the sport. With a background in landscaping and irrigation he thought that he could take care of the grounds at a course. When Hidden Valley came on the market he jumped on the chance to practice his profession, live nearer to family and play all the golf time would allow.

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If you’re a little more laid back about your golf experience Hidden Valley may be the course for you. Don’t worry about what you’re wearing; t-shirt and jeans are more than acceptable. When you arrive you will be greeted by people so friendly, you’ll feel like you must have been friends for at least 20 years (if you’re younger than 20 than they’re probably friends with your parents).

Originally built in 1929, Hidden Valley is one of the oldest courses in the area. The age of the course led Dan to remark “I feel more like the caretaker than an owner, the course was here before me and it will be here long after I’m gone.” Because the course is so old there are a lot of regular golfers who have been regulars for a long time. “A lot of our golfers are in their 80’s and 90’s, the course has been here forever and so have the customers.”

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For a course that is relatively close to the freeway, and has been around as long as it has, Hidden Valley really is…hidden. With the exception of a few newer construction homes along the fourth fairway, your round is played in a very secluded setting. All of this leads to your round being relaxed in every sense of the word. The pace doesn’t need to be too quick, it’s quiet and secluded on the course, and you don’t need to play in a collared shirt and khakis. Part of that is location, and the other part is the mature trees.

Hidden Valley embraces sustainable course maintenance in several ways. When the course was built over 80 years ago it was seeded with local grasses, specifically poa annua (bluegrass). Because Hidden Valley is seeded with local grass, there is no need to use chemicals to eliminate unwanted grass varieties, which dramatically reduces the amount of chemicals needed to maintain the course. Because the grass has been at the course for so long it is naturally resistant to many of the local bugs and diseases which can harm grass; again, reducing the need for chemical treatments. Because of its age, the grass has also become incredibly drought tolerant, which makes the course a very efficient user of water. Dan has also installed Audubon Society certified birdhouses around the course. Rather than using chemicals, Dan uses birds keep plant-destroying insects in check.

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The measures taken at Hidden Valley to let nature take care of itself means the course has almost no impact on the environment.

When you arrive at Hidden Valley and are confronted by smiling faces and a relaxed atmosphere it’s easy to assume that the course will be equally accommodating: it isn’t. Hidden Valley is an incredibly challenging course. It’s long, the greens are small and many are guarded by bunkers, the trees are tall, the rough is thick and the course changes elevation more often than a roller coaster. When you visit Hidden Valley be prepared to play your best or post some high scores.

The level of difficulty ramps up early with the par 5 first. Most players will not be able to reach in two, but laying up is also incredibly dangerous because of the pond situated about 50 yards in front of the green which swallows the left side of the fairway. This means you’ll be left with a substantial third shot into a sloping back-to-front green that is protected by thick rough on the left. Though the hole itself is relatively straight forward, it is laced with landmines which can blow up in your face at any moment.

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Though holes two and three are on the shorter side, they both feature huge elevation changes which make gauging the distance much more difficult.

The fourth hole is the second par 5. The hole, like many others, features rolling hills through the entire fairway. There is a pond on the left side of the fairway about 175 yards from the tee, which makes landing your tee shot much more treacherous. Though the right side of the fairway is much more open, the fairway narrows quickly with mature trees on both sides. Even if you do manage to stay dry off the tee you may not have a clear second shot unless you manage to drive into a narrow corridor just to the right of the pond. The second shot is blind. If you do reach in two you’ll still have to navigate a very tricky multi-tiered green.

After the fourth hole the course becomes somewhat easier, although it may be best if you leave the driver in the bag for the rest of the round. The holes are straightforward, but you can quickly find trouble with even the slightest miscue off the tee. Any shot hit into the trees is devastating. Although many of the greens are within reach it’s best to avoid temptation unless you feel completely in command of your driver.

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Hidden Valley cultivates an incredibly friendly and laid-back atmosphere in their clubhouse, and it’s a good thing they do. You’ll need to feel good about yourself going into an incredibly difficult first hole on what is a very challenging course. Regardless of how you play, you’ll see the same smiling faces as you leave, which should cheer you up in preparation for your next round.

LCGG: Ocean Dunes Golf Links

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Ocean Dunes is rugged and intimidating. It asks players to make difficult, high-risk high-reward decisions. On many of the tee boxes your heart will beat a bit faster than you may be used to while playing golf, and the result of your shot will be either heartbreaking or exhilarating.

Ocean Dunes was built in 1961. In 1992, Bill Robinson, famous for redesigning courses in the Northwest like Salishan, Shadow Hills and Bear Lakes, purchased Ocean Dunes and transformed it into an eighteen-hole spectacle. “He found ways to put the spice in the course.” Says Bob Rannow, Head of Golf Operations and Head Professional at Ocean Dunes.

“At a lot of courses you don’t begin to pucker until you get near the green. At Ocean Dunes you’re puckered as soon as you step on the tee box.” Golf at Ocean Dunes is not for the faint of heart. Narrow fairways, jaw dropping carries and rugged landscaping makes Ocean Dunes a test of skill and mettle. If you enjoy golf that is thrilling and adrenaline inducing, you will enjoy Ocean Dunes.

For me, the most exciting holes at this thrill ride of a course were two of the par 3’s: numbers eight and twelve.

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The eighth tee towers over the green; really it feels more like you’re sending your ball over the edge of a cliff. The tee shot requires the player to accurately judge vertical and horizontal distance and wind into a green protected by trees on the left and sand on the right. The shot, which without the imposing visuals would really be nothing more than a simple pitching wedge, demands a confident stroke. If the player can remain composed a good score is very obtainable. If, however, the player succumbs to intimidation, the shortest hole on the course can quickly become one of the most disastrous.

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Similarly, twelve requires a massive carry over what can only be called a ravine onto a comically small green clinging to the side of a cliff. I wasn’t sure if I was more terrified of the shot or amazed by the beauty of the hole.

Both holes made me laugh in an “Are you serious? You want me to do what?” sort of way. Although eight and twelve may be a bit more overt than the rest of the course, in retrospect there were many shots where one simply had to pick a club and pray that you had correctly judged the distance.

Though Bob loves the thrill-ride aspect of the course, he also acknowledged a need for the course to be more accessible to the lay golfer. “We’re in the process of adding forward tees to every hole, to make the game more fun, more enjoyable for the average golfer. We want to give people the opportunity to make a few more birdies.”

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Bob has only been on the job now for a little more than a year. For those who may not have visited Ocean Dunes recently, Bob and his crew have done a lot to make it more playable. “We have had guys on our crew out with chainsaws clearing out the underbrush and reclaiming some recovery shots. We’ve rebuilt four tees and we’re in the process of performing some large tine aeration to make the course more agronomic.”

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Ocean Dunes, as the name suggests, is built on sand. Sand is the substance of traditional golf as it provides for excellent drainage and a consistent roll. However, as grass is fertilized and grows over time a heavy layer of dirt can build up. This build up of dirt can impede the natural benefits sand bestows on a course. Over the years, as Ocean Dunes was not maintained at a peak level, dirt build up harmed the quality of golf at the course. Bob and his crew are working diligently to bring the dunes, and the course, back to life. “We want the course to have more of a linksy feel, for it to play like a links course, like a course built on sand should.”

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So, how did Bob get the opportunity to improve Ocean Dunes?

In March of 2012 the tribal owners of the Three Rivers Casino and Resort (the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians) finally took advantage of what they viewed as an excellent opportunity to improve their customer experience and purchased Ocean Dunes. When it opened in 2004, Three Rivers was only a casino. The adjoining hotel was built in 2007. Even though Ocean Dunes was literally operating in the Casino’s backyard, the Tribe had no ties to it. The Tribe felt that adding the course would provide for a richer “full resort” experience. Variety makes a guest’s stay more fun, and the Casino wants its guests to have fun.

After purchasing the course for resort last year the Tribe took their first step towards improving the course when they hired Bob in July of 2012 and gave him autonomy over all golf operations.

Course improvement is really just the first step in much larger plan to integrate the course with the Casino. Over the past year several steps have been taken to connect golf and Casino operations, including drawing up long-term master plans which will alter the layout of the course slightly, calling for a new clubhouse adjoining the Casino, a driving range and turning the thirteenth hole into the first.

Although none of these changes need to be made for the sake of the course, and most of these changes may still be several years away, Bob acknowledges the impact a change to the course flow could have in connecting the Casino to the course. “It will increase visibility for the course, improve access by having the course and Casino share a parking lot, and it [the course] will be a big draw for the Casino.”

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Ocean Dunes is unique, fun and exciting. The emotions evoked by the course are a perfect compliment to what guests staying at the resort will feel while at the gaming tables. It’s different from many of the “park” style of courses found in much of the valley, and that uniqueness makes it a fun retreat. Regardless of how well you shoot, you get your money’s worth at Ocean Dunes. For the thrill-seeker it’s a must, and for the more casual golfer it’s an incredibly fun round different from anything else you’ll ever play.

 

 

LCGG: Laurelwood Golf Course

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Laurelwood represents Eugene perfectly. When I spoke with Debby King, General Manager and Head Professional at Laurelwood, she said that, to get an accurate picture of Eugene you need look no further than their parking lot. “It’s not uncommon to have a few BMW’s parked right next to the bikes that some of our players rode in on.”

Laurelwood is a municipal course. The City of Eugene owns the land and buildings and leases the course to Debby and Will, who have operated the course as partners since February of 2013. Though the City doesn’t own the business, they still have a vested interest in seeing their lessees’ succeed. The City and the business have an excellent working relationship, so there are a few cooperative aspects between the City and course management. The course, a major user of water, receives a subsidy on their water bill during the summer months. The City Parks and Recreation department also provides some of their mulch.

In return, all of the City’s residents have a place to play golf: from the earthy college student to the seasoned businessman. And really, the way the course is managed embodies the characteristics of both demographics.

Golf is traditionally a game for the privileged. Wrought with pomp and circumstance, formality and decorum. Business is conducted and deals are made over golf. Lawyers and doctors play golf as the stereotypical rule. Laurelwood welcomes the “traditional” golfer but they also welcome the more earth conscious, and everyone else who wants to play a round of golf, in a variety of ways.

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Greens fees are reasonable for everyone year-round ($15 in the Summer and only $10 in Winter), but even more reasonable for College Students and juniors, for whom there are discounts and a variety of promotions to encourage play.

Debby, an LPGA pro, has placed an emphasis on getting girls involved in golf through the LPGA sponsored Girl’s Golf Day. Girl’s Golf Day occurs yearly and is open to girls ages seven to seventeen. Girls who attend play for free and are welcome to borrow clubs if they need them. They receive instruction from the University of Oregon Women’s golf coach and the entire U of O Women’s golf team volunteers to assist with skills training. Last year Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy joined the girls who participated in the program for lunch. This is just one of many ways that Laurelwood reaches out to everyone and invites them to play golf.

Laurelwood doesn’t just have programs for girls. Juniors can play all day for $10 during the summer or pay a one-time fee of $110 and golf for the entire summer. Laurelwood also supports juniors by hosting Kidsports golf. Laurelwood has a multitude of other, ever-changing programs for juniors, which patrons should be sure to ask about in the clubhouse.

Being so close to the University Laurelwood takes special care to welcome students. Debby said that it’s common to see students from the University of Oregon ride their bikes up the hill to Laurelwood with their clubs slung across their back. They also get a lot of parents killing some time while their kids visit the University. “They drop off their kids, play a round, then go pick them up: it’s perfect.”

As part of the improvements made since taking over the course, Will has put in several new bunkers, including their signature “O” bunker on the second hole which pays homage to their ties with, and proximity to, the University.

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Laurelwood also takes great care to ensure the treatments to the course are environmentally friendly. They use a molasses mixture on the greens and treat the fairway with an all-natural fertilizer. The fertilizer is more expensive than the typical golf course fertilizer chemical, but much more earth friendly. In another show of cooperation between the course and the City of Eugene, and because the City recognizes the need to keep its golf as green as possible, Eugene helps to pay some of the difference between the typical fertilizer and the upgraded treatment. It’s in the City’s interest to keep the course in good shape and to keep the sport of golf as green as possible. To Eugene the goodwill is worth the extra cost.

In keeping with the Earth friendly vibe at Laurelwood, dogs are welcome on the course. The owners and employees have their animals with them in the clubhouse and they welcome their patrons to walk with their dogs on the course during their round. All they ask is that pets remain leashed.

Debby and Will have not only placed an emphasis on keeping the course environmentally friendly, but on making it more playable as well. “The fairways used to be littered with daisies, they made it hard for players to find their ball.” “The daisies are gone, and the course is in much better shape.” Debby and Will didn’t just get rid of the daisies. They dug a creek which helps with drainage on holes five, six and seven. The improved drainage and better course maintenance have dramatically enhanced playability during the winter months.

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When playing the course you notice the improvements as soon as your reach the first fairway. The daisies are gone, the grass is smooth, and the hole plays much better as a result. There aren’t a lot of obstacles to impede your shot at Laurelwood. Though there is the occasional tree or bunker, the fairways are mostly wide-open, making tee shots very forgiving. This makes it possible for players with a less precise game to potentially score well.

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There are a few exceptions. The fifth hole plays into a narrow area surrounded by dense trees. It’s an intimidating shot to the green which requires accuracy to avoid the surrounding deep rough.

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The seventh hole is interesting as well. It’s a short par 4, but a massive oak tree guards the entire fairway. Players are given the option of going over, under, around or through the tree. If you can avoid having your tee shot snagged by a branch you should be left with a short pitch to the elevated green surrounded by massive firs.

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Sustainable, organic, affordable and well maintained.

Laurelwood is family, earth and animal friendly with a laid back atmosphere which welcomes all. It is the alternative golf course for an alternative town.

LCGG: Middlefield Golf Course

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The Middlefield Golf Course opened in 1991 as a challenging executive course on the front and a reasonable regulation course on the back. The City of Cottage Grove purchased Middlefield in 2006, but not because they wanted to run a golf course.

Steve Zeek, General Manager at Middlefield and a City of Cottage Grove employee explained. “The City needed the water, the course has access to lots of effluent water. It was cheaper for the City to purchase the course than it would have been to get it from somewhere else.” The City purchased the course for $850,000 and Steve estimated that accessing the water from another location would have cost the City between $1 million and $1.2 million. “So, it just made sense for the City to buy the course.”

After purchasing Middlefield, Cottage Grove was delighted to have access to the water from the course. Suddenly however, the City found itself in the golf business. I asked Steve if Middlefield was self-sustaining or if it was subsidized by City funds. “Usually the course runs a profit, the last few years were pretty bad with the economy, but running the course isn’t a liability for the City.”

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Because Middlefield provides water to the City it doesn’t have to make a profit to be useful, it only needs to cover its expenses. The lack of pressure on Middlefield to be a profit center allows the course to keep its greens fees low. The low fees and good conditions make Middlefield an excellent value. This allows the course to attract a wide range of players. Steve believed the player makeup at Middlefield was mostly blue-collar guys, construction workers and mill workers, and he sees Middlefield as a working-man’s course. The perception seems right because of the price, conditions and difficulty. The course is challenging, but when the par is only 32 on the front it’s relatively easy for even the occasional golfer to “break 50.”

Middlefield also gets a lot of RV’s. The course is right off the freeway (or left if you’re traveling south). The sirens call of golf snags many freeway-goers during their I-5 drive. When traveling through Cottage Grove drivers see golf on both sides of the road. Golfers actually walk under the freeway to access the 3rd and 13th holes going out, and walk back under the freeway for the 9th and 18th coming in. Middlefield is unique, if for no other reason than players get to walk through a legitimate tunnel to finish their round.

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The City of Cottage Grove purchased Middlefield for its riparian rights, so you’d expect to see quite a bit of water, right? The course doesn’t disappoint. The Row River borders the course on its north and the views from the 13th fairway are excellent. Several large ponds are prominently featured and small streambeds weave throughout. The City even maintains a water facility located just off the 10th fairway. There is a chance that your ball could end up in water on nearly every hole. However, it’s a small chance. The only holes where water felt like a real concern during my round were 4 and 17, which both border the large pond on the west side of the freeway, 15, which crosses several small streambeds, and 18, which borders the large pond on the east side of the freeway. Finding water on any other hole will require a very errant shot.

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For a course with lots of water, a housing community and a freeway running right through the middle, I expected it to feel a little cramped: it didn’t. Middlefield felt very open, which made my round feel relaxing.

Middlefield has strong ties to the community. The City allows access to several of the paths for non-golfers to take a walk through the woods or by the river. It was fun and refreshing to see people on bikes or couples taking a walk with their dog.

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The course holds a tournament nearly every weekend during the summer for some local group. The Creswell sports programs are hosting their annual “big dawg” tournament on August 24th, the Pleasant Hill boosters are holding a charity tournament on September 8th, and several other tournaments will be occurring throughout the summer. Check Middlefield’s website for a full listing of tournaments if you’re in the mood for some charity golf or a good old-fashioned shotgun start.

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Middlefield does everything well. The fees are reasonable, the fairways, greens and rough are all well maintained, the course plays fairly, the community has a home for charity golf tournaments and the City has access to essential water. All of this makes the course a great value, very accessible to the lay golfer and an excellent investment for the City of Cottage Grove.

LCGG: RiverRidge Golf Complex

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Ric Jefferies and his wife, Debbie, had the guts to forge their own path through life. The result is a fantastic golf facility of which the Jefferies’ can be proud and that accurately reflects their vision for what life should be.

Ric grew up in Corvallis. During college Ric and Debbie would take turns, one would earn a degree while the other progressed in their chosen career. When Debbie finished her master’s degree Ric was working as a course pro in North Carolina. Shortly thereafter they moved to a country club in Florida where Ric realized he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life living a country club lifestyle.

Upon expressing dissatisfaction with their current lifestyle to his wife, Debbie asked Ric what he wanted to do. Ric responded that he wanted to build and operate his own course closer to home. Shortly thereafter they were on a plane to Oregon looking for a piece of land. Ric said “we flew back and forth from Florida to Oregon several times, and we were running out of time. When I walked through the door of my house in Florida, straight off the plane from what I thought would be one of my last trips to Oregon, I got a phone call from my real estate agent. He said there was a farm that just came on the market and that I had to come check it out, so I walked right back out of the house and got on the next plane to Oregon.”

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The Jefferies sacrificed nearly everything they owned and purchased the farm property. They broke ground in 1988 and by 1990 all 18 holes were ready for play. Ric would be in charge of course maintenance and Debbie would take care of the business, a true husband and wife team.

The course was built on a farm, so the land was relatively flat when construction began: a blank slate. As, Ric designed and built the course he added the topographic features and landscaping he enjoyed in a course.

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While working as a golf pro in the south Ric was lucky enough to forge a friendship with Bob Cupp, famed golf course designer whose work includes Pumpkin Ridge, Crosswater, and several other courses where major championships and regular PGA tour stops occur. The wisdom Ric gleaned from Bob was applied to the construction of RiverRidge.

For Ric is was important to create a course with a “natural feel.” “Golf is a visual medium,” Ric said. “God doesn’t plant trees in a row and he doesn’t plant single trees…he doesn’t plant the same type of tree everywhere.” All of Ric’s work at RiverRidge was done with three keys in mind: “texture, structure, color.”

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His efforts begat a golf course rich with variety and with an eye towards sustainability. RiverRidge is certified as an Audubon Sanctuary. All of the course management at RiverRidge is wildlife friendly and stewardship based.

Ric believes that the pains taken to change the landscape not only improved the visual appeal of the course, but also improved how the course plays. The addition of rolling hills and ponds helps with irrigation and drainage. The trees make for a variety of shadows on fairways and greens. All of this creates a more rich golf experience.

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When Ric built RiverRidge he didn’t want to create a course with a “country club feel.” He wants his patrons, even members of his men’s and women’s clubs to have the opportunity to play a variety of courses. He’s even gone so far as to add two additional courses to his own golf complex; SuttonRidge, an executive course built among tall fir trees and ShortRidge, which is a par 3 where patrons can work on their short game.

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Ric is passionate about growing the game of golf. He welcomes a variety of programs to RiverRidge and places a special emphasis on those that help individuals with special needs and kids. Special Olympics Oregon are guests at RiverRidge, as well as five University of Oregon classes, two Lane Community College classes, Marist, Churchill and Sheldon golf teams and The First Tee program which is dedicated to helping kids learn life skills through the game of golf. Hundreds of kids learn the game of golf at RiverRidge each year.

And if these opportunities weren’t enough, RiverRidge offers a number of promotions which encourage families to bring their kids to the course. Kids under 18 play for free if playing with a parent after 2pm on weekends. Ric also encourages parents to bring their young kids along to the par 3 course. “We want kids on the par 3, when they get tired of playing golf it’s ok for parents to let them roll down the hills and play in the sand and water: just as long as they don’t hurt the greens”!

Ric and Debbie are a fantastic team. Their desire to take a gamble and leave the country club lifestyle behind so they could raise their family in what they believed was a healthier environment is inspiring. They have succeeded in spades and now seem to take every opportunity they can find to help improve the lives of others.

Whatever type of golf you’re in the mood for, the RiverRidge Golf Complex has a course for you. The main course is a difficult challenge replete with texture and variety. SuttonRidge, built among mature firs, prompts you to leave your driver in the car. ShortRidge is a relaxing opportunity to improve your short game and spend time with your kids.

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At RiverRidge golf is a vehicle, a medium through which you may quietly enjoy time engrossed in natural beauty, or in self-improvement and discipline, or improving your relationship with your family. Whatever you hope to gain through the game of golf, you can find it at RiverRidge.

LCGG: Tokatee

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The Lane County Golf Guide: Tokatee

TOKATEE FOR WEB-002Tokatee’s uniqueness stems from where it’s located.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 FOR WEB-001Tokatee 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.